We’ve seen superstars who’ve charmed generations, those who’ve aged well and those who’ve fallen off the map. Among this galaxy in the past half a century or so, two have remained the same – RK Laxman’s ‘Common Man’ and the daCunhas’ ‘Amul girl’.
The latter just turned 50 last week and made it to a coffee table book, and even though she doesn’t look it with her polka dots and pony tail intact. Disha Thakker delves into the source of her everyday wit and inimitable humour by speaking to her ‘parents’ of the past two decades – the team comprising Rahul daCunha, Manish Jhaveri and Jayant Rane
For the Amul butter campaign that began in 1966 and has unanimously been called a ‘mirror of Indian society’ and ‘a history book in itself’ by industry veterans and commoners alike, it has been a long journey. After veteran adman Sylvester daCunha along with cartoonist Eustace Fernandes (who passed away in 2010) and Usha Katrak created the campaign, Sylvester’s son Rahul daCunha took over the reins 19 years ago. Now the MD and Creative Head of daCunha Communications, he operates from his Colaba office along with copy writer Manish Jhaveri and designer-cartoonist Jayant Rane. This trio, whom we’d call no less than the custodians of brand Amul, have been together for nearly two decades now.
And not surprisingly, the essence of the ads has been retained throughout, delivering vox populi (‘Kha na Hazare!’, ‘Nadal Makhani’ being recent lines) in an inoffensive yet effective manner. Besides the priceless value of the lines, the ads are massively popular thanks to their novelty. While the Amul girl donned the hippy look and said ‘Hurry Amul! Hurry Butter! Hurry Hurry!’ on the Hare Krishna movement of the 60s, she strongly asserted ‘Indian virgin needs no urgin’!’ later when London airport authorities wanted virginity tests on Indian women.
Of the brand and other values
A successful campaign becomes so also because of the brand image it creates and the numbers it rakes up, and Amul Managing Director RS Sodhi gives us a heartening view. Amul is worth approximately Rs 1,2000 crore while the advertising spends for just the butter campaign runs into Rs 30-40 crore. And to think that this enormous account with this steady stream of ads just has three individuals at its core!
Surely the ride has been nothing short of exciting for daCunha junior. “The times we live in now are full of controversies and crimes and scandals. Also, cartoons are ‘endangered’ and we might now be the only brand propagating cartoons,” he claims.
Before taking over this account daCunha calls ‘inevitable’, he worked with Contract Advertising and Lintas. Nearly two decades down, he doesn’t mind that Amul consumes most of his time, though he occasionally dabbles in theatre. “It is very important for me to have my ear to the ground. We as a country have become very restless. Earlier, topics and discussions used to last at least for a fortnight and we could come up with one ad every Friday. (The Amul girl was famous as the ‘Friday to Friday’ star.) Now, it is a Friday thing, a Monday thing, a Wednesday thing and maybe more than that!” he explains.
Also, he tells us of a paradigm shift in his audience’s priorities. “Previously, national issues were more important but now, it is the other way round. A man in Mumbai is more concerned about the bad roads all over the city than the railway budget. Ads now come out statewise,” daCunha informs, adding that in May alone they came out with 18 ads. Why have just three people on the table with numbers like that, we ask. “Yes, it happens only because I have such a tight team,” he quips.
Having the same minds rattle over new works every single week means that they’re aware of one another’s pulse. “If there are two different writers but they are not in sync, what is the point of sitting together the whole day? Manish (Jhaveri) now knows what I like and how I think, so does Jayant,” daCunha says.
Also, the three need not ‘be’ together to brainstorm. Copywriter Jhaveri explains, “We are able to produce more because of e-mail, video chat and phones. And the more hoardings we want to do, the better it is for the team to be tight,” he adds to daCunha’s thought.
The brain behind Amul’s jibes since 1994, Manish Jhaveri first worked with the daCunhas full time but later switched to freelance. This extraordinary system allows him to take up opportunities such as scripting award shows (the latest one being IIFA), working with rediff.com as also Percept-Hakuhodo’s creative unit Integrated Brand Development (IBD).
Not funny for many anymore
As with our political, cultural and social landscape, the ways of the team too, have been changing. For instance, Hinglish, which was earlier unknown, is now commonplace and Amul’s copy has been one of its earliest practitioners. “Now, every major newspaper resorts to Hinglish for better communication. This is a huge high for me as a creative writer!” Jhaveri says.
And being a perennial opinion maker, the brand has to be careful, too. “There are too many holy cows in India now; we are not able to say what we want to, though there are a lot of topics to take off on,” Jhaveri admits. “Today, they don’t take it in the same spirit as before. The kind of lines that we used to write 10 years ago, nobody minded them. Today, we do a hoarding on Suresh Kalmadi, who has been imprisoned, and his party files a police complaint against us! Remember, the same party that has put him in jail!” daCunha rants. There is a general feeling among the team that we as a people are no longer able to laugh at ourselves the way we used to.
Mechanics behind the visuals
In this incredible marriage of witty copy and striking visuals, the latter too has had quite a journey. Jayant Rane has been behind Amul’s unequivocal hallmark, the moppet for the past 23 years and he still sketches them by hand. “I transfer the work to the PC only for final touch-ups, and prefer to colour myself. This is the fastest way as fully depending on software slows me down, especially now, when the number of ads have increased manifold,” the 52-year-old says.
Rane has been with the daCunhas for 15 years. It was in 2000, though, that he too decided to alter his contract. Since then, he only visits the office thrice a week, but admits being occupied with creative work on the other days.
Of the changes that the design has gone through, he says, “If you noticed, the Amul girl doesn’t have a nose. Once, we tried to give her one but it didn’t work out... it changed her personality and the idea was dropped. The only real change design-wise has been the detailing. Earlier, everything was hand-painted and thus the background used to be flat. Now, we can get creative with it. Going digital has quickened the process. We create ads one day and by evening they are up on the hoardings!” he smiles.
The ‘significant others’ behind the brand
The leadership at Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) Ltd. has changed over the years, but the core team of Amul has been the same, daCunha tells us. “RS Sodhi started his career with GCMMF (that manages Amul). He has worked with Dr Varghese Kurien, too. Having the same team on both sides has worked to our advantage,” he adds.
Jayen Mehta, General Manager (Planning & Marketing) of Amul, says that he doesn’t feel this is a ‘new’ creative team at all. “Sylvester daCunha continues to oversee the account/creatives irrespective of the current team. The major work is now done by Rahul, who is also a veteran. Continuity is the main advantage for Amul. It is this legacy that we are all working to retain forever!”
That said, are all of them continuing with the cartoon route because it is more a matter of legacy than of sales? Mehta responds, “A campaign which has over 120 creatives every year, released in over 30 publications, six TV channels, a few hundred billboards and social media has a significantly high investment and cannot be continued for the sake of just legacy! Yes, it is a very important part of our legacy but it also delivers great value to us. The butter girl ensures a very high brand recall and hence, she has lent her face to our Amul Milk pack, too. Our group sales turnover has touched Rs 15,000 crore. This tiny little girl that many undermine gives Amul the much required punch to beat competition in all spheres and stay ahead in the market.”
On the other hand, industry veteran Alyque Padamsee believes that Amul butter has been lucky and doesn’t have any real national competition. “Amul’s has been a virgin market. I don’t even know if the market is growing. Sylvie (Sylvester) had mentioned that when people become urbanized, they will start using butter and bread. I would say that your brand needs to go beyond that. Start stimulating the market to use butter. If I had got another butter account I would say ‘Butter is not a funny business. It is a business of health and quality.’ People would know who and what I am talking about! The sales of Amul would have gone up now but more so because of urbanization. The campaign just keeps Amul in the public eye and what is not being mentioned is that Amul has gone beyond butter. There are other products like milk, chocolates, etc., where the success of Amul really lies, not just in butter! And many of these accounts are not being handled by the daCunhas.”
That’s where Draftfcb Ulka steps in. The agency, in tandem with daCunha Communications, has been handling other Amul products such as chocolates, ice cream, mithai range, mithai mate, paneer, ghee, cream, etc. Shashi Sinha, CEO, Lodestar and Nitin Karkare, COO, Draftfcb Ulka, Mumbai have been handling the Amul account since the beginning of their association in 1986.
On the TV front, the butter campaign has not stuck to the topical genre. Besides, of late there haven’t been any TVCs. Mehta informs that TV ads come out once every two years as of now, as the team focuses more on print and OOH. “TVCs for Amul butter have decreased because we feel print and outdoor does the job for us. It gives us maximum value proposition and maximum bang for the buck. Also, rates of advertising on TV are sky-rocketing,” Jhaveri puts it in perspective.
Moppet in a 3D format
Rahul daCunha, however, has something else in mind for television. “We have always seen the moppet in two dimensions, now we want to see how she moves about. We are in the process of transforming her in a 3D format,” he informs. Toons, a popular animation agency from Kerala, is working on it and this might take a while as the Amul team wants her to be nothing short of perfect. “It might be another four to six months for her 3D form to be seen on TV. She will become viral and go on YouTube too,” daCunha adds.
Topics change, jokes mature and team Rahul-Manish-Jayant might reach a saturation point one day, we presume, and they expectedly don’t agree. “How? We are doing something different everyday. One day it is Bollywood, next day it’s cricket, then it’s IPL, then SRK, then SRK’s film, then SRK’s aggression, then his team KKR… You don’t know what the next hoarding is going to be! The challenge here is what the topic is going to be and most importantly what point of view we take! For any ad campaign, to keep working, the younger generation needs to be interested. The challenge now lies in taking an issue and the brand and merging them so that the issue doesn’t overwhelm the product,” daCunha says.