In her new book, Stark Raving Ad: A Giddy Guide To Indian Ads You Love (Or Hate), author Ritu Singh regales us with some of the most iconic ad stories that have played a significant role in each of our lives; regardless of whether we loved or hated them
If underwear ads are to be believed, the key to being Superman (that guy who’s so proud of his chaddi, he wears it over his pants) is stepping out in branded undergarments, preferably the one your favourite Bollywood star claims to wear.
An underwear ad typically opens with a woman walking down a deserted street, late at night. A group of goons spots her. They make catcalls; she looks worried and starts walking faster. The men follow her. She starts running and so do they. She screams.
And suddenly... Is it a bird?
Is it a plane?
No, it’s Chaddi-Baniyan Man!
He is showing full body-shoddy as he is wearing only his undergarments. In his hurry to save the world, he has had no time to get decent.
You know the rest. This underdressed guy holds fullydressed- for-party girl with one arm. With his other arm, he effortlessly flicks aside the bad guys. Meanwhile, his... err…assets are displayed, immodestly encased in a laal/peela/neela/tigerstriped chaddi. Rising to the occasion is the music.
Most underwear ads for men were much the same. Till Amul Macho decided to be different. Their ad starred a girl. The story of the undergarments industry in India has been one of sensitivity, not in the ads, visuals and communication it has unleashed on consumers, but in the mindset of consumers. That is to say, Indian buyers have always been price sensitive. But over the years they have also become design and brand sensitive. Growing disposable income has brought with it a rising demand for branded, better-fitted and comfortable underwear. While this has helped in driving growth in the market as a whole, it has also forced innovation in design.
In the 1990s, more and more brands of men’s underwear started becoming visible. Between 2000 and 2008, high-end firang brands entered the Indian market and underwear began turning into fashion. Who can forget the regrettable fad when men began wearing their jeans low enough to show off their underwear’s elastic bands – sometimes showing off supposedly cool brand names and always showing off some really un-cool butt cracks.
Anyway, traditional white underwear is now just one part of a brave new world. Multiple options of colours, materials and styles are now available. For men, there are now tons of innerwear to consider – vests, sleeved vests, muscle vests, briefs, trunks, boxers, long underwear, etc.
The economy segment accounts for more than half the category while super-premium, premium and medium segments make up the rest.
Whoever said men think with their, errm, male part, did not have a clue about how much thought could go into clothing the said part.
But much thinking is exactly what some of the biggest players in the branded innerwear segment – VIP, Amul Macho, Rupa, Lux, Dixcy, among others – are doing.
For the manufacturers of Amul-branded innerwear, J.G. Hosiery Private Ltd, the projected turnover for 2007–08 was Rs. 210 crore.1 Going forward, they were looking at investing on capacity and on brand building and therefore, advertising. When it comes to underwear brands, advertisements have always teamed up with male stars flaunting their wares. Salman Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Shah Rukh Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Sunny Deol – the list of underwear models is long and illustrious.
But what if there’s no star? What if the perspective is not a man’s but a woman’s?
This is one of the things that makes the 2007 Amul Macho television commercial stand out. It showed only the woman. In fact, there is no man in the frame at all. He is represented solely by his chaddis, which the woman, something of a village belle, is shown washing at a pond.
Throughout the ad, she washes the man’s underwear, her mouth contorting suggestively. As shocked villagers look on, one phrase is repeated rhythmically, excitedly reaching a peak, ‘Yeh toh bada toingg hai! Yeh toh bada toingg hai! Yeh toh bada toingg hai! Yeh toh bada toingg hai!’ The ad ends with the woman stretching the underwear in her hands, while the voice-over concludes, ‘Amul Macho. Crafted for fantasies.’
It is evident that chaddi ke peechhey story hai. Scrubbing his laundry makes her relive the night she and the man have spent together. Yes, the underwear is making her lust for his underware.
‘Yeh toh bada toingg hai!’ as an expression was intended to communicate the overwhelmingly pleasurable nature of these fantasies.
But underwhelmed consumers shouted back, ‘Yeh toh bada vulgar hai!’ Protests were lodged and cases were filed. While the Advertising Standards Council of India had cleared it for public viewing, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting censored the ad on the grounds that it was indecent, vulgar and suggestive.
Even today, the ‘Yeh to bada toingg hai’ ad is considered by some to be one of the most sexually explicit ads in the history of Indian advertising.
Meanwhile, Amul Macho continues to be a strong brand in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand, with a significant presence in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu as well.
In the under-dressed pantheon of male film stars showing their chaddis to the world, the female show-stopper, Sana Khan, will long be remembered for her association with the Amul Macho men’s underwear. (Though the orangutan in a later Amul Macho ad was pretty hard to ignore too.) 1 ‘Amul Innerwear Plans Rs 80 Cr Expansion’, Economic Times, 19 February 2008
(Excerpted with permission from Hachette India from Stark Raving Ad: A Giddy Guide to Indian Ads You Love (or Hate) by Ritu Singh Rs. 350)
5 Questions With RITU SINGH
1. How did you decide on the subject for this book? Did any personal experience trigger it?
I’ve spent a large part of my life in advertising where you often see much agony, ecstasy, science and strategy going into a postcard-size ad for, say, a lollipop.
It’s a serious-fun business and it calls for being written about in a fun way. Also, in our country, ads often have a desi-ness to them which is very interesting. And that’s how this humour/business book on Indian ads evolved; something of a first, complete with Indian quirks.
2. How long did it take you to put the book together?
I turned in my first draft rather quickly. My training as a copywriter had kicked in and in classic advertising fashion my draft was short and crisp. In fact, I was told it was too short and crisp! It took around three years to put all the material together. Plus, there were periods when I was not doing much.
3. Tell us about the research for the book?
I had always imagined that the research would be something of a glamorous pursuit, involving brooding over various impressive leads; maybe accompanied by a tall, cool drink. It was anything but that! It involved a whole lot of hard work, of course. I referred to many publications, marketing and opinion pieces, did much googling and ‘youtube-ing’ and looked at various books on advertising, as well as case studies. I would often meander into brand stories or ads that had absolutely no place in the book but were interesting – they were like time-sinks, or black holes that you cheerfully got sucked into!
4. If you were to pick some favourite anecdotes or a chapter from the book, what would it be and why?
It would be the chapter on controversial Indian ads titled, ‘Chaddi pehan ke fool khila hai’ which was fun to write because some of the ads were so gapeworthy. For example, it was interesting to note how in many underwear ads, it was the well-dressed man – in chaddi-baniyan – who gets the girl. And in many deo ads, it’s the ‘strong-smelling’ guy who gets the girl/someone else’s bride/bhabhi.
5. What is the objective of launching the book? Who is the target audience and what are your expectations from it?
Ads are such an intrinsic part of our popular expressions, culture and daily lives. As the title suggests, the book is meant to be like a tour of the landscape – a giddy guide. It is an easy read for anyone who likes humour, as well as for the business reader. I have got good feedback from voracious readers of all kinds of books; from academics, housewives, and even NRIs. I think that anyone who has had a brush with Indian ads (which is most of us) or anyone who is interested in Indian advertising would enjoy reading it.
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