Wed, Jul 04, 2018 - Page 5 News List

FEATURE: The Indian ads punning for half a century


Cartoonist Jayant Rane on May 31 works on an Amul advertisement for World Environment Day in Mumbai, India.

Photo: AFP

Cartoons featuring everything from a pink and round-faced US President Donald Trump to cricket and Bollywood have been delighting Indians for half a century with pun-filled takes on the world’s biggest news stories.

The ads for Amul dairy products, which often star the brand’s mascot — a blue-haired girl in a polka-dot dress — have been humorously reflecting social, political and cultural life as India has evolved through the decades.

“Singapower Treaty? Amul — Leaders love it!” read one after Trump’s historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, showing a young, rosy-cheeked Trump handing a slice of bread lathered in butter to an equally impish-looking Kim.

“We cover a variety of topics, but essentially it is always an issue that India is talking about,” campaign creative director Rahul daCunha said.

The colorful ads, which play on English and Hindi words, have been running for 52 years on billboards, newspapers and now most regularly on social media, striking a chord with educated, mainly urban Indians.

Almost every topic is cheekily covered, from political controversies to corruption scandals, sporting triumphs and failures, movie blockbusters and the lives of celebrities. Deaths are dealt with more solemnly, in black and white.

“To have a campaign that has become part of the social consciousness is phenomenal,” marketing expert Deepali Naair said. “They evoke emotions. Sometimes they put a smile on my face, sometimes they make me frown.”

The ads are the work of a three-person team working for Mumbai-based ad agency daCunha Communications. Along with daCunha himself, there is cartoonist Jayant Rane and copywriter Manish Jhaveri.

More than 4,000 ads have been produced since daCunha’s father started the campaign in 1966. Rahul took over in the early 1990s. Initially one ad was done a month, but in the age of Twitter they average four or five a week.

Many of them feature the “Amul girl,” as she is known in India. Her innocent expressions, round eyes, red-spotted white dress and slightly roly-poly physique disarm anyone who might take offense at what she is saying.

“When she says something she’s always smiling about it. There’s no malice and it’s light-hearted,” daCunha said.

The Amul girl was created when it was common for companies to come up with a mascot to help illiterate people easily recognize their products.

She is India’s most recognizable mascot along with the Air India Maharajah.

The first ad, in March 1966, featured her riding a horse while holding a piece of bread. Horse racing at the time was becoming popular in Bombay — as Mumbai was then known — and the ad read “THOROUGHBREAD” alongside the brand slogan “Utterly Butterly Amul.”

“In the first year the campaign was more about food, but my father quickly realized there was only so much you could say about butter,” daCunha said.

So Sylvester got permission from Amul to vary the topics. Amul also agreed that they did not need to approve the ads before release, granting creative freedom that is rare in the advertising world.

The “topicals,” as the firm calls them, started referring to news stories, sporting events and films, and did not shy away from controversy.

In 1976, one made light of the Indian government’s forced sterilization procedures during emergency rule. Two years ago, another celebrated surgical strikes against Pakistani militants.

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