When Mohammad Khan moved back to India after spending the better part of the 1960s in London's advertising industry, he was shocked. "It felt like going back into the stone age of advertising. In the early 1970s, there was an ad for Calcium-Sandoz that said 'Strong Teeth and Healthy Bones'. Where is the advertising in this?" Khan played a part in changing that. After working with Sylvester DaCunha, who was then handling advertising for Amul, he joined hands with Arun Nanda and Ajit Balakrishnan in 1973 to found Rediffusion, which subsequently became one of the top independent agencies in India. Two years later, Lintas's Alyque Padamsee unleashed the Liril girl on the nation. The image of the bikini-clad Karen Lunel under a waterfall changed the course of television advertising in India.
The advent of colour television during the 1982 Delhi Asian Games played a big part in that change. That was also the year adman Piyush Pandey began his career. "Colour television marked the shift from print and cinema to television," notes Pandey, now Executive Chairman & Creative Director of Ogilvy & Mather India and South Asia. Prasoon Joshi, President, McCann Worldgroup South Asia, who is also a lyricist, believes television led to the democratisation of advertising. "You don't have to be very literate to understand TV ads."
Despite the growing influence of television, agencies continued to produce memorable print campaigns. "From the mid-1970s to the early 2000s there was fantastic print work," says Khan, who penned the tagline "If you want to talk, you don't have to walk" for Superphone intercom in 1978.
An ad for Hotel Dona Sylvia in Goa had beautiful long copy and the hotel was booked for months: Elsie Nanji
Some notable print campaigns from that period include FourSquare, with the tagline, 'Live Life Kingsize,' and Garden Sarees, which also had television commercials. "The Garden ads brought a new aesthetic to the medium," says Anand Halve, coauthor of AdKatha: the Story of Indian Advertising. Elsie Nanji, Managing Partner of Red Lion Publicis, fondly remembers a print ad in 1983 for Hotel Dona Sylvia in Goa: "It had beautiful long copy and the hotel was booked for months." Nanji, with Ashok Kurien, created Thums Up's 'Taste the Thunder' campaign and the controversial ad for Tuff shoes featuring Milind Soman and Madhu Sapre in the nude. Echoing Nanji, Joshi says he really misses the long copy of Khan and others. "Today is the age of slogans."
The 1980s saw the emergence of the iconic 'Lalitaji' in the Surf commercial
. She was created by Padamsee to counter the rise of Nirma, which had an equally popular campaign with the jingle "Hema, Rekha, Jaya aur Sushma… sab ki pasand Nirma."
Towards the fag end of the decade came the 'Hamara Bajaj' ad
, created by Lintas. It spoke as much of national pride as of the scooter itself. By this time, advertising was no longer limited to city-bred, Englishspeaking copywriters. Pandey, from Jaipur, and Joshi, born in Almora, Uttarakhand, began to infuse smalltown sensibilities into their commercials. For instance, Pandey came up with an ad for Fevicol with 3 Idiots director Rajkumar Hirani
, where two groups of people, aided by an elephant, try in vain to pull apart two pieces of wood stuck together.
Joshi, inspired by the practice in villages of dunking mangoes in a well to cool them, had Aamir Khan drawing a bucketful of Coca Cola bottles from a village well. Admen started using unusual insights to work brands into consumers' hearts. Lowe Lintas's 'Daag Acche Hain' campaign for Surf Excel is a case in point. "The whole idea was if you are powerful you won't fear your enemy, rather you'll celebrate him," says R. Balakrishnan, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of Lowe Lintas & Partners. Better known as Balki, he is the brain behind the 'What an idea, sirji!' commercials for Idea Cellular and directed the Hindi films Cheeni Kum
From the mid-1970s to the early 2000s there was fantastic print work: Mohammad Khan
Of late, Indian ads have been winning big at international awards. The Happydent palace commercial
won a silver lion and a bronze lion at Cannes in 2007. Ram Madhvani, who directed the ad, says that though the commissioned length of the commercial was 60 seconds, Perfetti Van Melle, which owns Happydent, decided to go with the 85-second cut after watching it.
Two other campaigns that have raked in awards are the Hutch pug ads and Vodafone's ZooZoos
. Rajiv Rao, National Creative Director, O&M India, says the roots of ZooZoos lay in his wanting to do a comic strip kind of series.
While advertising has changed for the better in several respects from three-four decades ago, Khan is not too happy with the over-reliance on celebrities to promote brands. Padamsee believes advertisers and companies tire of a campaign before consumers do. "Amul is the only brand that has survived everything and continues to be consistent."