Copywriting is all about being word wise

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.” 😀😀😀

Dr Verghese Kurien: The brightest star of the Milky Way

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.

Amul Chocolate advertisement.

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.

Manthan by Shyam Benegal.

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”.

Advertising: Believe it or not?

In this age of skepticism, cleverness for the sake of cleverness will be a liability rather than an asset.
Consumers do not appreciate, cleverness for the sake of cleverness in any of the promotional message. Their reactions to our promotional messages have been:
A. I don’t trust you. Why should I ?
B. I am surprised when something I buy actually performs the way it was advertise to perform.
C. Others make the same claim you do; most of you lying.

Writing that copy right is an art

For a copywriter of a television commercial, the copy should be the words (audio) that accompany the pictures in a television commercial.
Pictures must tell the story. Audio is supposed to support the visuals. But today, look at most commercials; almost all of them are radio spots where visuals support audio. We haven’t got over the hangover of radio commercials.
We got to remember that a lot of television viewers look at commercial breaks with sound muted. Visuals must tell the story even without audio.
Most of our copywriters tend to get carried away with the idea of writing “piece of life” commercials and fall into this trap of writing radio spots when they are supposed to be writing TV commercials.

Remembering RK Swamy

I recall my days with the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) when Larry Grant, Govind Sajnani, Bahadur Merwan, Gopi Kukde, and I conducted “creative workshops” in Mumbai.
I conducted 52, 3-months workshops at a stretch without any break. I am sure it was some record, but I never bothered to run after records. AAAI also published my advertising book in Hindi; the book being the first one on this subject in Hindi. That, too, was a record, but neither AAAI nor I claimed the record. We with AAAI also compiled the first-ever manual for Creative Planning, Media Planning, Film Production, PR Planning & Print Production. Today, AAAI doesn’t seem to take any pride in these firsts which they pioneered. All these activities were started when the great R K Swamy was the president of AAAI. He earnestly believed in training and professional development for our profession. Mr R K Swamy, you are being sorely missed.

(Photo sourced from RK Swamy BBDO Pvt. Ltd.)

‘विज्ञापन व्यवसाय कला के इंद्रधनुषी रंगों से सजा विज्ञान है’

अपने पचास वर्षों के अनुभव के आधार पर विश्वास से कह सकता हूँ कि भारत में या फिर शायद सारे संसार में विज्ञापन व्यवसाय से जुड़े लोगों की एक जटिल समस्या है और वो है, इस दुनिया में हर व्यक्ति के दो व्यवसाय होना।

जी हाँ, हर व्यक्ति के दो व्यवसाय होते हैं, एक वो, जिससे वो व्यक्ति जुड़ा है, और दूसरा होता है विज्ञापन व्यवसाय। हर व्यक्ति समझता है कि वो विज्ञापन बना सकता है। उसका मानना है कि विज्ञापन आख़िर होता क्या है — सिवाए एक तस्वीर और एक नारे के। तस्वीर खोज लो। एक अच्छा, बुरा या ऊट पटाँग नारा लिख लो, बस, विज्ञापन तैयार है। तभी तो वो विज्ञापन अभियान जिसे विज्ञापन अजेंसियाँ महीनों की मेहनत के बाद तैयार करती हैं, उन्हें उत्पादक स्वयं या उनकी पत्नियाँ या फिर उनके कर्मचारी मिनटों में तहस नहस कर देते हैं।

जो लोग विज्ञापन व्यवसाय से जुड़े हैं और सही मायनों में व्यवसायिक हैं, जानते हैं कि एक नारा और एक तस्वीर तय करने में कितनी छान-बीन करनी पड़ती है। जिस उत्पादन का विज्ञापन करना होता है, उसके बारे में लगभग सब कुछ जानना और समझना पड़ता है। क्यूँकि विज्ञापन व्यवसाय कला भी है और विज्ञान भी, ये कहना भी ग़लत नहीं होगा कि विज्ञापन व्यवसाय कला के इंद्रधनुषी रंगों से सजा विज्ञान है, जहां तर्क भी खोजने पड़ते हैं और उन्हें कला के रंगों से सजाना संवारना भी पड़ता है। 

हर अच्छा विज्ञापन उपभोक्ता तक पहुँचने से पहले विज्ञापन एजेन्सी में तीन मुख्य चरणों से गुजरता है। पहले चरण में इस बात का फ़ैसला किया जाता है कि क्या कहना है जबकि दूसरे और तीसरे चरण में ये तय किया जाता है कि कैसे कहना है और कहाँ कहना है।

पहले चरण में, यानी क्या कहना है, में जिस उत्पाद का विज्ञापन करना है उसके गुणों और कमज़ोरियों का उसी समान या उसके प्रतिस्पर्धी की तुलना में अध्ययन किया जाता है और ये मालूम करने की कोशिश की जाती है कि वे कौन से गुण हैं जिनका उल्लेख प्रतिस्पर्धी ब्रांड अपने विज्ञापनों में नहीं कर रहे हैं।

उत्पादक के तौर पर, लिम्का से पहले और अब फिर शीतल पेयों के विज्ञापनों में रंगारंग तस्वीरें का बड़े पैमाने पर इस्तेमाल होता है। जब हम लिम्का पर काम करते थे तब हम जान बूझ कर तस्वीरों की जगह इलसटरे्शन का इस्तेमाल किया। उस समय, प्रिंट, सबसे बड़ा माध्यम हुआ करता था। इसके इलावा सारे शीतल पेय रंग जामने की बात किया करते थे। उस समय लिम्का सारे अभियान का आधार प्यास था. हमारा मानना था कि शीतल पेयों का पहला काम होता है, प्यास बुझाना और ज़्यादातर उपभोक्ता प्यास बुझाने के लिए ही पेय ख़रीदते हैं। 

इसी को आधार बना कर, विज्ञापन अभियान बना गया था। 

इस चरण में क्या कहना है का फ़ैसला होता है। 

कैसे कहना है और कहाँ कहना है, दोनों चरण पर साथ-साथ काम होता है क्यूँकि इस बात का फ़ैसला कर लेने के बाद किस प्रकार के उपभोक्ताओं से बात करनी है, ये फ़ैसला करना होता है कि उनसे कहाँ बात करनी है? टी वी पर, रेडीओ पर, डिजिटल मीडिया में या प्रिंट मीडिया द्वारा? 

मान लीजिए कि हम आफ्टर शेव लोशन पर काम कर रहे हैं और सर्वेक्षण द्वारा मालूम होता है कि क़स्बों में रहने वाले रईस किसानों में आफ्टर शेव लोशन ख़रीदने की सम्भावना अधिक है। उस स्तिथि में पत्र-पत्रिकाओं की जगह टी वी और डिजिटल मीडिया बेहतर विकल्प होंगे। 

इस बात का फ़ैसला हो जाने पर उन माध्यमों के लिए उपयुक्त विज्ञापन अभियान तैयार करने की प्रक्रिया शुरू हो जाती है। 

मिसाल के तौर पर आयोडेक्स द्वारा ये तय कर लेने के बाद कि उपभोक्ताओं से कहना है कि आयोडेक्स दर्द भी दूर करता है और अच्छा भी करता है। तीन शब्दों ‘ऊह, आ, आउच’ का चयन किया गया होगा । यही उनके विज्ञापन अभियान के चिन्ह बन गए।

विज्ञापन क्या है

विज्ञापन एक प्रकार का अनलिखा अनुबंध होता है — उत्पादक और उपभोक्ता के बीच । जहां उत्पादक यह वादा करता है कि वो अपने उत्पादन की क्वालिटी बढ़िया बनाए रखेगा और उसके उत्पादन में किसी प्रकार का दोष होने पर उपभोक्ता उसे, उसके पते पर धर सकता है। वहीं उपभोक्ता का कहना होता है कि चलिए हम आपके दावे पर भरोसा किए लेते हैं और आपका उत्पाद ख़रीद कर देखते हैं।

यही कारण है कि आम तौर पर उपभोक्ताओं में विज्ञापित उत्पादनों के प्रति अधिक विश्वास दिखाई देता है। आप खुद कभी ना कभी ऐसे अनुभव से ज़रूर गुज़रे होंगे। मान लीजिए आप टेलिविज़न सेट ख़रीदने जाते हैं। आपको चंद नाम याद आते हैं — सैमसंग, एल जी, सोनी, आदि, लेकिन दुकानदार आपको एक ऐसा सेट दिखाता है, जिसका आपने कभी नाम भी नहीं सुना है। माना उसके दाम आपको याद आने वाले नामों की तुलना में काफ़ी कम हैं, लेकिन आप हिचकिचाते हैं और अंत में निर्णय करते हैं — “नहीं भैया, भले कुछ अधिक दाम देने पड़ें, हम लेंगे वही सेट, जिसे हम जानते हैं”।

एक और मिसाल ले लीजिए, आप अपने लिए जींस ख़रीदना चाहते हैं और आपको एक ऐसी जींस नज़र आती है, जिसका नाम ना तो लीवाएज़ है और ना ही रैंगलर, ना ही डीज़ल है। बल्कि उस का नाम है “टिनपॉट”। हो सकता है उसकी क़ीमत कम हो, यहाँ भी आप झिझकेंगे। उसे नहीं ख़रीदेंगे।

विज्ञापन व्यवसाय में इन अनुबंधनों के मसौदे तैयार करने वाले कापीरायटर कहलाते हैं। यह वे लोग होते हैं जो उत्पादनों में छुपे गुणों को खोज निकालते हैं । इन्हें मसौदा तैयार करने से पहले कई बातों का ध्यान रखना होता है। सबसे पहले वे उन गुणों की खोज करते हैं जो केवल उनके उत्पादन में हों। जैसे लिरिल साबुन में नींबू की सनसनाती ताज़गी का एहसास। जब लिरिल का विज्ञापन अभियान शुरू हुआ था, तब लिरिल नींबू की ताज़गी वाला इकलौता साबुन था। अगर ऐसी स्थिति पैदा हो जाए, जहां अपनेउत्पादन और प्रतिस्पर्धी उत्पादनों में कोई फ़र्क़ ना हो, वहाँ ऐसा गुण खोजने की चेष्टा की जाती है, जो प्रतिस्पर्धी उत्पादन में भी शामिल हो, लेकिन प्रतिस्पर्धी ने उसका दावा अपने विज्ञापन में कभी ना किया हो।


इसका सबसे अच्छा उदारहण लिम्का है । जब हम लिम्का पर काम कर रहे थे, तब यही सोच रहे थे कि लिम्का के बारे में क्या कहा जाए जो दूसरे सॉफ़्ट ड्रिंक्स से अलग हो । सारे प्रतिस्पर्धी उत्पादों का अधय्यन करते हुए, हमने पाया कि जब पानी में कार्बन डाईआक्सायड मिलाई जाती है तब कोई बैकटेरिया जीवित नहीं रहता । पानी, पीने के लिए पूर्ण रूप से सुरक्षित हो जाता है । उसी अधय्यन में हमने ये भी पाया कि कोई सॉफ़्ट ड्रिंक उत्पाद ये दावा नहीं करता है । हमने, लिम्का के लिए “ज़ीरो बैकटेरिया सॉफ़्ट ड्रिंक” का दावा इस्तेमाल करना शुरू किया। ये दावा इतना कामयाब हुआ कि सन 1988 में, भारत अकेला वो देश बना जहां, कोला ड्रिंक की जगह, नींबू स्वाद वाल सॉफ़्ट ड्रिंक, नंबर एक सॉफ़्ट ड्रिंक था ।

अर्थात्, लिम्का के उस दावे को स्वीकार करते हुए, उपभोक्ताओं ने लिम्का को अपनाया। लिम्का, आज भी लोकप्रिय सॉफ़्ट ड्रिंक है, हालाँकि कोका-कोला ने इसे समाप्त करने के लिए अपना ज़ोर लगा कर देख लिया है । वैसे वो एक और लोकप्रिय सॉफ़्ट ड्रिंक, गोल्ड स्पॉट, को मौत के घाट उतारने में सफल हो चुके हैं।

ये अनुबंध टूटते भी जल्दी हैं । इनके टूटने के कई कारण होते हैं। सबसे पहला कारण होता है, अनुबंध में किए गए वादे पर पूरा ना उतरना। अक्सर लोग विज्ञापन बनाते समय यथार्थ की सीमाएँ फलांग जाते हैं और ऐसे दावे कर बैठते हैं, जिनका कसौटी पर खरा उतरना सम्भव नहीं होता है।

मुझे बड़ा आश्चर्य तब होता है जब राजनीतिक पार्टियाँ अपने अनुबंधों में किए गए वादों से बार-बार पलट जाती हैं लेकिन जनता का मोह फिर भी उनसे भंग नहीं होता है। कोई अगर राजनीतिक दलों का यह जादुई फ़ार्मूला हमें बता दे तो हम उस फ़ार्मूले को अन्य उत्पादों पर लागू कर हर विज्ञापन अभियान को सफल बना सकेंगे। 

‘Brevity is the soul of wit’

I am borrowing this quote – ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’ – from English litterateur William Shakespeare to start my conversation on how to write advertising copies. These words were spoken by Polonius in Hamlet and written many centuries ago by the Bard, but these also happen to make up an enduring idiom, to sum up, a copywriter’s job. Apart from having a good command of the language, one needs to be smart in positioning the words. A dash of creativity with imagination in good measure makes an advertising copy stand out. And one must remember to follow the KISS (Keep It Simple & Smart) policy because being brief is the essence. One needs great ideas on which a product can piggyback and sell like hot cakes. Most of you would remember the famous, Tandurasti ki raksha karta hai LifebuoyIt was penned way back in 1964, but it is still in use today. The brand has been riding high on this one line alone for so many decades, and that’s the true power of words. In an advertising copy, imagination helps create an everlasting impression and etch the brand in public memory forever. 

Back Story

The Advertising Agencies Association of India or the 3As of I or AAAI was the national organisation of major advertising agencies formed to promote and protect their interests. The agencies that are members of AAAI together account for almost 80% of the advertising business. In 1984, advertising legend RK Swamy was the president of AAAI. There was a shortage of good copywriters in the advertising business back then. So, he suggested the idea to have a professional body for the training and development of advertising professionals. A sub-committee was formed under AAAI. It was headed by another advertising legend, Larry Grant, and Govind Sajnani and I were its two members. We first started a copy workshop under the aegis of AAAI. We realised that advertising can’t be taught; it is all about hands-on training, so we knew what we wanted and how we wanted to conduct these workshops and for whom. We decided to have not more than eight trainees for the training session. We released an advertisement in The Times of India, Mumbai, seeking applications for our first workshop. In response, we received whopping 500 applications. Well, selecting the right eight wasn’t easy to start. 

Eliminate to select

Many applicants had self-eliminated themselves by the way they had worded their applications. Next came the copy test to check the language know-how and the imagination quotient of the remaining lot. The pattern remained the same for all tests, but we used to change the questions. The first batch had to answer two questions – to write about AIDS but without talking about the disease or the aid pouring in from other countries to fight it and a profile of their favourite personality in 500 words. A personal interview followed the writing test. Out of 500, we managed to shortlist 16 people, and we decided to run two batches simultaneously. 

Write choice

I was in charge of three sessions in each batch, and my onerous responsibility included teaching them to write advertising copies in Indian languages. It was easier said than done. I have an interesting anecdote to share to elucidate this fact. Once, we had to design a brand name for a soap whose perfume, it was told, would linger on the body for long. A young copywriter came to tell me she had cracked it. I asked her the name that she had in mind. She told me, “It is Hug.” I smiled and told her, “I hope you know what it would be like to write this name in Devnagari script?” The name didn’t cut the ice and for obvious reasons. She knew quickly retraced her steps back to her workstation and put on the thinking cap to come with something that sounded good and read even better, in both English and Hindi.

Workshop funda  

Each workshop was of 13 sessions and was held once a week. We used to give many assignments, both individual and group, to launch a product or service and create its brand campaigns. These assignments use to give us an idea about a person’s talent, whether a person had some or none. At the end of the 13th week, the participants had to present these assignments before an advertising legend and based on that assessment, they used to get either a gold certificate, plain certificate, or no certificate and just a letter certifying that this person has attended the workshop. The first copy assignment was to write a matrimonial ad in 24 words for oneself to be published in the classified column to elicit responses from only three right people. 

We expanded our ambit to start creative, media planning, print production, film production, radio production and account management workshops under the three-member sub-committee of AAAI. We ran these workshops for 10 years. 

Looking back, it gladdens my heart to see that most of our students are well placed today. They are either Chairperson, Managing Director, Executive Directors and Senior VPs in India and even abroad. Their success gives me immense pride and satisfaction, and in equal measure. 

Are you ready to take a copy test? It’s simple. Write a matrimonial advertisement for yourself in 24 words. Once you are done, please email your entries to gulrayys@gmail.com. The best copy stands a chance to win a surprise gift voucher.