The brand Sylvester built – and built.
I had not heard of the Amul name until 1978, when Sylvester daCunha made his riveting presentation on Amul’s advertising at the Asian Advertising Congress (AdAsia ‘78) in Manila. Based entirely on the brilliant outdoor campaign his agency had developed for Amul Butter, daCunha’s case study stole the show from the presentations made by other better known names.
Amul’s story is unique and quintessentially Indian.
It is hard to imagine a brand in the West with such deep roots among the original producers and with such widespread support. Amul, produced by a cooperative, rather than an individual or family owned business, has continued to strike a chord with Indian consumers. In the foreword to Amul’s India, R. S. Sodhi, Managing Director, Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, shares some of the key factors behind the concept of Amul.
“Amul emerged as an offshoot of the Indian freedom movement to give poor farmers the best returns on their milk by eliminating middlemen. Since then it has grown into a national brand that is respected and trusted in every corner of the country. The concept, ‘Taste of India’, the Amul moppet, and the consistent advertising strategy have all contributed to the Amul success story.”
However, the most successful ingredient in this historic and long running outdoor campaign is daCunha’s keen eye for history; it never misses an opportunity to engage viewers and, of course, consumers. From 1966, when the first billboard appeared, Amul’s messages and its moppet have become a veritable record of contemporary Indian history. Messages change as often as events do and the pace is breathtaking. One can only marvel at the copywriters’ talent in consistently meeting the challenge of coming up with quick, clever captions to reflect whatever is newsy and popular, while retaining the look and tone that have made Amul billboards so familiar.
In capturing the ethos of the times, Amul’s billboards have freely used the famous, as well as the infamous, and many of the celebrities featured have also contributed to Amul’s India.
Amitabh Bachchan, possibly the single most represented individual on Amul Butter’s billboards says that “when the campaign covers a film of mine, I take it as an endorsement by the public of its success. It goes the same way for failure too.”
The Big B of Indian cinema and his films receive many tributes from Amul; from messages such as ‘Amul, Akbar, Anthony – in popular demand!’ to ‘It’s about loving your butter – kabhi bread kabhi bun’ (a spin-off on a Bachchan hit Kabhi khushi kabhi gham).
Bollywood is understandably a major source of inspiration for Amul.
All the Khans (Amir, Salman and Shahrukh) make frequent appearances – both in the context of their box office hits or personal lows. In fact, as journalist Rajdeep Sardesai writes, the Amul hoardings spread across the city with different messages became, over time, as much a part of the landmarks and landscape of Bombay as the “the bhelwala on Chowpatty beach, the imposing Gateway of India dotted with pigeons, simultaneous cricket games at the Cross and Azad Maidans…”
He notes that in the familiar environs of Mumbai, “one hoarding always stood out: the Amul advertisement of the week.”
However, Delhi being the seat of government and the centre of power never fails to give the copywriters at daCunha enough ammunition. The shenanigans of politicians, in or out of power, have led the compilers to dedicate a chapter to ‘Scams’. The recent scandal involving a lobbyist Nira Radia that sent the telecom minister A. Raja to prison is captured on an Amul hoarding as ‘Radia-active disclosures! Amul in leak proof packs’.
Regional politics, with its own set of idiosyncratic personalities also attracts its fair share of satire, although many of the references may be too local for non-Indian readers. However, each billboard reproduced in Amul’s India has a brief caption to explain the context.
Amul’s billboards adequately cover every Indian passion; politics, cinema and sports. One of the most endearing messages relate to the cross-border marriage of Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik. Showing the couple in their respective sports gear, the copy says, ‘Mirza ka Malik hai! Amul Indo Pack’.
Sania Mirza, one of the contributors to Amul’s India, has been featured many times on its hoardings and writes, “…to be on the same platform with so many eminent personalities who have been featured on the Amul hoardings has felt great.”
As this book amply demonstrates, there is little that escapes the attention of the folks at daCunha – from the local and short lived Pink Chaddi movement to international incidents such as the shoe thrown at President Bush by a journalist in Iraq. It is indeed rare to find a creative team with such a hard nose for news and the ability to exploit events for catchy and relevant messages.
For those who wonder at the improbability of the entire exercise, the chapter ‘The complex process of creativity’ demonstrates the step-by-step stages, including the installation.
Amul’s India covers 50 years of ads created by daCunha Communications. It’s an inspirational book for advertising professionals and a delight for all who wish to view the news in a uniquely tongue-in-cheek way.
Amul’s India - Based on 50 years of Amul Advertising by daCunha Communications
By DY Works.
212 pp. PKR 625
Zohra Yusuf is Executive Creative Director, Spectrum Y&R.