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Books Extract: Jingle Bells

Ambi Parameswaran recounts stories behind the Jenson & Nerolac, Asian Paints and Videocon washing machine ads

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In the late ‘70s, Jenson & Nicholson, a Kolkata-based company, stunned the country with its iconic outdoor campaign, ‘Whenever you see colour, think of us’. This was probably one of the earliest examples of a corporate brand-building campaign done through the then primitive outdoor medium. Subhas Chakravarty, the then brand director of Rediffusion, Kolkata, explains how Aloke Kumar, the media manager, was tasked to rotate around forty designs through the 300-plus hoarding sites across key cities of India. Please remember, in those days, each hoarding had to be hand-painted and the hoarding contractor had to send proof of painting – often the day’s newspaper or the weekly news magazine whose cover would be visible in the photographic proof attached to the bill. I remember hennaed hand, egg yolk, flame of a match, airline ticket etc. Created by Arun Kale – who incidentally won the Art Director of the Year Award at the Ad Club Annual Awards so many times that he stopped entering his work in that category; a bit like Lata Mangeshkar who did not want Filmfare to give her the best singer award after winning it many times – and his long-serving copy partner at Rediffusion, Kamlesh Pandey, the campaign not only won numerous awards, but also created a huge amount of word of mouth for the brand in the right circles.

Darshan Patel asked me a strange question, ‘Why have you dropped the second line of the Nerolac jingle?’ If Karsanbhai Patel taught Hindustan Lever some new lessons in marketing by launching India’s and maybe the world’s first economy washing powder, Darshanbhai created a storm in the self-medication market with a slew of launches in the late ’90s. Brands like Moov, Krack and Itch Guard rolled out at regular intervals from his company – Paras Pharma – to take on the might of established Indian and multinational companies. I had decided to meet him to learn something about his magic and maybe ask for some business. So Darshanbhai’s question was in a sense a compliment and a complaint.

Nerolac Paints is one of FCB Ulka’s oldest accounts and the agency had created a very memorable jingle for the brand.

The jingle went ‘Jab ghar ki raunaq badhani ho, Deewaron ko jab sajana ho, Nerolac…’ (When you want to do up your house, when you want to decorate your walls, Nerolac). The new ad that had broken in 1999 had a group of painters singing the song, drumming on cans of paint as the house owner busts their party, and then joins them in the jiving. The jingle in the 1999 film took its inspiration from the jingle that was created in the early ’90s but was set to a rap beat with a lot of interesting percussion arrangements. Darshanbhai had noticed that the original jingle’s second line had been dropped. He even remembered the second line, ‘Rangon ki duniya mein aao, Rangeen sapne sajao, Nerolac’ (Come to the world of colours, decorate your dreams with colours, Nerolac). I was amazed that he remembered the second line of a jingle that had been off air for almost seven years.

It is true that paints have been the single-most important home décor product that has been consistently been marketed for over forty years through some very powerful advertising.

Asian Paints created a revolution by establishing a supply chain that could handle thousands of stock-keeping units and built an IT system well before multinationals such as Hindustan Lever had automated their depot and distribution processes. Asian Paints soon decided to challenge the dominance of brands like Jenson & Nicholson and ICI’s Dulux by launching their own high decibel advertising. In 1990s, they caught the imagination of the country with an ad that featured a young man returning home as his mother is preparing food. The director of the film – Rajiv Menon – who later made some wonderful Tamil movies, used the Tamil festival Pongal to build a great look for the film. Ogilvy, the agency for Asian Paints, went on to create some iconic ads including one where a young couple are in Rajastan on a holiday; the lady spots a Rajastani man wearing a bright blue headgear, she loves the colour of the headgear and her husband chases him through the mela to buy it off him, because she wanted that particular shade of paint for her home. The series of ‘Mera wala blue’ films went on to build a distinct identity of Asian Paints.

Almost as an answer to Nerolac, Asian Paints too did a beautiful film on how colours are a reflection of the people who live in the house with their ‘Har ghar kuch kehta hai’ (Every home tells a story) ad; the ad was narrated by Piyush Pandey in his own characteristic voice. In the mid-2000s, Asian Paints launched its ‘Home Solutions’ where they started painting services through a dial-in facility. In 2014, they launched wallpapers under an endorsed brand name. Obviously, they are not resting on their laurels.

As paint brands were weaning away Indian consumers from the standard ‘chuna wash’ or lime wash, which was the staple wall paint for many decades, cement brands too started touting their own strengths. In fact, traditional Indian homes, almost till the ’50s were made with very little cement. But the ’70s, saw cement brands entering the marketing fray. In a first, Birlas launched Birla White, India’s first white cement, and boldly branded it Birla; the first product to carry the Birla name. Ambuja cement broke into the scene in 1989 with their muscleman advertising. The Ambuja campaigns created by the young agency of that time, Trikaya, made deep impact and helped Ambuja threaten the dominance of older players like ACC.

The floors of Indian homes also needed a makeover. From the traditional ‘mosaic’, there was a move towards different flooring materials. Spartek was the first flooring tile brand to use the power of mass media advertising. Lintas, their agency, used lifestyle imagery to help the brand reposition mosaic and traditional marble as old-fashioned. Unfortunately, the company could not recover from a wrong acquisition that they made in the early ’90s and I suspect they got swallowed up by yet another player. The brand Spartek has virtually disappeared.

As walls and floors were changing, it is but natural that furniture too had to change. One company tapped into the furniture market by doing some iconic advertising for a simple product – glue. Fevicol from Pidilite Industries partnered with Ogilvy to build a huge business out of a simple white product called polyvinyl acetate. The earliest ads of Fevicol featured a thick board, which had been glued together using Fevicol. This board was being pulled from either side with the chant ‘Dum laga ke haisha’ (Pull it with force). A man walks in, laughing at them because ‘this board will not break since the joint was stuck together with Fevicol’. Fevicol was ‘Furniture ka saathi’. From there, the brand leaped up to show an overcrowded bus that is slowly going along a village road, with men sticking to every side of it. As the viewer is wondering what is happening, they are exposed to the back of the bus which carries the Fevicol brand name. Yet another one has a carpenter trying to break an egg but the egg does not break; we discover that the hen is feeding from a Fevicol container. The advertising of Fevicol has won international acclaim and I would submit there is probably no other glue brand anywhere in the world that has such a status among the advertising folks. Interestingly, the company does not stick with these ads alone. They have an elaborate carpenter training programme, and every year, they produce numerous carpentry and furniture books, all of which are widely used. Pidilite has expanded its product range to include children hobby gum, water proofing materials, instant glue etc. As long as there are carpenters making furniture in India, Fevicol will continue to dominate.

As Indians were getting more and more décor-conscious, even a bathroom fittings brand like Jaguar started advertising on television. The fact that a simple tap was being advertised was in itself a novelty that got them the enquiries. Jaguar, rated as a Superbrand in 2005, used some very bizzare ads to gain attention. One of their ads featured a gang of thieves who break into a classy home only to leave behind jewellery and steal their bathroom fittings. When the kid wakes up in the morning and finds the bathroom flooded, he says – ‘Oh no, not again!’ In another ad we have a young man forget his girlfriend when he sees the bathroom fittings in her house. Here too, the girl says, ‘Oh no, not again’ at the end.

Suddenly, material possessions were finding their pride of place in the living room. In the early ’80s, refrigerators started arriving in bright colours like red, blue and green. Boring white and cream were no longer the flavours of the month. A red refrigerator became the central attraction in the living room. Around that time, the humble television too was becoming an object of desire and display. Onida entered the market with possibly the most outrageous advertising the country had ever seen. They actually showed a broken television set. The line ‘Onida. Neighbour’s envy. Owner’s pride’ created by the ad agency Advertising Avenues founded by Goutam Rakshit, captured the imagination of a nation that was waking up to colour television with the telecast of the Asian Games of 1982 held in Delhi.

Suddenly, the boring black and white television gave way to colour television. And yet another material object started becoming the centre of attraction in every middle-class home. Right through the mid-’80s and early ’90s, neighbours did come to watch colour TV especially on Saturdays and Sundays.

The launch of Ramayan on Doordarshan (1986-1988) made the purchase of a colour television almost an act of faith, blessed by Lord Rama and later, Lord Krishna. Roads used to empty on Sunday mornings and media planners used to estimate that over 80 per cent of all television-owning homes were glued to their Ramayan telecast; religion no bar.

Washing machines, refrigerators and other household durables got a leg up when the government decided to reduce the excise duty from the 60 per cent levels to a modest 15 per cent during the wave of liberalization in the early ’90s. It was reported that a Socialist party member stood up in the parliament to complain to the then PM, Narasimha Rao, that if washing machines became cheaper, thousands of poor women who were employed as domestic servants would lose their jobs. To which the erudite PM is reported to have replied, ‘Do you want us to be a nation of maids?’

No washing machine ad defined the concept of a washing machine better than the original Videocon washing machine ad.

Featuring the girl who had been made famous by Rasna, the film has her getting out to attend a kiddie party only to have her dress spoilt by the overfriendly dog. Her mom is nonplussed, takes her clothes and gets them washed in her Videocon washing machine.

The song that went something like ‘Videocon washing machine, it washes, rinses and even dries your clothes’ sold the generic promise of a washing machine and went on to win consumer’s hearts as well.

Extracted with permission from Pan Macmillan India

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