Whenever I come across campaigns from 1990 – 2010, I’m overcome with a sweet wave of nostalgia.
But peeling one layer further, I think there’s a valid reason why we have such a fondness for ads that we saw on television (or in theatres) as kids growing up in a rapidly changing country.
When viewed together, these ads carry the kind of simplistic wit that marketers today just aren’t able to replicate.
If anything, we’ve recently seen brands like Bournvita and Vim Liquid (by HUL) horribly fail at being witty, instead landing too far in a region of humour that most people can neither understand nor appreciate.
In contrast, ads from the Golden Era had such simple insights to them. They were crafted with immense empathy drawn from on-ground observations about Indian culture and local habits.
They told stories. They humanized brands. They made us laugh, cry, grin, and care.
I’m talking about legendary work conceptualized by the original titans like Piyush Pandey (Kuch Khaas Hai), R. Balki (Daag Acche Hai), Prahlad Kakkar (I love you Rasna) and the like.
These gurus laid the foundation upon which our entire industry is built.
It’s worth turning back and stopping to look at their principled work because I feel like we’ve lost touch with our core foundation as genuine storytellers, instead opting for cheap gimmicks and paid stunts.
So let us walk down this memory lane to look at some iconic campaigns that every marketing student should study to hone his/her craft.
This catchy anthem was released by Airtel in 2011 to promote their telecom/mobile internet service. The ad lyrically outlined the different kinds of friends that play unique roles in your life.
It’s biggest strength was that it connected instantly with the target audience, which was the exploding youth of India back then. These guys were the early adopters of mobile internet surfing, and Airtel gave them an intimate reason to adopt the technology – to stay in touch with their support systems.
The lyrics were coined by Amitabh Bhattacharya, to which Ram Sampath gave a musical twist.
The concept/line was cracked by Agnello Dias (Aggy) who is famous for his work on Times of India, Nike, and Mumbai Mirror.
City Light ~ Happydent
Happydent has recently made waves on Instagram with its witty topical content that consistently tracks back to its USP of helping consumers achieve a sparkling white shine on their teeth.
But the chewing gum brand has held a long legacy of creative advertising stunts, with its award-winning “City Light” ad sitting comfortably at the top of tip.
This short TV spot, set in the pre-Independence era, playfully pokes at the upper-class snobbishness of the Zamindars and aristocratic Rajas who ruled the lands back then.
It follows one of the servant rushing to his workplace, the palace, to join his gang in lightening up the surroundings with their Happydent-activated teeth. Over the top? You betcha.
But does it convey the message? Beautifully! In the words of blogger Arvi Krishnasway, it’s a straight-out “Orbit killer.” (Orbit being one of the brand’s competitors).
Manthan ~ Amul
This is a gorgeous montage of Amul’s hard-working milk women from various parts of India.
Till date, these women form the backbone of their dairy supply chain, powering Amul’s massive line of dairy products that are definitively “The Taste of India,” as claimed by the brand’s tagline.
They were the ones who made Verghese Kurien’s “White Revolution” possible.
The spot was first released in 1996, then renewed in 2012 as a tribute.
I love the storytelling aspect of it, and I think it succeeded because it engaging and honors a critical part of the consumer experience (which is the source of the product).
Ads nowadays sell the final product but never really bring the consumer in touch with the entire journey, losing out on the chance to create a holistic experience.
Ye Dewaar ~ Ambuja Cement
In just 60 seconds, this ad establishes two lovable characters, tells a funny story, and crisply lands the brand’s main USP: walls built with Ambuja’s cement simply do not break.
It’s also interesting to note that when you’re a massy brand, humor is often your best tool to get people talking.
That’s because humor is universal, it jumps over language barriers, helping you reach anyone from an educated architect in the city to a small builder in the suburbs or rural regions.
When in doubt, make people laugh!
Daag Acche Hai ~ Surf Exel
Imagine embracing the problem that your brand is trying to solve, making it a friend instead of a foe.
That sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s exactly what Surf Exel did with unprecedented finesse.
It’s tagline “Daag Acche Hai” has become one of the most recognized IPs in the Indian ad space for a good reason.
Usually, you’d expect a detergent brand to look down upon dirty clothes, positioning itself as a solution to achieve a clean wash.
But to add an emotional taste to the whole consumer experience, the brand chose to embrace the idea of getting your clothes soiled if it means protecting or caring for your loved ones.
The explanation goes, “Agar daag lagne se kuch accha hota hai, toh daag acche hai.” (If you’re doing something good for someone, it’s OK to get your hands dirty in the process)
The above ad, titled “Puddlewar,” shows a brother leaping into the mud to console his sister, was one of the brand’s earliest manifestations of the tagline.
What’s beautiful is that they have continued to tell different stories over the years by using this tagline as the consistent anchor.
It showed a Hindu girl volunteering to go out in the streets and get bombarded with water balloons thrown by other kids. It’s later revealed that she did this so that her Muslim friend could go to the Mosque for his Namaz in clean clothes.
And thus, the tagline was reinforced through a religious lens.
Evolution ~ Mentos
This animated spot from 2008 is another example of storytelling at its finest.
The ad is only 52 seconds long, yet it’s more entertaining than most of the Bollywood movies released nowadays.
It shows the story of a monkey eating a Mentos and evolving into a smart caveman, who then goes on to domesticate the donkey who had previously enslaved it.
The whole idea is so original, silly, and downright whacky, I have no idea how they came up with the whole story. It would never get approved in today’s world because brands are becoming more and more over-cautious with how they portray themselves.
Isn’t that sad? I wish we get to see such crazy pieces again!
Fishing ~ Fevikwik
This quirky TV spot was conceptualized by Ogilvy & Mather, released in 1998.
It’s yet another case study on how to land humor without speaking a single word. The story uses the common trope of a seemingly dumb uneducated person overtaking the elite class through witty use of the product being advertised.
In doing so, Fevikwik conveys its product’s benefit and reliability quite visually.
It was often broadcasted during live cricket matches, permanently attaching itself to the Golden Era of our cricket team, too, when Sehwag & Sachin reigned the stadium. So it’s safe to say that this commercial will continue to “stick” with me for many more years.
Murgi/Egg ~ Fevicol
Fevicol was one of the first brands to use humor in television advertisements.
Many of its early communications are credited to Piyush Pandey and his brother, Prasoon. Piyush was leading Ogilvy & Mather’s India division back then, and the iconic “anda/murgi” script was the result of their brainstorming sessions.
I love the simplicity of the ad in question. Again, since it doesn’t use any words (a practice that many of the ads followed back then since regional dubbing and broadcasting were not always economical or technologically possible), it has a universal appeal that transcends the myriad of cultures in India.
It keeps you guessing until the end, and the payoff is seamlessly delivered through the radio host’s voice which is already an organic part of the entire setting.
Fevicol has continued to keep its communications strikingly consistent through the years and across different media, always falling back to its sticky brand promise, “Ye Fevicol ka Mazboot Jod hai!”
That’s no easy feat!
Jalebi ~ Dhara
No list of classic Indian advertising examples is complete without a mention of the adorable “Jalebi ad” by Dhara refined cooking oil.
The film was critical to the brand’s success because initially Dhara was perceived as a cheap oil used by lower-class consumers, but this spot helped it create a more appealing image as an oil that helps in yummy cooking.
By perfectly capturing the innocence of a child, the ad positions Dhara as a trustworthy oil that brings the family together, including any kids who might be thinking of absconding.
This was conceptualized in 1996 and aired for nearly five years. DDB Mudra from Hyderabad was at the center of its execution with major credit going to Jagdish Acharya and the child actor Dastur Parzaan who became the nation’s heartthrob.
You can read the interesting story behind the making of the 50-second film here.
Aaaya Mausam ~ Dermi Cool
This is an ad that signaled the start of the summer for us.
We enjoyed coming back from school and watching it over and over again during our vacations.
What’s noteworthy about the score, sung by Kailash Kher, is that it builds a strong association between the product usage in a particular season, which is also why the ad only ran during that specific period.
This is an early example of targeted campaigns, and it was so successful that Dermi Cool dominated their market category for years on end because of the constantly reinforced jingle, “Aaya Mausam Dermi Cool ka” i.e. “This is the season for using Dermi Cool.”
Wonderful Doodh ~ Amul
Amul has undoubtedly been a pioneer of Indian advertising across all media, from print (Utterly Butterly Delicious topicals) to television and now also social media.
This “Doodh Doodh Doodh” ad was supposedly India’s response to America’s “Got Milk?” campaign, which single-handedly saw dairy demand surging through the roofs in the West.
The song is super-catchy and all of the product’s core benefits (health, versatility, convenience) are cleverly embedded within the lyrics.
Happy to Help ~ Vodafone
In 2003, Cheeka, the pug first appeared in “You & I” advertising campaign of Hutchinson Essar’s cellular service in India.
The ad showed the dog following the boy in unlikely locations, prompting the tagline, “Wherever you go, our network follows.”
This was followed by a series of ads, first announcing the company’s rebranding into Vodafone, and then talking about its customer service.
Then, the series started using the pug as a trope in cute stories to focus on different aspects of their service.
For example, the one below shows the pug helping a shy boy make friends with his crush, as the memorable tune “Just You, Just Me,” plays in the background. This leads to the tagline, “Instant Connections [are possible] on the Vodafone Network.”
Much of the work on this mascot can be credited to Ogilvy & Mather’s Mahesh V and Rajeev Rao.
It not only catapulted Vodafone into the list of legendary Indian brands from the early 2000’s but also had a ripple social effect on the dog breed, making it the most-wanted breed by pet owners in the country (this isn’t to say that it’s good because I’m against puppy mill breeding as it’s unethical & often cruel for the mothers).
Anyways, coming back to our discussion, what I love about the campaign is how it simplifies the brand’s entire communicating, taking away all the fluff, and just focusing on sharing cute moments with the audience.
The pug becomes a smart tool to demonstrate any message that the brand is trying to convey, whether it’s their new name or their Instant Connections feature.
This is why the ads connected with a lot of people, especially kids, when they were launched – the analogies make them simple to understand for anybody, not to mention the smooshy cuteness the pug pup brings to the table.
Sometimes, it’s just best to keep things simple and silly.
To conclude our discussion on a sweet note, I’d like to share something made by AIB (All India Bakchod). This isn’t an ad but rather a tribute to all sticky catchphrases, slogans, jingles, and songs that were at the center of many campaigns aired during that period.
I love how they’ve used purely vocals (their mouths) to create the entire orchestra, no instruments! – it’s one of their most ambitious creations (which is why it also sucks that they shut down after multiple controversies).
So that was my personal dossier of legendary Indian ads that I keep coming back to for inspiration.
Which ones are your favorites? Did I miss any good pieces that deserve to be on the list?