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Corporate Mar 6, 2013

Modi fiasco has affected the larger Wharton brand

By Anant Rangaswami

'Disappointing that Wharton rescinded its invite', says Zee News.

"After Wharton snub, Narendra Modi to address NRIs in USA," says Economic Times.

"Inside story: why Wharton cancelled Modi's lecture," is the Hindustan Times headline.

Those who read only the headlines in the newspapers or on news TV channels would be under the mistaken notion that the whole flip-flop drama that first saw Narendra Modi being invited and subsequently uninvited involved the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

AP

AP

It did, but only tangentially.

Modi was invited and uninvited by the organisers of the Wharton India Economic Forum (WIEF) and not by the school - and the WIEF is clearly an India-focused event. The WIEF site has a clearly India-focused url - it's called www.whartonindia.com.

Here's what the WIEF says about itself in the 'about us' page. "Launched in 1996, The Wharton India Economic Forum (WIEF) is an annual India-centric conference hosted by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, bringing together business and political leaders, professionals, academics and students from around the world to discuss India's evolution from an emerging nation to a prominent global economic power, and the key social, political and financial challenges which still stand in its way," says the WIEF site.

The forum is 'an India-centric conference'. The Wharton School only hosts it.

Yet, the headlines scream 'Wharton', not 'Wharton India Economic Forum.' The headlines do considerable damage to the brand that is the Wharton School, as the lay reader presumes that Wharton School is the body that has made and unmade the decision to invite Modi.

The confusion is best underlined by this tweet:

Sadanand Dhume ?@dhume01 says, " For those who asked, I've withdrawn from @Wharton's @wief2013 | Tacky of Penn to 1st invite Narendra Modi and then backtrack after protests."

The use of the twitter handle @Wharton is misplaced. @Wharton is the handle of Wharton School, which did not send out the invitation. The second handle in Dhume's tweet, @wief2013, did.

Wharton School is becoming the butt of jokes. @coolfunnytshirt has a dig at them, saying,
"You never know, Indian Railways may now put a signboard of #Wharton on their ticket cancellation counters."

Perhaps 'Wharton' makes better news than the accurate 'Wharton India Economic Forum' and gets one noticed. Why else would someone like Subramaniam Swamy say on twitter to @royskaria @narendramodi @Harvard @wharton : "They want "moderate views" of Naxalites and hypocrites," tagging not just Wharton but also Harvard for good measure?

Well, it's like the old story, where 'Man bites dog' makes for a more noticeable headline than 'Dog bites man.' Wharton clearly makes for a better headline than Wharton India Economic Forum.

Besides, Wharton India Economic Forum is too, too long in a headline.

by Anant Rangaswami

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