Maha Kumbh – Selling the Brand Called Baba

A roadside banner at Kumbh

To begin with, the Kumbh mela should be called a Baba Expo. The event basically consists of God men trying to tell the public how they are better than the next one. Honestly, I can draw parallels with a few other industry expos I have attended.

  • Each Baba has a specific place for their stalls more popularly known as Akharas (roughly translated in English, workout zones for wrestlers) Of course, it beats me why they are called that – not that there are aerobics lessons been given there!
  • It’s free to enter the stall and inquire about what is it etc.
  • The stalls a.k.a akhara’s are all branded with how great the product is, in this case the Baba’s

There are only three kinds of people attending Kumbh. The first set are immensely religious, who are there for the experience, one who has a stall thus is there for work. I was there for photography.

While my article criticizes the reason lot of people attend kumbh there is one thing, which I must complement is the organizing committee. Holding an event of this size, managing the logistics and security is a nightmarish task and to my surprise it was done very well by the authorities, each cop knew which place was where. The whole area (which is massive) was divided very NYCish type (streets and avenues).

However, there were number of things, which could have been improved, as basic as  proper toilets. There were people defecating all over the place and with naga baba’s roaming around freely (if you know what I mean), the place seemed like India’s only nude beach (minus women)

Nonetheless, the place is a must visit adventure and reeks of experiences one would like to share, under given are my 4 key takeaways from this experience:

Gold Baba - Bappi Lahiri's cousin maybe?

1. Positioning is the key to earn money – perhaps quick money

Enter the mela and you will see a massive board of the Gold baba. Now come on, does it get better than that? With a positioning like that, the only dakshina (offering) one will get is gold, and even a small portion is good enough!

Of course a hazardous job like being the Gold Baba also attracts several groupies and fans, possibly eager for some of his second-hand gold.

2.Foreign sells

Pilot Baba – you can only enter that place if you are a foreigner. Ipso facto, Indian Rupees are perhaps the worst currency to have, and, with a client base of only foreigners, it is indeed a cash-rich opportunity.

Much like many brands in India who manage to equate a positioning of being foreign to high quality, the Pilot Baba is positioned like a fancy import. However, if the product is not good, we know that the perception won’t take long to diminish.

3. If your message is not understood the first time – repeat, choose your keywords properly

Kumbh is the epitome of the lost and found section. I wonder if there are stats which shows how many people or things have been lost or found at this massive event, this might be a world recod. Not a particularly proud thing to brag about by the authorities, though!

The 36 hours I spent there, I must have heard over 2000 different people taking the mike and announcing all kinds of stuff.

Therefore, the question is how do you get across your message to the right person, I mean let’s face it. Your name is not unique in a place which has over 100 million people at any given point of time and I am sure  others have the same things which you have lost. Thus, what’s important is how do you make your story really unique so that the person who you want to reach out to gets to understand. Mind you, there is a big line of people waiting to snatch that mike from your hand and announce their problems. This is an elevator pitch under pressure. Real PR heroes could emerge from here!

Kumbh - Clearly the Indian Halloween

4. Be creative or die

Now, how does one reach out to mass audiences? Kumbh overall had over 100 million pilgrims attend, which was a golden opportunity for brands to cash in on.

The most successful brands were able to break through the clutter and reach out to pilgrims – to get sustained visibility that goes way beyond this event.

The HUL brand Lifebuoy promoted the message of clean hands by using a heatlamp to write a message on over 2.5 million chapattis. Coca-Cola had activated 15 Blu-Fi spots across the city, that made their brand content – from jingles to ringtones to videos – directly available for download. The water purifier brand Tata Swatch stationed 300 water purifiers across 28 booths to provide clean drinking water to pilgrims.

Hygiene and health are big issues at Kumbh, so personal hygiene, FMCG, and pharma brands should see great opportunities here. And there was plenty of opportunities for brands to provide portable toilets – something that really fell short at Maha Kumbh.

As a photographer though, I was left wondering why a camera company wasn’t selling camera reels and cheap throwaway cameras?

Written by Pulkit Srivastava for Image Management.

Pulkit Srivastava is a travel writer, photographer, and communications consultant based in Delhi. You can follow him on Twitter at


3 thoughts on “Maha Kumbh – Selling the Brand Called Baba

  1. I have never attended any Kumbh Mela and also never could imagine the real picture, the way you have narated. It seems that it is real competition like Olympics. No doubt it is very difficult to manage this size of event and so it is appreciated.

    Your article must give an idea to so many products manufacturers but they will get to en cash the idea only after 6/12 years.

    Keep it up.

  2. good job pulkit,i really like and appreciate your views on hygiene and health. our government could and must lay more emphasis on these much neglected issues and some one in the authority must address it from ones’ heart.

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