During my stint at MAA, I was associated with Sheel Kumar and Swadesh Chaddha of Radiowani. We used to produce radio commercials. One commercial is still stuck in my head, even after 43 years. It was for Singer Sewing Machine Needles. The commercial was: चल चल चमेली बाग़ में मेवा खिलाऊँगा मेवे की डाल टूट गई तो? चादर बिछाऊँगा चादरका कोना फट गया तो? दर्ज़ी बुलाऊँगा दर्जी की सुई टूट गई तो? सिंगर की सुई लाउँगा Those were the good old days of advertising!
David Ogilvy had once famously said, “Unless your campaign has a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.” True that.
My dear friend and colleague Gopi Kukde of “Onida Devil” fame and I tried to work around this thought when we got Leon International aboard as a client. The foreign brand offered various products ranging from switches and sockets to suit every need, with safety as the priority.
It was entering the Indian market with a lot of hope. Our job was to make the right noises for the brand to be noticed by the target audience – the engineers, architects and interior decorators – who would eventually recommend the product.
It was a premium brand in this segment. Leon International’s switches and sockets cost Rs 150-Rs 10K during those days while the Indian products came much cheaper.
We deliberately avoided a celebrity to endorse these products because it was a standalone brand with little or no competition in the Indian market. Also, because we believed that these switches and sockets came with ample credibility, it alone could help the product live up to the 4Ps and keep the promise made to its customers.
In hindsight, I feel the TVC was a simple but fantastic idea. It showed only the hands painted with different flags moving towards the switch. The last one was the hand with the tricolour on it. The copy below was crisp and clear in its messaging. It said, “Leon International, Now in India.” With that, we had announced Leon International’s arrival, made an impact and reached out to the target audience.
The media planning and buying were sharp in their approach as well. We had promised the brand that we would deliver value for money, and I am glad we could do it. The brand spent a frugal amount, but got a good deal in return. We managed to get 20 ad spots on a leading news channel’s two of the most popular programmes, five of them during prime time. It was quite a catch, cheap and best.
It helped us cut across the clutter and steer the brand safely, and anchor it in the minds of the prospective customers who would eventually buy these products. It happened, and that too without any celebrity endorsement. The initial splash helped the brand make inroads into the Indian market and has sustained it all along. I don’t remember them doing any advertisements after their debut outing, and that’s why I say that a good start is a good beginning, always.
I lost my mother in 1969, 12 years after my father’s demise. I was all alone in this world with two young brothers. To fend for myself and my siblings, I had joined my father Abid Gulrays’ friend Ayaz Peerbhoy’s Marketing Advertising Associates Pvt. Ltd. while pursuing my studies. I was working with Murli Manohar Swarup for the Indian languages copy and radio department. Simultaneously, I was also working with the media department as an assistant to M.A. Khan. On March 12, 1971, Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Rajesh Khanna-Amitabh Bachchan starrer Anand had released. I was, and still am, a movie buff, so I had to watch the film on the first day itself, if not the first day, first show. That evening, I had booked my ticket for the evening show at Regal and had planned to scoot after calling it a day at work. The theatre was across the road, and the show was to start at 6.15 pm. Just when I was about to leave office, my boss Murli Manohar Swarup walked up to me and said, “Today, I have got a sudden engagement. Sanforized Ke Mehman’s next episode is scheduled to be recorded at 7.30 pm. Jameel, you will have to go to HMV studio to supervise the recording.” I replied, “But Sir, I have booked my ticket for the evening show, and I am going to watch Anand.” He was pretty curt in his response. “Either watch a movie or build your career. I leave it to you,” and walked away in a huff, leaving me in a fix. No doubt, I had a difficult choice to make, and quickly because it was already 6 pm. The Hamletian dilemma got the better of me. Whether to be at the Regal theatre or the HMV recording studio was a tough call.
I was visibly upset with the sudden change of plan because I felt it was unfair on my boss’ part to assign work, and that too, after office hours. But Mr Swarup was my boss, and come what may, and I had to abide by his impromptu order. I didn’t want to miss my movie, but Mr Swarup’s words were echoing in my ears, loud and clear. “Either watch that movie or build your career.” Finally, I tore my movie ticket and went on to supervise the recording. I learned to give precedence to business and not mix it with pleasure, but instead work with pleasure. Such is life and its invaluable lessons. 😊 And to date, work alone gives me Anand (joy), quite literally.
In February 1977, I met K. Kurian, founder and chairman of Radeus Advertising, for the first time. He was interviewing me for the post of Hindi copywriter in the agency.
He said, “Before I ask you any question, I want you to look at our existing Hindi advertisements and give your comments”.
Then he called for all his clients’ guard books. I don’t think today’s advertising professionals would know what guard books are. A guard book is an advertising agency’s internal archive of work done for a particular client.
First, the guard book was for Firestone Tyres.
In the first ad, in its first two sentences itself, I could spot errors. I asked him, “May I please get a pencil, Mr Kurian?”
He was amused and wondered, and rightly so. “Why do would need a pencil?” was his question.
I replied, “To mark spelling errors, first.”
Mr Kurian shot back, “You mean to say our published ads have spelling errors?”
Well, yes, they had. But he was gracious enough not to get offended, and that’s how I bagged my copywriting job at Radeus.
Today, spelling errors ain’t a great deal because “sab chalta hai dude.” 😀😀😀
A trip down memory lane, reminiscing my professional association with the Milkman of India on Amul’s 75th anniversary that also coincides with his centenary year celebration. Truly, it is nothing but ‘pyaar ki meethi bhent’ for someone I deeply admired.
We are supposedly in a galaxy made up of about 200 billion stars and an all-encompassing halo… Looking back at one of the strongest influences in my life, I cannot but liken this man, who the world calls the ‘Milkman of India’, to this galaxy, ironically also called the Milky Way.
My first encounter with Dr Verghese Kurien, the man behind AMUL, GCMMF, NDDB, IRMA, was almost four decades ago. I first met him as a raw, young advertising man who was introduced to him as the media planner on the account. I knew him as my client. My first encounter with him set the course of what I term as my coming of age in advertising.
Dr Kurien was, what most advertising professionals today may term, a terror. But again, which client isn’t, one may ask? But the terror here was not the one who would yell or scream or misbehave or want one to do stuff his way. In fact, he was just the opposite. A client who called his agency, briefed them, set targets and cordially told them he would meet them a year later… if we met the targets, we continued servicing AMUL; if we did not, he would give us a warm send-off. Now which advertising professional would not find this terrorising… an invisible sword hanging over our heads that reasonably said, meant perform, increase sales and continue on the account. If you fail to meet the marketing goal, EXIT! Clear. Precise. Unarguable.
When I first met him, I felt I was starting school. Still, after continuously servicing his account for 17 successful years, meeting targets year after year, I felt I had successfully graduated and post-graduated, year-on-year, with honours.
The man was clear in his vision, precise in his method and unarguably accurate in what he believed was good for the farmers. His indefatigable attitude of taking a bull by its horns made sure he successfully took on every challenge thrown up by the white revolution. When the problem of excess milk going to waste surfaced after AMUL successfully harnessed the massive support of milkmen, who contributed directly to the co-operative eliminating middlemen, he started the manufacture of AMUL milk powder. When he saw multinationals successfully market milk chocolates, his next thought was ‘why not AMUL’ and here came Amul Milk Chocolates…
The introduction of AMUL milk chocolates was a chapter in communications by itself. The chocolate went through multiple modifications to suit the 4 Ps of marketing. When it melted in summers due to retailers not having refrigeration to store it, he introduced carton packing to keep the chocolate safe. When it came to fighting out the frequency war in advertising, he, like the dream client he was, quickly took on my media suggestion of running 10-second commercials to every ‘slice of life’ commercial of the leader.
We re-wrote the way creative worked, by aligning them to adhering to ‘only 10-second commercials’. At one-third of the budget, AMUL Chocolates soon captured the nation’s heart with its ‘A Gift for Someone You Love’ proposition.
His journey to make AMUL a head-on competitor, if not a leader in every milk product category, drove him to manufacture condensed milk, a product he felt was not as good as the competitors despite several modifications. But he was relentless in his pursuit of taking the co-operative to heights none of its shareholders could imagine.
The story of the co-operative’s success behind the “Anand Pattern” of dairy development, which today has been adopted all over the country, was captured in the Shyam Benegal movie Manthan. This was the first time in India that a feature film was financed by farmers — the 500,000 farmers of Gujarat, as part of Dr Kurien’s Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation.
In 1994, when the agency where I was working for, Radeus, another co-operative, was surreptitiously sold off to what is now TBWA-Anthem, Dr Kurien withdrew the account stating, “Your agency may be up for sale. My account isn’t.”
Maybe the man behind India’s most successful co-operative movement felt as cheated as us, that his namesake Kurien, the head of Radeus had committed this breach.
For more than five decades, this ‘Milkman of India’ blazed many trails, taking his dream project to dizzying heights. India is what she is today due to the contributions of great men like Dr Verghese — an engineer who gave up the prospect of a good life and walked into a village to lead India to her glory. Rare is such selflessness, and rarer is the ability to see the largesse such men build, not for themselves but the masses. After struggling and fighting against middlemen and establishing a profitable co-operative, he saw the path he had made slowly obliterated, with none other than his protégés in an uprising against him. Dr Kurien was subject to utmost humiliation, by none other than those who served and were mentored by him, and finally gave up by resigning in 2006.
He, however, continued to stay in Anand, which from an unknown, remote village transformed into an invigorating, recognisable and exemplary speck on the world map. Today, many shall sing his praises, and many of these would be his detractors, who put this great man through ignominy. But like all great men, he too must be laughing all the way, at this farce that will be put up, as a good show, devoid of all sincerity.
I pay my heartfelt tribute to this man, who is as much a reason for my success as my other mentor, his namesake Kurien. My book would not have been what it is if it was not for the experiences I earned from Amul.
As I bid remember my dearest teacher, I cannot but recite this apt couplet, “Woh log humne ek hi shokhi mein kho diye, Paida kiya falak ne jinhe khaak chhan kar”.
I have a wish to make at least 4 more good advertising professionals before I leave this world. I have been a teacher and would love to pass on whatever little I know to a few eager-to-learn bunch of advertising newbies. It will be a small group so that I can respond to queries, and give individual attention. The takeaway would be an opportunity to learn the nuances of media planning. Unfortunately, today most of the advertising agencies are owned by “Foreigners” who have made every employee, including CEOs to earn “Profits” for them. With the account type individuals, training, professional development has taken a back seat. Even professional associations, etc., too have mediocre people at the helm of affairs. If any one is offended with my remark, I invite them to debate with me on a public forum. Looking at the situation, I’ve now decided to conduct my Creative Workshop for students, once again. Would you want to join?
दीवाली पर जश्न-ए-रिवाज कहने में क्या गुनाह है? भाजपा नेता तेजस्वी सूर्या की धमकी के बाद फैब इंडिया ने हटाया विज्ञापन। सफाई भी दी। लेकिन फैब इंडिया के बहाने किस पर निशाना लगा रहे हैं तेजस्वी? उर्दू क्या मुसलमानों की भाषा है? आलोक जोशी के साथ जमील गुलरेज़, शरत प्रधान, नवीन जोशी और हिमांशु बाजपेई।