Ambi Parameswaran’s book provides a window to changing consumer landscape through iconic ad campaigns released over the past 50 years
BAJAJ SCOOTER was a cynosure of every middle-class Indian in the Seventies and Eighties. But what immortalised the brand was the cult ad film Hamara Bajaj. Created by Lintas in 1989 when the country was heading towards an economic crisis and political instability, the campaign fuelled pride among Indians and blended patriotism with advertising. Just like Hamara Bajaj changed the game for the two-wheeler brand, so did Jo Biwi Se Kare Pyaar for Prestige pressure cooker and Lalita-ji for Surf. These campaigns truly reflect how advertisers have, over the years, used social consciousness not just to sell products, but also to change customer behaviour by selling on a rational or emotional basis. Remember the Amul ads celebrating the milk cooperative movement or Tata Tea’s Jaago Re campaigns on corruption? These ads show the role of marketing in creating positive social change. Ad veteran Ambi Parameswaran’s new book Nawabs, Nudes, Noodles chronicles various such advertising trends of the past 50 years, explaining how they reflect fast-changing Indian society.
The book focuses not just on the best-in-class creatives, but also behind-the-scenes planning that goes into them, with a focus on how right research (when translated into the right brief) can be the catalyst for brilliant creatives. Consider the Prestige commercial Jo Biwi Se Kare Pyaar. Released in 1982, it was directed by Prahlad Kakkar. The ad was so popular that in 2014, Prestige ran a print campaign again with the same tagline. Only this time it was the husband (played by Abhishek Bachchan) cooking for the wife (Aishwarya Rai). See how aptly advertising captures new-age relationships? As Parameswaran puts it: “Advertising often has to marry rational promise with an emotional one.”
The book is divided into standalone chapters on each consumer group. The names of the chapters also reflect the central theme. My favourite is the one on children, titled, I am a Complan Girl! I am a Complan Boy! An ad featuring a cartwheeling Sundrop kid changed the fortunes of the brand. It was also a clutter-breaker at the time when all cooking oil brand advertising looked the same. The idea of positioning it as a ‘healthy oil’ made Sundrop the largest-selling cooking oil brand within a few years of its launch. Similarly, Dhara’s Jalebi ad successfully used a child in its narrative. The chapter notes how these narratives have evolved in the category, making days of I Love You Rasna passé. The 2013 Bournvita ad, which shows a mother and son racing, aptly reflects that children today have a grown-up attitude and an inherent sense of self-confidence.
The depiction of women in advertising has changed dramatically over the years, notes Parameswaran. Santoor is a case in point. It has been able to capture the mood of Indian women through the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s. While the brand has retained the ‘mummy’ gimmick, the Santoor woman has gone on to learn aerobics, play cricket, become a photographer and television anchor, etc. Parameswaran writes that while Indian advertising has tried to capture the changing shades of the Indian woman, the average soap/toothpaste/shampoo ad still presents women in gender-defined roles.
Nawabs, Nudes, Noodles is as much about an account planner’s perspective, as it is about the best creatives and brave clients. Each chapter features consumer truth and market insight behind an advertisement with interesting observations and anecdotes. Why didn’t the sachet strategy work for Colgate, but was a success for shampoo brands like Velvette and Chick? Why shouldn’t a kid-focused product be launched during the winter or summer breaks? This book offers various such insights, as Parameswaran explains how advertising is not only a reflection of society, but also a predictor of social norms.