The High Octane, High Optics Story of Bezos’s Visit to India

Let’s get down to business right away as Jeff Bezos did as soon as he touched down in India! At each step he created news, set Twitter and Instagram ablaze and of course became the toast of the media with his utterances and announcements. Here are some of the messaging cues that a reading of the news buzz around Jeff Bezos’s visit throws up…

Undeniably this is a summary of Amazon’s India narrative so far. A look at Amazon’s blog will show that the company has been relentlessly carrying on in the same vein over the years. With Bezos’s visit, the storytelling around these messages have unfolded like scenes in a well-scripted play! 

That said, did all go well? That calls for a short analysis of the storytelling as it emerges through an analysis of the prominent news coverage. Can’t call this a deep dive but it should help underline an important perspective… 

Timely and relevant for the TG The Hit 

It will be naïve to assume that any corporation of the size and scale of Amazon will be able to resonate and ring true to all its stakeholders, especially in a country like India. However, it might be safe to say that Government/Policy makers, Suppliers & Partners, Customers and Employees are key audiences. 

Bezos announced $1 billion (over Rs 7,000 crore) investment in India to help bring small and medium businesses online and committed to exporting $10 billion worth of India-made goods by 2025. “We are committed to being a long-term partner of India. And actions speak louder than words”, he said. He also participated in a summit of SMBs, those critical to Amazon’s narrative of empowering small businesses to connect with the global markets, thus ensuring large exports of goods Made in India. 

Did that work? While the comment by the commerce minister made headlines as well as the protest by small retailers led by CAIT, who accused Amazon of floating a false narrative while it is destroying the mom and pop businesses, I think that the effects of the positive messaging cannot be overlooked irrespective. 

Coming on the heels of a formal antitrust investigation that opened shortly before Bezos’s visit, where the regulator says it is looking into allegations of predatory pricing, deep discounting and preferential treatment of selected sellers by the online giants, it was strategic and critical to showcase the scale and play that Amazon enjoys in the E-commerce market in India impacting customers, small businesses and of course jobs among other things. No doubt it throws in a bunch of facts for policymakers to think about, while considering measures to regulate the market.

As for the customers, they couldn’t be happier with aggressive ‘Sale’ initiatives being announced fairly regularly. But I guess the issue of Quality control & fakes could have made its way in the messaging as well.

Storytelling must be ‘visual’ for impact – The miss 

The last time Jeff Bezos was here, he wore a long Indian coat, climbed into a gaudily decorated truck, posed for pictures. This time around he was seen praying at Mahatma Gandhi’s Samadhi and flying kites with children. Much has been talked about his Indian Kurta, Nehru jacket and his signature Garrett Leight sunglasses while flying kites with children. You can’t avoid noticing the tongue-in- cheek comments those have triggered in Twitter as well as in the media. After all, ‘optics’ and ‘photo-ops’ are a bit of a pejorative and seen with a pinch of salt these days. 

Personally speaking, I would tend to avoid the obvious optics. It reminds me of Richard Branson on top of a Mumbai cab (somewhat over the top) and with Dubbawallahs dressed in Indian ethnic wear. Does it do anything to portray Indianness or build the affinity with India as much as an Indian born CEO of a global conglomerate would be able to carry? Or does it add much to the endearment quotient? I guess not! On the other hand, it distracts from the core messages while taking up too much media space and appends the avoidable tag of being a publicity stunt.

I would have much liked it if he continued to be his usual flamboyant self in a candid photograph …for e.g. in a SMB facility or taking a break in a restaurant or at best a street side Dhaba, albeit with his entire entourage… that would have been normal! We all know that can be choregraphed as well, hence begs a call whether it’s worth doing all of this at all! 

Authentic Storytelling is third party generated – hoping there is more to come 

What I also missed was maybe a story or a film that was released by Bezos where Amazon partners such as SMBs, employees, delivery boys et al talk about how the company has changed their lives. Maybe I have overlooked it, but that would have been good third part endorsement. To me the blitzkrieg is a trifle one sided.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Devdarshan Chakrabortyy
Founder at Strongkofee
Founder at Strongkofee Leadership Communications
Dev has spent nearly 27 years in advising corporates on their communication and brand strategies and working with CEOs and business leaders in the area of communication skills development. He has worked with some of India's largest advertising and PR firms such as Ogilvy & Mather, Perfect Relations and Mudra in leadership roles and across various sectors.
A communications strategist and storyteller, Dev also leads the business storytelling and leadership communications coaching practice in Strongkofee. An alumnus of the Indian Institute of Mass Communications, New Delhi, he is a speaker and part-time faculty with leading management schools and a mentor for startups in solving their brand and marketing coms challenges.

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