Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Red Indian Brand

The problem with young civilizations is that they have very little history and almost no mythology to play with. So one is forced to spin yarns and invent stereotypes to inject a sense of drama into bedtime stories. The American narrative of the Red Indian as a perpetually buckskin-wearing, feather-bonnet-donning, war-paint-sporting noble savage riding a crazy horse, is a rather one dimensional profile of a proud race. It’s as demeaning as reducing every South Indian to a Mehmoodian caricature.

But the good news is that despite the best efforts of Western Dime Novels and Hollywood B-grade movies to pigeonhole the Native American as the anachronistic wild guy, marketers have managed to create an aspirational halo around him, albeit serendipitously.

Pontiac, the automobile brand from General Motors, was the earliest attempt to make the Red Indian cool. Named after the Michigan city (which in turn was named after the legendary Chief Pontiac who was famously brave), the car with the arrowhead emblem, never tried to underplay its moorings. On the contrary, Pontiac celebrated its valiant heritage with a series of tributes. The launch of the ‘Chieftain’, ‘Aztek’, ‘Montana’, and ‘Star Chief’ models just go to underline the company’s macho credentials.

America’s first motorcycle ‘Indian’ (yeah, the real hero of the movie The World’s Fastest Indian) had as many fan boys in its heydays as Harley Davidson. ‘Indian’ was initially baptised as ‘American Indian’. The dropping of the American prefix made it even more saleable in global markets.

The cutesy kiddie brand ‘OshKosh B’Gosh’ is an indirect nod to the Ojibwe Indian Chief Oshkosh who fought alongside the Americans in the Black Hawk war. Likewise, ‘Sequioa Capital’ – the big daddy of venture capitalists – draws its roots from ‘Sequoyah’, the silversmith who made it possible for the Cherokee tribe to read and write.

Talking of Cherokee, who can forget the iconic Jeep Cherokee? The first ever modern-era SUV that conjures up memories of the finest adjectives. Add Kickapoo (the joy juice born out of a comic strip but owes its name to the wanderers of Oklahoma) and our own TVS Apache (inspired by Arizona’s most fierce tribe) and you’ll realise that the ‘redskin’ is no longer a pejorative.