The Kingdom of Poyais and the ‘new normal’.

Gregor MacGregor was a Scottish soldier and adventurer who sought his fortune in the Latin American wars for independence against the Spanish. After years of fighting he arrived in London sometime around October 1822 and announced that he was His Serene Highness Gregor the First, Sovereign Prince of the State of Poyais and its Dependencies and Cacique of the Poyer Nation. He described the kingdom of Poyais as slightly larger than Wales but whose land was so fertile that it yielded three harvests a year. Its water was pure, trees overflowed with fruits and forests teemed with game. In describing the capital city of the Poyaisian State, MacGregor said, it looked eastward towards the Atlantic, has tree-lined boulevards flanked by the Royal Palace, the Parliament Buildings, the Opera House and the Cathedral. MacGregor gave interviews in newspapers and engravings of this mythical metropolis were printed and sold in the streets of London and Edinburgh. What Poyais lacked, MacGregor said, was willing investors and settlers to develop and leverage its resources to the fullest. At the time, investments in Central and South America were gaining in popularity and Poyais appeared to be a very attractive destination. In the days of imperfect cartography and when it took a ship weeks or months to make a transatlantic crossing, it was difficult to check the veracity of MacGregor’s tales. 

Image courtesy wikipedia

Soon, the story of Poyais was broadcast across the country, pamphlets and books were printed and MacGregor opened offices in London and Edinburgh where land in Poyais was sold at four shillings an acre. Thomas Strangeways, Captain in the Native Poyer Regiment and Aide-de-Camp to His Highness, produced a handbook and guide to the Mosquito Shore for the use of prospective colonists. Applications poured in from across the country and business flourished as hired ballad singers chanted the glories of Poyais upon the pavements and the Prince and his retinue graciously toured the country. He even helped travelers exchange their Scottish coins for notes payable at the Bank of Poyais. In all MacGregor raised £200,000 directly and an equivalent of £3.6 billion in today’s money in the bond market and convinced seven ships worth of eager settlers to make their way across the Atlantic.

We can guess what followed when the first batch of settlers landed, in what is present day Honduras Bay, and found mosquito and leech infested waste lands. The Kingdom of Poyais never existed – it was MacGregor’s creation. 

Varied consultants and experts are painting up their version of the ‘land of the new normal’ where the consumer and everything around him has changed forever. This land of the ‘new normal’ is our Kingdom of Poyais. Most versions of the ‘new normal’ include a highly automated and digitized world where everything in the tech lexicon has come alive and where consumers shop and lead most of their lives inside digital bubbles.  The people making very confident assertions of the future are probably merchants masquerading as soothsayers. 

In this land of the ‘new normal’ Mrs Sharma does not want to bargain with the vegetable vendor for extra dhania but remains satisfied with ordering her vegetables on BigBasket.

It’s where you do not surreptitiously glance at the salesman in Nalli, for his quiet appreciative nod, as you look into the mirror with that royal blue Tussar silk saree wrapped around your waist. You simply try out some newfangled AR enabled website to buy.             

It’s where you do not want a room full of strangers to sing along ‘Happy Birthday’ and clap as you cut your birthday cake with your family at dinner in your favorite restaurant. All you need is Alexa playing the song and applause, as you order in the cake.

When you pick your overflowing shopping bags with both hands and forget the ache in your legs that came from walking for hours in Lajpat market. You don’t want that, you will simply scroll through and browse shopping sites and wait for the goodies to be delivered to your doorstep.

And like John Saxe’s The Blind Men And The Elephant everyone has their version of the new normal and we are urged to prepare to depart for a place about which nobody seems to be sure of. It’s like the Kingdom of Poyais; all that the Londoners knew about it was what MacGregor told them. 

As the legendary Bill Bernbach said; it took a million years for man’s instincts to develop. It will take millions more for them to vary. It is fashionable to talk about the changing man. A communicator must be concerned with the unchanging man, with his obsessive drive to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.  But no Luddite is a marketer, the current situation may force some new behaviors, develop some new habits and hence evolve new attitudes amongst consumers. It may accelerate adoption of an existing trend. Having an intimate understanding of your industry and consumers will help you prepare for any changes. However, versions and assertions of the new normal that do not consider human instincts and behaviors evolved over years are about as true as MacGregor’s tales.