Sunday, June 24, 2007

New 7 Wonders - Emotional Scam or Master B-Plan?

Around two weeks back, media reports informed us that Taj Mahal was ‘lagging behind’ in the race for New Seven Wonders of the world. It was a national shock for some people, which had potential of translating into a national shame.

So suddenly patriotic fervor went up and some people decided to act. Our inboxes and websites like orkut got spammed with ‘Vote for Taj’ messages, we started receiving SMS to do the same, A R Rehman composed “India Unites for the Taj”, News Channels suddenly became aware of their social responsibilities and exhorted people to vote, small time leaders campaigned for support and criticized the government of not doing enough to protect the honor of India. Government didn’t respond.

Wow! We felt like Indians. We needed to. With India out of cricket world cup in first round itself, we needed something to drive us along as Indians; perhaps for many of us ‘New 7 Wonders’ provided that opportunity.

Around seven years back, Swiss businessman Mr. Bernard Weber also saw an opportunity. He launched this campaign to find ‘New 7 Wonders’ ostensibly ‘to protect humankind's heritage across the globe’, and now, with around two weeks to go when his project ends, he must be a happy man.

It’s really amazing to see how this campaign to find New Seven Wonders of the World has caught the imagination of the world. Almost no one questioned what mandate Mr. Weber had to launch such a campaign. Who authorized him to do this? And what validity, legal or otherwise, the results of the campaign would contain?

Well, it can be argued that there really hasn’t been any official organization with authority to prepare such a list. The list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is supposed to have been prepared around 5th century BC by Greek historian Herodotus and chief librarian of the Alexandria Museum Callimachus of Cyrene. We don’t know what monuments they listed as the work was destroyed with the Alexandria Library. Nobody exactly knows who compiled the list of Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages. The earliest reference to the list is engravings by the Dutch artist Maerten van Heemskerck (1498-1574).

It seems that the lists of seven wonders have always had a vague history behind them, but we could have done away with another vague attempt in the modern age. Many people believed, and perhaps rightly so, that any genuine attempt to list modern seven wonder of the world should have been championed by UNESCO.

On 20th June 2007, barely three weeks before ‘New 7 Wonders’ is to announce the final list, UNESCO released a press note saying it is not involved in the campaign. The press note says, “Although UNESCO was invited to support this project on several occasions, the Organization decided not to collaborate with Mr. Weber.”

The press note further says, “The list of the ‘7 New Wonders of the World’ will be the result of a private undertaking, reflecting only the opinions of those with access to the internet and not the entire world. This initiative cannot, in any significant and sustainable manner, contribute to the preservation of sites elected by this public.”

UNESCO not only is suggesting that this is a campaign by ‘private undertaking’, but it is also making clear that the ‘winner’ sites or wonders would not get any ‘rewards’ from the organization e.g. increase in grants on preservation of that particular site, etc.

So it’s just another poll, no better than MTV’s ‘youth icon of the year’, or other umpteen SMS and online polls that television channels conduct, because the methodology for voting and counting is no better or more scientific in this case.

At least the ‘private undertaking’ of Mr. Weber could have afforded to be more scientific and democratic in the whole process. You can SMS and call as many times as you want and keep on voting for your preferred wonder (after all it will earn him revenue each time you do that). You can vote online for ‘free’ once, and the you can pay $2 and vote once more, and again $2 and once more, and so on. And yeah, you will get a ‘certificate’ each time you pay, I mean vote.

On 07-07-07, in Lisbon, there would be grand ceremony. Celebrities like Hilary Swank, Jennifer Lopez, Ben Kingsley, Bipasha Basu, and Cristiano Ronaldo would be there. It would be a great day, you shouldn’t miss it, you can win Ronaldo signed T-shirts. You can buy the tickets for 140 Euros excluding booking charges for the mega-event, but you must vote before that. And finally on 07-07-07, seven certificates to new wonders will be issued. Will our dear Taj Mahal be there? I don’t know.

If it’s there, we will celebrate, if not, we will blame the sagging patriotic spirit in ourselves and our leaders? Brazil's President Lula de Silva addressed his people on radio telling them how to vote for Rio's statue of Christ the Redeemer. The government of Peru opened computer terminals in public places and exhorted people to vote for the ancient city of Machu Pichu. What was Manmohan Singh doing?

Whatever is the new list, Mr. Bernard Weber surely made a successful business-plan for his ‘for-profit’ organization, and wonderfully executed it. An attempt to generate a modern list of wonders of the world is not new. Media companies like CNN and USA Today had released their list of modern seven wonders earlier, websites like and too had done the same, and organizations like American Society of Civil Engineers had finalized a list of modern seven wonders. All these attempts had expert opinion as well as public opinion factored in. Mr. Weber had a real challenge to do something different.

And he did it. Weber launched his campaign on 15th September 2000 with an event where his amphibian aircraft (he is a filmmaker, museum curator, aviator, and explorer as per the official site) landed in a spectacular fashion in Sydney Harbour. Weber also announced the selection of the Sydney Opera House as one of the candidates for the ‘New 7 Wonders of the World’. It made news. It appealed to the emotions of local people.

This was just a week before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. This event was aired by television stations in US, Eurpoe and Australia. He must have anticipated it, after all news channels around the world need to file stories that build up the mood to some important event. People became aware of the website and the campaign.

The next year in 2001, Taliban destroyed Buddhas of Bamiyan, and Weber added “The Bamiyan Buddha Reconstruction Project” as a part of “New 7 Wonders” foundation. He declared that 50% of the ‘net’ revenues would be used to fund restoration efforts worldwide e.g. Bamiyan Buddha and heritage sites in Africa. It made news. It appealed to the emotions of people. Donations also were to be pledged later.

Over next couple of years, releases from Mr. Weber’s organization would tell how Turkey has overtaken USA in voting or how Peru would soon overtake Mexico. Some people thought, ‘our country is lagging behind, let’s vote’. It made news. It appealed to their emotions.

August 2004, Athens Olympics game was going on. Mr. Weber flew in a hot air balloon over The Acropolis, and repeated what he did four years back. The Acropolis was included in the official list of ‘candidates’ for the New Seven Wonders. Mr. Weber also opined that since ancient list of seven wonders was chosen by a Greek historian, he was modest not to put The Acropolis in the list, so people now have a chance to accord the coveted status to their city. It made news. It appealed to the emotions of local people.

By now, the campaign was well known in western world, but market existed outside the western world too. So in December 2004, Mr. Weber visited Taj Mahal in the company of Aishwarya Rai. Taj and Aishwarya – it made news – where Aishwarya made her famous statement, “Taj is more beautiful than me”. Shahjahaan was happy. Taj Mahal was also a candidate now, and there were 250,000 registered votes from India in the following week. It appealed to our emotions.

People were talking about it now. It appealed to their emotions. But it should appeal to their reason also. So Mr. Weber got a panel of experts with six architects from different parts of the world and a former UNESCO director-general as the president of the panel. Three years later, now UNESCO’s press release makes it clear that the former director-general is there in his personal capacity. It didn’t make such a big news.

Mr. Weber must be congratulated for his patience and preparation he put in for his business plan. After initial investment of time and money, he didn’t need to do much. Slowly and steadily, his business-plan was marketed almost free by mass media, patriots, spammers and even governments. He could get sponsors for everything he was doing – webhosting, SMS and telephone traffic, world tours, merchandise selling, competitions, and event management.

It all happened because with each passing year and day, customers were rushing in. It appealed to their emotions. Weber’s plan was a success.

On 07-07-07, we would see the climax of the campaign, but Weber’s plan doesn’t end there. ‘The New 7 Wonders will further be documented on breathtaking IMAX large format film, for which Weber's extensive film background should prove useful’ – the official website informs.



  1. Well I tried explaining all that to a few friends before and got back a snappy "So what?!?! Its still a contest and we're contesting for OUR Taj!!"... And you know what, this also makes sense... Mr. Weber has pulled off a great scam... but why accuse him or punish him for being smarter than... well... it seems the rest of the world!?!?

    Even though it wouldn't mean a thing (officially) but I know that I won't get any sadder if the Taj does make it to the final list. ;-)

  2. yeah, true. No need to punish Mr. Weber, but learn from him. How to make a master b-plan and execute it!

  3. Its not for us to think who or how.. but for us to vote and brag :D

    name any other choice?

  4. very very true true

    they're selling votes at two dollars a piece.. tis a competition to buy votes and not popularity..lols

  5. Awesome compilation!!

    Its is a marathon post but really interesting and informative as well..

  6. great post. an eye opener. bt Mr. Weber's plan is so full-proof that one can't resist voting.

  7. very well written wid great insight n info.. i hav been thinking tht thiz all by a public organization...
    but this buying votes concept bothers me..

  8. The public officials here at Jeju Island in South Korea fell for this one hook, line and sinker, running up thousands of dollars in cost in international phone to boot. The country now cloaked in a scandal of shame

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  10. Imagine a City...

    Imagine a city where every home had on it's front lawn a piece of sculpture or an art installation.

    Imagine a city where each and every business invited artists to exhibit their work to the company's patrons.

    Imagine a city where instead of gifting clothing, electronics, chocolate, or cash, a work of art was given, and appreciated.

    Imagine a city where each and every home housed and preserved an art collection. Where insecurities over self-interests were dispensed with, and collections reflected those varied tastes.

    Imagine a city where glass, pottery, painting, photography. fibers, basketry, and even graffiti were embraced. Where the artists themselves were looked upon as a treasured resource. No matter their perspective.

    Imagine a city where any construction project involved multiple artists, in its' execution.

    Imagine a city which preserved its' creative heritage and embraced it.

    Imagine a city which understood, that capturing a slice of life had merit. But to alter a communities perspective to embrace all thought and belief, strengthened it, not weakened it.

    Imagine a city which led the World in cultural munificence which would then reap the reward of becoming a global mecca.

    Imagine a city which could step outside of what others were doing could walk the path of its' own making.

    Imagine a city where meetings to enact such change, needn't take place. Rather a spontaneous change came from its' citizenry itself.

    Imagine a city which artists flocked to; enabling them to create without fear of censorship or derision.

    Imagine a city not dependent upon their museums or art schools for their lead in any discussions of artistic merit, but rather the career artists themselves.

    I have imagined this city since childhood, as have most of my colleagues. Instead we've swum through muck, hoping such change would miraculously happen without distracting us from our labors. Or moved to the closest metropolis which appeared poised to take the plunge.

    Cleveland, like most cities, while not a blank canvas; is one, where the image it sports has faded beyond restoration. The time to paint over it has come. Shiny new unaesthetic buildings, are simply masking the rot.

    Marc Breed, Fine Artist

    "In the distant future, when America is a mere shadow of itself, who historically, shall be remembered? In sports, an argument can be made for Ruth, Chamberlain, Gretzky, Ali, et al. In Art, there is but one name, Breed."

    -Smithsonian Magazine