Kerala Tourism's campaign to promote the backwaters has gone viral. It is an ode to the waterscapes of the state

The backwaters of Kerala are making waves on international shores and in cyber space. A campaign for Kerala Tourism – ‘The Great Backwaters’ – is a visual symphony in greens that plays up the lifestyle, culture and unique ecosystem of the backwaters. While the print ads have been winning eyeballs and awards too since it was released last November in Europe, the video, which has just been released, is a collage of never-before-seen scenes of the backwaters. The video has gone viral on social media.

Scenes of life in the backwaters smoothly glide by in the two-minute video that gives us a peek into a culture that is specific to the region. Images of school children, coconut climbers, toddy tappers, fishermen, swimmers, ducks, boats and mangroves seamlessly merge into the landscape as aerial shots and underwater images blend to yield a clear portrait of the languid lifestyle of the region.

Playback singer and music director Alphons scores the music that flows along with the images and accentuates the rhythms of a land that celebrates its songs of the soil. “Kerala Tourism is on a high. We had made an impact and raised awareness with our campaigns that had put Kerala on the tourism map. Those were campaigns that highlighted the attractions of the state and what it has to offer to tourists. But now we want to focus on the USP of the State and target niche audiences. A campaign to promote Kerala as the ‘Home of Ayurveda’ had done very well. Then we decided to promote the backwaters as a unique geographical specialty of Kerala,” says Suman Billa, Secretary, Kerala Tourism.

A National Geographic Survey in 2009 had listed Kerala backwaters as among the top 133 destinations in the world and put it ahead of the Taj Mahal in India. The feedback of tourists who had visited the backwaters indicated that it could be a standalone experience for the traveller as this was a ecosystem unique to Kerala.

“That did inspire us in conceptualising a campaign that highlighted the unique geographical positioning of the region,” says Shelton Pinheiro, creative director of Stark, the agency that conceptualised the advertisement.

Suman says the idea was to promote the backwaters and its exclusive culture on the lines of the Grand Canyon in the United States and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Once the concept was outlined, the agency decided that they would steer clear of the typical images of the backwaters as seen from a houseboat or from the land. “Our challenge was to visualise it in a way that was never done before, give the viewers a completely different perspective,” says Prem Mathew, associate director, Stark.

Underwater photography did not give them the kind of images the team wanted. That is when Prakash Varma, who had filmed a previous campaign (‘Your Moment is Waiting’) for Kerala Tourism, suggested the name of Ville M.J. Hyvnen, perhaps the best in aerial photography.

“They were shooting in Delhi. We got them down to Alappuzha for the shot. It was their first time in the backwaters and Hyvönen and Ville Vellend were bowled over by the greenery and the waterscapes after experiencing the dusty hot plains of Delhi. The silence and the languid waterscapes reminded them of their native Scandinavian landscape,” recalls Shelton.

The aerial pictures were clicked with a remote controlled eight-rotor helicam. While one person controlled the helicam, another person monitored the pictures being clicked. “It is tricky work but they have a discovered the trick of doing it with precision. Even landing the helicam on the boat we had hired was a difficult affair,” says Shelton.

While the Finnish team took care of the aerial photography, cinematographer K.U. Mohanan was in charge of the ground photography. Later, the images were made into a film under the direction of Ratish Ambat.

As Shelton points out, the team decided to work with the four distinctive geographical features of the land – islands, canals, the banks and the backwaters.

“This is a place with its own distinctive culture, cuisine, lifestyle and landscape, flora and fauna. We decided to showcase that to the world,” says Prem.

The campaign has been creating ripples as it garners likes and shares on the social networks.

“The print ads were released in major tube stations in the United Kingdom and the reports that followed indicated that we were right on target. It generated a lot of inquiries and went on to win the Golden City Gate awards in Berlin, considered to be the Oscars of Tourism. Again, when the print ads were put in Mumbai, a Union Minister called up to congratulate me,” says the Tourism Secretary.

The creative team says this is the first of a series of campaigns to make the backwaters a top destination. Smooth sailing indeed.