Ads of the 1980s

The 1980s were the years when Indian advertising witnessed the beginning of the decline of agencies that could not adapt to storytelling on TV, and when those that could adapt thrived

1982 was an inflection point for Indian advertising.

It was the year of the 9th Asian Games in Delhi.

Because of the event, India transited from grainy black-and-white televisions to sharp colour TVs.

Because the dominant medium changed, Indian advertising transited from “ex-English-journalists-ex-English-theatre-writers" creating advertising for their “ex-English-journalists-ex-English-theatre-writers" peer group, as well as for the English-reading population in English newspapers and magazines, to creative people who could think of stories that could connect to middle India in Hindi.

So, the 1980s were the years when Indian advertising witnessed the beginning of the decline of ad agencies that could not adapt to storytelling on TV (Ambience? Enterprise? Trikaya Grey?) and let ad agencies that could adapt to storytelling on TV (O&M? Lintas? HTA?) thrive.

Certainly, that’s what it looks like in hindsight. I guess that will happen again if agencies do not adapt to the always-on online medium.

So, what were the stories that entered the dialogues of mainstream society? Which is the simplest way of defining advertising that transcended its marketing objectives?

You will quickly realize that in the predominantly oral culture of India, most of memorability is associated with unforgettable lines or tunes. So here are my 10, in no particular order.

1. Surf Lalitaji

In 1984, Lalitaji (“Sasti cheez khareedne mein aur acchi cheez khareedne mein farq hota hai") gave a rational reason to housewives to choose quality over low price (read Nirma!). (Disclosure: I worked on the commercials as a copywriter in Lintas.)

2. Kinetic Luna

Though the product died an early death, young Piyush Pandey’s first foray into TV was a blockbuster. “Chal meri Luna" was the war cry of middle-India employees newly obsessed with time management. Unforgettable!

3. Liril

I know it was launched in cinemas in 1975, but it got exposed to a much larger audience due to TV till 1985. The Lintas insight “The housewife is on her own ONLY in the bathroom for those 15 precious minutes" translated into a non-Hindustan-Lever-formulaic advertising (“SHOW the brand user in the TVC... or else!") that connected with consumers (men and women!)

The “la-la-la-lara-la…la-la-la" jingle is a cultural meme.

4. Vicks CoughDrops

“Vicks ki goli lo, khich khich door karo" became a simple rhyme to remember the new problem-solving product from a 1952-vintage, “mother’s-love" centric brand called Vicks Vaporub.

5. Charms

Hmmm, this is a departure from my opening comments, but there is no way one can ignore this pathbreaking campaign, even though it was only in print and outdoor. “Charms is the spirit of freedom, Charms is the way you are" ignited the suppressed libido of millions of college goers.

6. Hamara Bajaj

It was 1989, and Bajaj mesmerized the nation with a TVC that stitched the entire nation together with vignettes of Indians from all over… with warmth written all over!

7. Rasna

“I love you Rasna" was another meme that bypassed rationality… Ankita Jhaveri became the voice of kids wanting options of grown-up drinks like Thums Up.

8. Cherry Blossom Shoe Polish

“Humour has no language" said Alyque Padamsee to client; and Sumantro Ghosal executed the dream flawlessly. Another unforgettable departure from the formula.

9. Hero Honda

“Fill it. Shut it. Forget it." said Hero Honda about its 100cc bike and urged urban riders to forget the heavy Bullets and Jawas and Yezdis and Bajaj scooters, with the guarantee of a 65-70km mileage on a 4-stroke bike. The rest was a short road to success for Hero Honda.

10. Kitply

I am falling for the temptation of including one of my own creations only because the TVC cost only Rs72,000 to make, created a brand in a commodity market (Kitply charged a 25% premium for a long time) and made “I’m not Kitply" into a phrase that competitors could only echo.

Kiran Khalap is co-founder and managing director, Chlorophyll brand and communications consultancy.

Close