Saturday, February 17, 2007

The towering symbolism

I had the good fortune, this week, to stay in a hotel right next to the PETRONAS Towers in Kuala Lumpur and that offered a glorious view of the towers from my room. The twin towers dominated my attention right through the trip and I took many photographs, PETRONAS Towers at sunrise, PETRONAS Towers at sunset, PETRONAS towers at midnight. (In case my boss is reading this, I caught up with some work too, in between.)

Not surprisingly, the souvenir shops do brisk business in PETRONAS Towers timepieces, PETRONAS Towers paper weights, PETRONAS Towers key chains, etc.

This left me wondering why many cities in the world keep projecting such tall, man-made structures as their main symbols. Paris with its Eiffel Tower, London with its Big Ben, Pisa/Italy with its Leaning Tower, New York with its Statue of Liberty and, closer home, Tamilnadu with its tall gopurams, are prime examples. Does ‘tall’ represent ‘might’? Are these pseudo-phallic symbols? Why is Brand Paris built around the Eiffel tower which is just about 100 years old, when France has had a longer and richer history and could pick on other symbols?

Why is Malaysia obsessed with its PETRONAS Towers which were built a decade ago? Can’t it showcase its palm trees and rubber plantations which it has been known for, a much longer time? What were they selling as souvenirs, ten years back, when the Towers were not built?

I guess the answer lies in the fact that cities seek to promote something that is unique to them. You can’t find Eiffel Tower anywhere else. Or, for that matter, the Leaning Tower. So, there is instant association with the city. Instant brand recall. Also, it is far better to show off man-made structures to symbolize one’s strength. The Malaysians merely inherited the palm trees as part of Nature’s bounty, but the PETRONAS Towers symbolize something more- the resurgence and growing economic power of Malaysia.

If a country is as lucky as Australia is and an animal such as the kangaroo is known to live exclusively there, it can use that symbol as its own. If India claims the ‘elephant’ as its own and packs souvenir shops with ‘elephant mementoes’, so do Sri Lanka, Thailand and Malaysia. So, from an advertising standpoint, India is better off with the Taj Mahal or the Qutub Minar as its brand images.

1 comment:

Escape.... Great Escape said...

Malaysians are better off with Orang utans as their Symbol. ONly if Indonesia does not already use it.

One BUILDING cannot 'signify' India to a foreigner. It has to be something natural.