50 CHEERS FOR THE 5 DECADES... AND THE LESSONS WITHIN
YOU CAN CRITICIZE THEIR MARKETING IF YOU REALLY WANT TO NITPICK, BUT EVEN THEN, YOU’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO GET A STRAND OFF THEIR LEGENDARY ADVERTISING. 4Ps B&M MONOJIT LAHIRI TRIES TO DECODE WHAT MAKES AMUL’S ADVERTISING SO ENDURINGLY ENDEARING EVEN IN ITS FIFTH DECADE AND WHAT CAN INDIAN MARKETERS LEARN FROM IT
It, is arguably the longest running outdoor campaign in the world and – along with Air Indian’s Maharaja ads – the most eagerly awaited and consumed slices of communication, this side of the Suez! How did it all begin? Whose Big Idea was it? What made it catch fire and become the legend it has? What powered and inspired its continuing march into history? What magic makes this transition from imagination to sketchpad to billboards to a zillion hearts and minds, for 50 years, such a riveting and compelling journey?
FLASHBACK TIME – CIRCA 1966
Amul Butter had already been in the market for at least 10 years, positioned as “processed from the purest milk under the most hygienic condition by a dairy co-operative in Gujarat.” It was up against the much more popular Polson Butter. “The communication needed features to be converted to advantages, in look and spirit away from the lantern lecture to an indifferent audience,” recalls the founding father of this legendary campaign Sylvester [Sylvie] Dacunha, who headed the agency handling the account. To again with, it needed a snappy, cool yet simple and memorable slogan to define it. His brilliant (English Lecturer) wife Nisha suggested ‘Utterly Amul’ to which the creative Dacunha added in a flash ‘butterly’ – and bingo, a deathless slogan was born! While he was convinced of its connect with the public, his client wasn’t so sure, but it was a sign of the turst and confidence of their hedad honcho the visionary Dr. Varghese Kurien’s in Sylvie when he said “I think its utterly mad, but if you think it will work, go right ahead!”
Slogan frozen, the ad next needed something more vital, critical and central – a presence, spokesman who would act as an appropriate counter-point to the popular Polson Butter Girl, portrayed as a sexy village belle, in tantalizing choli, all but covering her upper regions! “I sensed it had to be a child, impish and lovable” flashbacks Dacunha and explained this to his brilliant Visualiser-cum- Cartoonist Eustace Fernandes. “He came up with this utterly delectable polka-dotted, frocked moppet, with matching ribbons, smacking her lips, as if to say Utterly Butterly Delicious!” Naughty, cuddly, innocent, and amart, the duo sensed they had a winner! From their earliest advertisement “Give us this day our daily bread with Amul Butter” till today, cries of “how cute”, “how clever” and “how smart” have been flailing the air. What’s the real secret behind this four-letter word that continues to move from strength to strength seducing each generation with unfailing doses of surprise and delight?
In fact, a host of celebs enthusiastically raise their hands wishing to respond in Amul’s India, a compilation of essays by knon personalities including Amitabh Bachchan, Rajdeep Sardesai, Harsha Bhogle, Shyam Benegal, Shobhaa De, Alyque Padamsee and others. For instance, Big B believes “it is a departure from the straight, in-your-face pronouncements of products, offering a winning three-fold-edge over others – brand, humour and topicality.” Columnist Shobha De reckons that their “lovable, wonderful, non-intrusive style could never have been strategically planned. It was bound to have emerged, intuitively, in a blinding flash of inspiration.” While sexy Sania Mirza enjoys their relevance and “play on current events”, ex-Wall Rahul Dravid happily confessers that for him and his brother, they were a fun-part of their growing-up years in Bangalore. “Years later, to be featured, felt nice!” says Drivid. Cricket Commentator Harsha Bhogle is up next, perceiving these iconic ads as “charming chronicher of our times, not with the weightiness and gravitas of historians & academicians, but delightfully light-weight & tongue-in-cheek”, while veteran Ad-Pundit Alyque Padamsee reckons that they stole a march over those great Maharaja-led Air India ads because they were – and remains – more rooted and gloriously in-sync with the India story. “Also the ability to combine audacity with humour that is never loud, low-brow or insensitive, and always audience-friendly is remarkt-able,” says Padamsee.
Great – but times, they-are-a-changin’! As this template steps into its golden year, what are the new challenges that confront it? In the restless, promiscuous and impatient times that we live in, when nothing is sacred, everyone/everything is up for sale, and cynicism is the ruling mood, will the charm, gentleness and innocence that graced this brand-story be able to resonate with youngistan and today’s blasé junta? Rahul Dacunha – son and heir to the throne and present brand custodian – responds with elaninherited from his illustrious dad: “We are fully conscious of the transition and have made every effort to not be bogged down in a time-warp or nostaligia. In the nano-second times we live, change is the only constant and we have tried to tap into this through creative chutzpah, converting challenges into opportunities.” How?”By dividing India into five zones: Mumbai, East, South, the Hindi belt and Facebook because of its huge relevance and popularity with one kind of TG. Also because it has a life and personality of its own,” he answers. Every morning Rahul and his small, gifted team sit down to identify what is topical, relevant and lends itself to an audience-friendly send-up. These ads (mostly) are not pan-India in thrust because of region-specific reasons. What tickles, amuses or delights one region may be irrelevant to another. “Our strike-rate seems to be good by the response we receive. We strive to do our best, everyday, for three reasons. One, because of the unconditional faith, trust, confidence the client continues to repose on us. Two, the people’s expectations. Lastly, the deep awareness of living up and taking forward the great, iconic Amul brand-story that the name symbolises,” says Rahul.
Social & Media Commentator Santosh Desai aptly sums it up when he calls these billboards “moving timeline marking what we have considered significant at various points of time. It is also one of a country coming in touch with itself, even as it transforms beyond recognition. From a somewhat disconnected class liveing in a world of its own, we see a new narrative, distinctive language, its own set of heroes & issues... a running commentary on what it sees, feels and experiences as it accompanies us on this glorious ride.” Even priceless will be an understatement for these four letters (Amul), we would say!