THE MOPPET SHOW
By: K. G. SREENIVAS Dated: November 01, 2013
‘Amul - the Taste of India’, the iconic catch phrase that has enthralled consumers for nearly half a century, continues to tell everyday stories of India from hoardings, a medium it has faithfully stuck to across the country
“Ten du, Ten don’t… Amul, Try some application”…
“India’s Most Wanted, Not Wanted… Amul, Unlock the Taste”…
“Caught in a snowdenstorm, Amul, Classified as Tasty…”
“Kisko mafia kiya, kisko sazaa diya?... Amul, Stands its ground”!
Thus go some of the great lines from Amul hoardings across the country. All these lines, however, have context – one of immediacy. What lends meaning to immediacy is the writer’s interpretation and nuancing of context. Not surprising, therefore, is their endurance as pieces of highly evolved social, political and economic, or timely and meaningful commentary. For example, “Tend du, Ten don’t…” in one fell stroke captured the story of India crashing out of the 1986 Cricket World Cup despite some great batting by Sachin Tendulkar. Cut to 2013: We had one of the greatest calamities to have struck India – in Uttarakhand. The human tragedy in the wake of a cloud burst and a flash flood was devastating. It was the Indian armed forces who rose to the call of exceptional duty. Amul responded by saying: ‘Armyogi… Amul, in Good Hands”.
Even more recently was the suspension of an IAS officer of Uttar Pradesh, ostensibly for razing an illegal wall built around a mosque. The real reason, it is said, was because she took on the powerful sand mafia of the State largely controlled by politicians. And Amul’s take on the irony of it: “Kisko mafia kiya, kisko sazaa diya?... Amul, Stands its ground”!
It’s the story of an extraordinary relationship – one hewn in absolute trust. Here is one of the country’s iconic brands held in sacred trust by one of the country’s oldest advertising agencies.
The year was 1966. Sylvester daCunha was then the manager of an agency that was asked to advertise Amul – the brainchild of its visionary founder Dr. Verghese Kurien. daCunha Senior, whose son Rahul daCunha has been leading the creative charge at daCunha Communications since 1993, looked at Amul’s positioning: “Processed from the purest milk under the most hygienic conditions by a dairy cooperative in Gujarat”.
In his ‘Utterly Butterly Story’ in Amul’s India, commissioned by Amul commemorating its nearly 50-year-old unbroken campaign, the longest running anywhere in the world, daCunha Senior says: “This was like a lantern lecture to an indifferent audience. Nonetheless, it had left some positive impressions about the brand. But clearly, some pep needed to be injected into the communication.”
daCunha Senior wanted a tagline to replace the existing ‘Purely the Best’. He says how when he told his wife Nisha about his new assignment, she instantly came out with a catchy phrase “Utterly Amul”, to which he, almost as a repartee, added, “Utterly butterly Amul”. Thus was born one of the most memorable lines in Indian advertising! It wasn’t without some doubt that it was received though Dr. Kurien in his inimitable style said: “I think it’s utterly mad; but if you think it’ll work, go ahead.”
In fact, this was counter-intuitive Kurien at his best – trusting and leaving it to the wisdom of experts the job they knew best! In this case, he left it to daCunha to rebrand the soul of Amul.
After they got what daCunha Senior says “a very promising selling line”, his then art director Eustace Fernandes, an outstanding visualiser and cartoonist who passed away in 2010, conjured up the “charming moppet in a polka-dotted frock and a matching ribbon in her ponytail”. daCunha Senior says, “Yes, she had all the qualities I was groping for – she was naughty, cuddly, innocent, smart; I knew we had a winner.”
The decision was to build an outdoor campaign around her and they opened with the little girl praying by her bedside: ‘Give us this day our daily bread – with Amul butter’.
The rest was advertising history.
Creative Brands met Rahul daCunha, the Creative Director of daCunha Communications, in Mumbai. In the course of an extensive chat about the iconic Amul campaign, Rahul tells us what goes into the making of imagination and, often, political imagination at its best.
So, how did Rahul take on a singularly colossal legacy?
Ensuring consistency was key, he says. “This is my 20th year on the campaign. In 1993, when I joined, I felt that the Amul campaign was in a sort of hoarding-to-hoarding scenario. We did that to be topical, but I don’t know whether we were that consistent. That time we were doing one hoarding a week, sometimes one hoarding in ten days. I realised that we needed to be much more consistent…”
To lend consistency one defining characteristic, Rahul decided that, “we needed to comment on much more, in fact, decisively. So, I felt that we needed to be more edgy, which meant that if we were to make a point about politics then we needed to make that point. What was the Amul take on it? There has to be a take. It can’t be a loose sitting-on-the-fence observation. Now that’s cheeky because then suddenly you are dealing with all kinds of sensitivities. But we have for 20-odd years flown close to the wind because every day we take up some issue and run the risk of rubbing someone up the wrong way.”
But is there a line he draws? “The fact remains,” Rahul says, “that one has to still be reasonably careful in the topics one handles and how you handle it. Essentially, you are selling a brand.”
When asked about a decisive point of conflict his work may have led to, Rahul says, “You see, Amul is not just a cartoon every day… We need to strike a balance. The classic thing happened in 1998 when Jagmohan Dalmiya (then BCCI President and presently interim President) was implicated in an alleged television rights scam in that year’s mini-World Cup held in Dhaka. So we came up with ‘Dalmiya mein kuch kala hai...’ The hoarding went up outside his office in Calcutta and he went ballistic. But instead of calling us and saying it was appalling, he sent a legal notice to Dr. Verghese Kurien and said, ‘I am not just going to sue Amul, I am going to sue you’. The suit was for Rs. 500 crore! Dr. Kurien had no idea what was happening, because he hadn’t seen the hoarding yet – there was no Facebook those days – and our client would see the hoarding for the first time only when the public, too, got to see it!
“What followed was an extraordinary piece of conversation. Dr. Kurien had no idea who this Dalmiya was! The hoarding showed Dalmiya in the three-monkey stance and said: ‘Dalmiya mein Kuch Kaala hai… Eat Butter not Paisa’.
“So Dr. Kurien calls me and says, ‘What is going on’, adding, ‘You’ve run some hoarding. What does it say?’
“He asks me, ‘Who is this person – some Dal… Dalmiya? Who is he?’
“So, I say, “This guy runs BCCI.”
“He asks, ‘What is that?’! Here you have a man of the farm and there it’s cricket. ‘Oh, so has he done something?’
“I tell him, ‘Well there is some news regarding…’
“Dr. Kurien then says, ‘Okay! So, what does the picture show?’
“I say, ‘it has three monkeys. Sir, can we do another hoarding in response [to his legal notice]'.
“He says, ‘Keep the same hoarding, but, add a monkey, fourth one, with his hands on his...’
“You have these defining moments in your life...,” says Rahul, adding in absolute astonishment how Dr. Kurien in the Dalmiya case signed off by saying ‘look, it does not matter’.
Referring to the antecedents of this story of trust, Rahul travels back in time a bit: “In 1965 when dad started it all, he went to Dr. Kurien and said, ‘Look, I have this idea of this girl. I have this idea that we run outdoors. And I have this idea that we run one of a topical nature. But I need your permission to not have to show you every time we do a fresh design/line…’, because you lose the topicality. Dr. Kurien said, ‘If this is your plan then go ahead we will not say a word to you’. And 49 years later his word still holds. In other words, they said, ‘We trust you enough to know that you wouldn’t land us in trouble’.”
Describing the relationship between Amul and the daCunhas, Rahul adds, “I never took that responsibility for granted. For him to have said that ‘look it does not matter’, I realised that, that was trust.”
In the event, Dalmiya backed off when the Supreme Court asked for a mandatory security of Rs. 50 crore (a tenth of the amount he had filed the suit for).
ART OF CONTEXT
When CB met Rahul on a Monday, a few things had happened over the weekend: legendary badman Pran had died; Stuart Broad, the English cricketer, had refused to walk after being given out; the Supreme Court had ruled that politicians who were in jail couldn’t contest elections; and then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi used the analogy of a puppy while referring to the deaths in his State in the 2002 riots. “Four topics… and I want to comment on all. I don’t want to say ‘let me pick and choose’,” says Rahul. “Earlier, every Monday morning I would wake up to what we do. Now, it’s every morning I wake up to what we do, because with Facebook it happens [very quickly].”
But contemporaneity also needs contextualising? Rahul is, therefore, clear about his audience, too. “I am very clear that tomorrow’s generation’s tradition is what I want to talk about… It’s interesting to talk to both, because today’s magazines tend to talk to today’s guys who have no sense of tradition… Why are the Australians the greatest cricket team? They’ll never forget where they came from. They have an understanding about who Bradman was. Steve Waugh knew where he came from. Alan Border knew. Michael Clarke knew. You don’t know whether Dhoni understands who Vijay Merchant was. They don’t know who Kapil Dev was...!”
While refusing to be ‘correct’ in a middle-of-the-road manner, Rahul’s challenge lies in striking a certain geographical-linguistic balance. “So, we do 200 cities across India. The West doesn’t talk South Indian languages, and the South doesn’t really speak Hindi; and it is same with the North. As a result, Bollywood is struck off the South! So we pretty much know the parameters. If we are making fun of a North Indian politician we tend to keep that hoarding more in the Hindi. The South Indian topic will, more often than not, be in English or it’ll be in a South Indian language. Like a Jayalalithaa hoarding does not go to the East. Today, I do a slightly smarter thing – I won’t do a Mamatha hoarding in Calcutta, I’ll do it in Asansol... I don’t need to take her on.”
So, Rahul draws a fine line, too, when caricaturing politicians. “Amul does not want to get into it, and I don’t want a situation where some stupid follower of say Mamatha, for some point, pulls my hoarding down. And some do it all the time. It won’t make any difference to us, but, it’s a nuisance... See today, we have some of the most colourful politicians around – Mamatha, Jayalalithaa, Mayawati, Mulayam and his son, you have Manmohan himself, Rahul – the bachelor he is, Modi for what he is, Shashi Tharoor and so on... so suddenly we are getting all these characters in the nation...”
Increasing and widespread public ‘articulation’ on issues is good source material for Rahul’s craft. “So, today there are many more chaps who are vocalising what they are feeling,” he says. “Bollywood has suddenly taken on a whole new meaning because apart from the old guys there are so many more decent guys who are taking the trouble. They won’t become a Salman Khan running over somebody, or killing a black buck; or a Saif Ali Khan getting into a fight. So suddenly, the politicians are seeing the virtue of glamour. Film stars are seeing the virtue of politics. It’s all becoming a property of things that are coming together which I am counting as popular culture. So, I think our campaign is aiming to mirror India…”
Rahul believes that the Amul campaign is what he describes as a “different one” where the brand doesn’t need reinforcement. “I think our brand is so strong… I have been asked how the campaign results in sales. But I think, eventually, the function of this campaign is that Amul is a different one. The function is that Amul in this campaign isn’t about ‘butter’ alone. It is about commenting on the country and then itself it has taken its own brand personality which is edgy, which is questioning where the country is.”
“It’s gone beyond brand, you know,” adds Rahul for emphasis.
THE CREATIVE INTERSTICES
CB wanted to know the mechanics of the creative process and collaboration that went into the making of the day’s topical. “So, there are only three of us: writer Manish Jhaveri, designer Jayant Rane, and myself. So typically, my real thinking I do is to make the lines, where all the papers and all of that come in… so that, at least we know what is really hot, what we need to keep, and what can come up in some time. The main things are Bollywood, politics and cricket – among the things that define us. So at any point of time I am keeping abreast with what Shahrukh or Salman or Sachin or Dhoni are doing as personalities… With Sachin it’s like is he retiring or not retiring… then he goes and changes his hair style. Each of these is a hoarding…”
An early morning chat sets the process in motion. “My chat with Manish Jhaveri, every morning, is crucial. So then we think what kind of picture should we show? Should the picture have Broad alone? No. We should have Alim Daar as well. What are we – ‘Bread and Butter’, therefore, ‘Broad and Butter’, with a little girl watching. She is the third umpire. So, it is the question of what is the topic, first of all. And then, crucially, what are you going to say? What is our stand! Who will this appeal to? And how do we depict both in the headline and how does Jayant actually visualise it,” says Rahul about the creative process.
So, do the three of them sit together? “You know what the fascinating thing is – it is ‘no’. Manish actually freelances for us. I call him at 8 am and he’d ask ‘what’s the topic?’ By 12 noon he’d send me the line. By that time Jayant would have taken his train from Borivali to our office. Then we sit. When the image is ready, we figure out where this particular hoarding should be placed – in the North or the South. Even that is important, because Pran wouldn’t go to South, whereas the North is emotional about it...”
When do the hoardings go up? “Every Wednesday morning, the hoarding is also depicted in 30 publications – The Indian Express, Hindustan Times… That is besides the outdoors, television, and Facebook. On Wednesdays the whole of India sees it in her newspapers. That’s another level of thinking. That topic needs to be something that the whole country is thinking about,” points out Rahul.
Is the creative process obsessive? “It’s great,” exclaims Rahul. “Needless to say it is a 24-hour-job. All the time in my mind I am thinking what can go on a hoarding, constantly.”
Where does technology come in? “Yes, there is no painting any more. So, technology has helped us tremendously. And then, I can get things faster. The moment Jayant does the sketch it’s uploaded on Facebook. So, from creation to execution is 5-6 hours as opposed to two days as in earlier days. Those days you had to physically despatch the work to different centres,” Rahul explains.
Does his craft intersect with the functions of journalism?
“I think so because as self-respecting Indians we have a view as well, and we have a weapon – with the use of a picture, with the use of cleverly bodied copy and the use of such reach... Look at Amul – here’s a company that comes out of a farming movement and is still a cooperative, and that by itself is a statement of sorts! It’s not an MNC or a global company! Clearly, we have to be cutting edge. We have to say the way ‘we’ see it. And I think to that extent… it does. The reason I am here today is because I wanted to be like a daily thing that you see today. I wanted to be current. ‘Current’ is not two days later. When you read about the next thing in the paper, I want to be there as well. But, I’ll just say it funnily. I don’t have to say it exactly it is, but, I can cartoonise it, I can colour it, I can do whatever I feel. As a result, responsibility of it is also very important, because, you know, there was a time when Amul stayed away from political issues, especially during the Emergency... For the most part, now, because politics is so much a part of who we are... you have Kejriwal, Anna Hazare, corruption, and all of that – how could we not comment on it... So, it is a responsibility. It also something that has begun and the wheels can’t stop now. And what I like to believe is India waits for it,” asserts Rahul.
COPY AND A SENSE OF HISTORY
Is the copywriter a historian, journalist, social commentator, vigilante?
For Rahul copy is beyond punning. “To be simple is very complex. You have to be really clever… and it has taken us 20 years of honing this. When you say something it is not just the creative words you know, but, because it seems easy. I can’t tell you the number of people who have sent us: ‘what about this line’. The pun, people think will do. It is not about that. What is the sub-text? What are we not saying?”
That is the key question, Rahul observes. “So, at one level, Manish and myself, we need to be commentators, we need to have a point of view, and not be biased. But, we also need to have craft… our craft is very important.”
Should copywriters be historians? “Yes, Manish has to be a historian. He has to understand the ‘Mahabharata’. He needs to understand Hindi cinema. He needs to understand Hindi songs over the years as this has given us so much… like Shakespeare in a Western context. So, it is to be able to pull out references from various texts. It’s a large library we have. The library of Amul draws from the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, Hindi cinema, Ekta Kapoor, Sanskrit, Javed Ji, Amitabh Bachchan… You need to know all of it... And it needs to be carefully done because India knows the references. It’s a part of daily life. We are very Indian. ‘We are not an international country’ – is the conclusion I have come to. As we go on further, we are getting further and further into our own country,” Rahul, who is also a thespian of note, concludes.
The Amul hoardings often choose to communicate in ‘Hinglish’. Why Hinglish? “Okay, take Bhaag Milkha Bhaag for example... I think it’s a really awful film, but, it was a super hit in the first week itself. And I understand why! Because, there are certain topics like Partition, one man’s struggle, and you have already got your audience. And we are an emotional people. So I also understand which way the country’s thinking, it’s not the way Bombay does… and that is the danger as advertising people. We tend to think out of our Cuff Parade offices. We can’t really go into the streets of the country. I travel a lot just to understand how... this is an all-India campaign, we can’t just do from a Bombay standpoint.” Rahul is clear about his medium: “We must create a national point actually. Therefore, we are not an English country. We speak Hindi.”
Rahul showcases the power of Hinglish through a recent demonstration. “Many years ago all the hoardings were in English, now very few are in English. Our position is that either we have hoardings in ‘Hinglish’ or very simple English. Say, for example now, one of the better hoardings that we did this year was Uttarakhand – when lives were lost. Manish and I spoke on that one, wondering ‘what should we do?’ We got to do something, but cheeky! People have died. Politically, people didn’t care for the tragedy. The fact that government didn’t take notice, lives were lost... Manish said ‘the one hero is the army’. And it was incredible… Manish came up with various lines, and then he said “Karmayogi”. And we both knew at once that we have a big one... ‘Army’ is not an English word anymore, so we had the brilliant “Armyogi”! It went through the roof enough for the Army’s main man to see the hoarding, to call up Amul, and ask for a copy!”
So through it all there is loss of faith in other institutions…? “So again, what angle do we take? What I realised was that, that ended up being the most popular hoarding for the last one month (at the time of the interview) because we were so cynical about the country. We lost faith in our politicians. But the Army is one quiet leader that went out there and did whatever they could do. You need to hang on to someone… and, we are a patriotic people finally. We truly love this country,” says Rahul emphatically.
Of one thing, however, Rahul is clear: “I won’t tackle religion… The country is more divided and killed because of that, all the way from Partition up till today. Whatever we do our point is to be right about something. You can’t be right about religion... Why go that way? So, I don’t go to religion and I don’t go into hardline politics and we don’t make fun of a person... Okay in the case of Mamatha, when she had this professor arrested for circulating a cartoon, we said “Kolkartoon”. And you have our little hiding behind and smiling. It leaves you smiling, even if you are a member of the party...”
‘BRAND AND COMMENT’
Reflecting back on the times daCunha Senior and Dr. Kurien conceived of the campaign in the 1960s, Rahul reckons that the two men probably could have never imagined that “it would have made such a lasting impact”. Both men “knew that they were selling a brand, but I don’t think at that time they knew that the campaign would have such bearings.”
How long can this campaign go on? Rahul firmly believes that, “You can’t end this campaign. Long after I have gone, my successor would take it and do it. There is no end to it. Because it is really like… an RK Laxman cartoon. It’s a statement that we are making…” [ON PAGE]
He often hears that perhaps the Amul girl has replaced Laxman’s Common Man. “I suppose because we are a brand, but, this is where brand and comment have sort of merged somewhere…,” Rahul observes.
LEARNING FROM Da CUNHA SENIOR
What did Dad teach son?
Rahul contemplates. “He told me great things. He said that the greatest concept in advertising is the creation of a product feature that is not made in the factory. What is that? Levi’s, for example, is not selling denim, it’s selling sex appeal… it’s an abstraction, but, it is linked to the brand. And, day after day, my point stays consistent, is that what are you selling? Of course it is butter, but, what is coming home is trust. At one time, for certain generations, ‘trust’ superseded fashion. ‘Trust’ now is very low fashion,” Rahul observes.
Who is your audience?
“So, we need to ask ‘are you doing that purely to win awards’? Or truly trying to sell to the consumer? Who are you talking to? My first boss told me ‘write for one person’… don’t try and write for whosoever is out there. When you are writing the hoarding write for one person in mind. You will end up always being sharply focused,” Rahul says.
Ultimately, what is your role?
“When we create a campaign for Amul, it’s not like any other brand. You know that the money is coming out of a farmer… It is really significant, it is not an MNC. It’s serious business. When Mr. Sodhi says, ‘we leave it to them’, it is a huge responsibility. I am a custodian of a brand. It is this one legacy, it’s not a property… It is very precious. When I say ‘brand custodian’ I really feel that...,” Rahul concludes.
OUR AGENCIES UNDERSTAND THE SOUL OF AMUL
R.S.Sodhi is Managing Director of Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Limited(Amul) which is India's largest food company. The Federaion registered its highest ever growth of 32.1% to achieve a turnover of Rs.18143.46 crores during 2013-14. Creative Brands spoke to Sodhi about the greatest Indian Amul Story.
CB: Creative Brands takes great pleasure in welcoming you to our inaugural edition and for such an amazing story. Amul has the longest-running unbroken campaign in India. Tell us something about the synergy between you at Amul and daCunha Associates. What is the secret of your relationship that can almost be described as a near-perfect marriage?
R.S. Sodhi: We currently have two creative agencies, Draft FCB ULKA and daCunha Associates, who handle our various brands. Our media account is handled by Lodestar Universal. Our wonderfully talented advertising agencies have contributed immensely towards building brand Amul over the last several decades. The dedication, commitment, sense of ownership and adherence to cardinal principles of advertising our agencies have demonstrated in building and managing our brand holds potent lessons for the entire advertising and media industry. During my thirty years of in-depth interaction with my advertising agencies, I have certainly learnt a lot about how a combination of consistency, stability, adherence to fundamentals, sound professional ethics and creative talent can help build a strong, iconic brand.
In our case, we were fortunate to have a stable, core group of brand custodians who undertook the responsibility of taking the brand forward, across decades. The legendary Dr. Verghese Kurien himself personally nurtured that brand since its inception in 1956 till 2006 and built a core team of professionals both at the client’s end and at the advertising and media agencies. Sylvester daCunha has been the custodian of brand Amul for more than five decades. There is a long list of distinguished marketing and advertising professionals who have dedicated their entire professional lives in building and nurturing brand Amul. We firmly believe that the relationship between Client and the Agency is like a marriage. With constant interaction and development of trust, understanding and proper communication, it can last forever and be mutually beneficial to both parties.
CB: One of the key ingredients of this success story – of the relationship between Amul and the daCunhas – is implicit trust. Could you tell us something about your role in helping to translate this trust into such creative output week after week?
SODHI: Our iconic topical campaign is one of those rare instances in the industry, wherein the Client sees the campaign at the same time as the consumer. This reflects the absolute trust and faith that we have in our advertising agencies and the agencies in turn, reciprocate this trust by applying their discretion with full responsibility, assuming the mantle of brand custodians in its truest sense.
CB: Fun, imitation, satire, mimicry… above all, the extraordinary sense of humour. This is what characterises the iconic Amul ads. Can you visualise it any other way? Do you get calls from, let’s say politicians or other public figures when they are gently satirised without malice or cast in humorous situations? (One classic case was as shown in Amul’s India where T.N. Seshan, then Chief Election Commissioner of India, had the Amul hoarding blackened and you responded the next day by “If you aren’t pulled up, you are pulled down”.) How do you handle such situations?
SODHI: Whenever we have occasionally run into rough weather on account of the issue featured in our topical campaign, the agency and the client have faced the situation together as a team. Generally, our agencies have reciprocated our trust by applying their discretion with full responsibility.
However, the campaign has always been about viewing current topical issues in a humorous manner and linking it to consumption of Amul butter. The campaign has never really been about personalities and anyone who features in this campaign does so only because of a specific topical situation they are in. By and large, even celebrities love being featured in Amul topical campaigns. I am aware that some of the biggest personalities in the country display framed copies of Amul topicals in which they feature, on the walls of their homes and offices. Being featured in Amul topicals is perceived as a form of public recognition by celebrities.
CB: In terms of ideation, do you or your team get occasionally involved in ideating the ads? Or have you had instances where you and your agency have had ideational differences on finer points? How did you resolve them?
SODHI: Obviously, the inputs and the marketing brief are provided to the agencies by the Brand Management team at Amul. Thankfully, we have always had a very stable and very experienced core team of brand professionals at Amul, some of whom have dedicated their entire professional lives towards managing brand Amul.
Dr. Kurien firmly believed in the principle of hiring the best professionals and giving them the full freedom to discharge their professional duties. He created a culture in our organisation that the marketing and brand management professionals should never interfere needlessly in the agencies’ work. He once famously told off a young brand manager who was trying to give his own twist to a campaign that our agency was trying to present: “Will you give the same number of inputs to the architect designing your house? If the house collapses, whom will you blame?” This culture of letting experts do their jobs with freedom became firmly ingrained in our organisation.
CB: Amul is an extraordinary brand. When you drive past your hoardings, what are the feelings you experience? What comes over you?
SODHI: Obviously, it’s an extraordinary feeling since I have constantly lived with brand Amul for more than three decades. It was actually Dr. Kurien who along with Mr. Sylvester daCunha conceptualised and initiated this brilliant campaign in 1966. It is widely recognised as one of the longest-running outdoor advertising campaigns in the world. It is definitely one of the most visible facets of Brand Amul.
CB: The Amul hoardings constitute a socio-politico-economic history of post-independent India. How do you view them vis-à-vis their function as an advertising tool of such a great brand?
SODHI: Our topical campaign which so beautifully and uniquely chronicles the last five decades of Indian history is a testimony to the fact that consistency in communication over a long period of time is definitely one of the key pillars of brand-building. Our beloved mascot, the little Amul girl, is a darling of Indian masses, and her appeal spans several generations of consumers in every corner of this country. While several CCCs and brand mascots have been abandoned by agencies and clients alike, our consistent investment in our most popular brand manifestation has definitely paid rich dividends over the last 50 years.
The dimension of ‘topicality’, inherent in our flagship campaign, contributes substantially towards keeping our brand contemporary, fresh and relevant in the mind of Indian consumers. Every week, Amul comes up with a humorous angle on the latest event, making waves across India (or even across the world). We manage to strike a chord in the heart of all Indians, while being seen as fresh and current. This campaign helped us to appropriate the benefit of ‘smartness’, while becoming ‘top of the mind’. To some extent, this has facilitated the longevity of brand Amul and has enabled our brand to flourish and thrive by ensuring our relevance to Indian society at all points in time, during the last fifty years. Our little Amul girl has helped us remain young, vibrant and energetic for five decades.
CB: The most important aspect of a brand is perhaps ‘trust’. Trust could be a function/product of advertising, but without doubt central to what the brand stands for and delivers to the consumer. The Amul story perhaps is one such rare story where there is near-perfect convergence of product and promotion. What do you think of the larger culture of advertising? Do products deliver what they promise?
SODHI: If Amul is a strong, iconic brand today, it is because it has consistently delivered on its promise. Consumers are smart and can easily see through gimmicks. Attempts at bribing consumers through freebies, discounts or bribing the trade may deliver artificial results in the short term but will definitely never help in building a strong, flourishing brand. We have seen numerous instances of companies reducing product net weight in order to maintain artificial price-points, attempting to blatantly cheat consumers in the process. It is precisely these malpractices that end up killing brands. Fortunately, our agencies have been in sync with our philosophy of keeping things simple and making realistic promises in advertising campaigns and we have supported their efforts by delivering on these promises.
In fact, advertising and media agencies should make a conscious effort to listen to the client’s customers directly rather than just the client. This will give them better insights and appropriate perspective to understand the client’s business, the current situation and the actual problem, and enable agencies to offer more effective and relevant solutions. The agency should be completely familiar with the client’s business model and industry dynamics in which the client operates. Specific problems at the client’s end warrant multi-dimensional solutions and clients not only expect agencies to offer integrated solutions but also partner in implementation and execution as well. Agencies with capabilities of offering end-to-end turnkey solutions help to take a lot of unnecessary load off the client’s back and enable the client to focus on core business processes.
It is not sufficient to understand the client’s business model alone. Agencies should make every possible attempt to understand what makes the organisation tick. The very essence of the organisation’s soul and its moving spirit must be grasped by the agency. Our ‘Manthan’ campaign, which captures the true spirit of the Amul cooperative movement and successfully touches a chord in the heart of every Indian, is just one of the several illustrations of how our agencies have been able to understand the soul of Amul.
Change in personnel at either the agency or the client’s end should never be the trigger for changing a successful advertising strategy. The temptation of new brand managers or new creative heads to leave their own individual stamp on advertising campaigns should be steadfastly resisted and discouraged. The positioning platform, the advertising tagline, and other fundamental elements of a campaign should not be changed in an adhoc fashion unless there are extremely compelling reasons for doing so.
My love of comedy makes the Amul hoardings more layered… I pun a lot even when I’m not working on Amul. So these hoardings are just an extension of the way I normally speak", says Manish Jhaveri in an interview with Creative Brands
Manish Jhaveri is the man who writes and co-creates those memorable lines on the Amul hoardings. Manish tells Creative Brands how a sense of humour is central to his oeuvre.
CB: What is that creative churning that takes place once
you zero on the topical?
Manish Jhaveri: Rahul and I generally go through the front page stories of the leading dailies and decide on the topic for the day. We do almost five hoardings a week, so it’s a daily idea these days, not a weekly one. Once that is done, I just mull over it on the way to work. I don’t focus too much on the topic. I sit back, listen to music, talk to friends. The thing is inspiration needs to strike you; you can’t go searching for it. The moment I think of an apt line, I quickly jot it down. That first line is the tough one; the options are easier to crack. I then email that list to Rahul and we chat on the phone and freeze on the best option.
CB: How do you unfailingly come up with that uncanny
sense of humour or a bite of sarcasm (without malice)?
MJ: Nothing busts stress like a good laugh. I’m a huge fan of the Marx Brothers, Woody Allen, Monty Python, Seinfeld, Bill Cosby and George Carlin. I guess with humour, the more you read and watch, the funnier and wittier you get. I feel that my love of comedy makes the Amul hoardings more layered. The best part is it doesn’t feel like work!
CB: Be it Jaldi Hritheek ho jao, Bond’s not okay, UK..., Malabar Hillao
Mat..., Armyogi... The list is endless. In a lot of these, there is
uncanny similarity between say their ‘names’ and the situations you depict. What creative direction do you usually take?
MJ: I pun a lot even when I’m not working on Amul. So these hoardings are just an extension of the way I normally speak. What definitely helps is felicity in both English and Hindi and keeping abreast of trending topics.
CB: Does Jayant sit in on these discussions?
MJ: Jayant’s inputs are more visual; not so much on the incubation level. But very often he illustrates the hoardings while physically present at the daCunhas, so Rahul is there when he’s creating the sketches. As for me, I work on the hoardings from wherever I am.
CB: I put this question to Rahul too: Do you think the
copywriter/writer is or rather got to be a perceptive historian,
commentator, journalist, vigilante, satirist, chronicler, illustrator...?
MJ: Those are too many crosses to bear. Let’s just cross out historian, vigilante, journalist and chronicler from the list. I think a combination of commentator (apt since both Rahul and I love cricket), satirist and wise-cracker makes for an accurate job description.
CB: This would be a difficult one: Any personal favourite for some
particular or important reason? What was your first one?
MJ: My first hoarding (almost 20 years ago in 1994), one that celebrated the release of Mike Tyson from jail. The headline was: A bout time, Mike!
The hoarding that really gave me my voice was done a few months later on the power struggle in the Congress Party. Who was the real head? Narasimha Rao, Sonia Gandhi or Arjun Singh? My take was: Party, Patni or Woh?
My three favourites are:
Ten du. Ten don’t. Baseline: Try some application! [Done when only Tendulkar was scoring runs in the World Cup held in India in 1996]
Iwnnasandwich! [Done when Goran won his first and only Wimbledon crown in 2001]
Tab bhi phekta thha ab bhi phekta hai! (A much more recent take on Shoaib Akhtar’s autobiography where he claimed that Sachin was scared of his bowling.)
CB: What are your other professional commitments?
MJ: I work as creative consultant with one of India’s biggest dot coms and a handful of ad agencies. I also pen corporate scripts for some of the country’s best known event management companies.
CB: What is your view about branding and the values a brand stand for?
MJ: I think a brand has truly succeeded when its consumers become its custodians. Not only do they use it, they influence others to use it. And that can only happen when a brand doesn’t lie to the people who use it. A relationship between a brand and its user is like any other relationship. It can only be built on trust, truth, reliability, understanding, comfort and happiness. And like in real life, a sense of humour definitely helps.