I was inundated by calls and messages after my previous blog on Maruti turning 35. I was most honored to receive a message, and a pat on the back, from none else but Jagdish Khattar, former MD of Maruti who was the marketing director of the company when I first met him way back in 1994, and he became my client interface at the car behemoth. “What a write-up on evolution of Maruti. A good read for today’s experts”, messaged Mr. Khattar. I was elated.
The blog also reconnected me to Sunila Dhar, also mentioned in my write-up, whom I first met almost 25 years ago at Maruti when she was a product manager on Zen. Sunila continues to be a pillar of strength at the automotive giant. I promised to take Sunila out for a meal the next time I am in Delhi, and catch-up on old times. Connecting with old clients always feels so good.
But the biggest bonus of the blog was the connect I made with Diwan Arun Nanda, chairman of Rediffusion, the man who actually launched the Maruti 35 years ago. Mr. Nanda was kind enough to dig into the Rediffusion archives and share with me for Campaign readers some of the earliest ads of Maruti dating back to 1983, and a few years later. I am infinitely grateful to Mr. Nanda and to the team at Rediffusion for sharing this advertising treasure trove with me for carrying in today’s Blog. I am not even sure if the folks at Maruti actually have some of these ads in their records.
Pre-launch ads: The first of the Maruti ads actually ran almost a year ahead of the Maruti 800 rolling out in December 1983. This campaign of two pre-launch ads actually ran in 1982 and put out the promise of new standards in technology, fuel efficiency, safety, reliability … and service. As also affordable price. The ads promised 4-seater, 4-door cars almost half the weight of today’s cars. 19.9 km to the litre. Front wheel drive. Disc brakes. Bucket seats. These were obviously huge promises and pluses 35 years ago.
Almost to the launch: As Maruti got closer to the launch, a new series of ads appeared in the languages. The Maruti was all set to upgrade India from an era of two-wheelers to four-wheels. The first of the ads shows a motorbike in the foreground and a Maruti 800 creatively placed in the background. Another ad from the series depicts a new freedom for the country through the visual metaphor of a girl on a swing under a majestic tree. The ads do not have a Maruti logo. Instead, there is a key ring with the Maruti logo, and the key to the car, the possession of which was to become symbolic of great social status in the days to come. The Rediffusion ads are strikingly well laid out, and beautifully shot, especially when judged with the prism of time.
How to book the Maruti: This one is an absolute beauty! For one, Maruti already had the self-confidence much before it launched that it was going to be a best seller!!! This ad ran in April of 1983, nine months before the first car rolled out. The ad clearly spelt out the do’s and don’ts of how to book the Maruti.
Legend has it that Maruti received a mountain of bookings. The first owner of the Maruti 800, Harpal Singh, mentioned in my earlier piece got to be the lucky recipient of the first car through a lottery that picked him over others, and made him part of automotive history.
A year later: The roll-out of the Maruti Van and the Maruti Deluxe was announced through a half page ad. What I loved in the ad is how the keys of the car have been shaped. Art directors in those days obviously worked hard at their trade. And remember, all of this had to be done through a lot of hard-work and finishing in the studio, first of the visuals, then the half-tones and finally the quarter-tones before the material was ready to go to press! Also, for strategic planners in ad agencies, I would like to draw their attention to the recurring use of the car keys in the ads: reiterating what I mentioned above – the pride of ownership symbolized through those keys.
Sensitive to society: The corporate consciousness of Maruti was visible even back then. The ad below, from 1986, launched a very special version of the car for those with some physical handicaps. I remember personally visiting a Maruti showroom in Chandigarh with my Dad, because he had just then suffered a paralytic stroke which prevented him from driving. This new car gave him new hope of continuing to be at the wheel. Way back in 1986, this special Maruti was the precursor of today’s automatic gear-less vehicles.
The Maruti Gypsy conquers the Himalayas: by the end of the 1980s, the Maruti Gypsy had already become the giant killer of its category. This is one of the first ads to celebrate the many many victories the Gypsy was to notch up in subsequent years on the rally circuit.
Those were the days: Yes, those were the days when the dollar could buy you just about anything, including an out-of-turn delivery of your favorite Maruti Gypsy or Maruti Van. Once again, this ad mirrors the societal reality of the times. Dollars, actually foreign currency, was in such short supply that even Maruti was tempted to use accelerated delivery as a sop for hard currency. Back in those days, you would plead, beg, even grovel before your phirang cousins to transfer you those priced dollars to help buy the car of your dreams!
In the times to come: Maruti was obviously well ahead of its times. The next two ads from the archives preview Maruti’s plans for moving families, goods and people in the days to come on its ever growing fleet of cars. What I especially like about the ads, is the sheer craftsmanship that seems to have gone into the making of the ads. The main ad has a lot of body copy, prompted surely by the need for a lot of explanation; but the mass of copy is broken up with a number of small artistically placed visuals that actually ensure that the ad does not look copy heavy. Beautiful!
Join the Maruti family, and become a millionaire: The magic of Maruti by the late 80s was all pervasive. Becoming a Maruti dealer was the ultimate ambition of many an Indian businessman. Becoming a Maruti vendor was an even bigger ticket to riches. The likes of Sona Steering and Subros are just some examples of Maruti vendors who became large corporations in themselves with unbelievable volumes produced to get the small car on the road. The ad below invites partners. Each of them selected through this ad must be rolling in millions today.
Maruti goes global: One of Maruti’s biggest kicks used to be its exports. The ad below celebrates the conquering of foreign shores by India’s very own Maruti 800. The pride was doubled, if not tripled and quadrupled, by the fact that the Maruti was not just exported to near neighbors in Nepal or Bhutan but to France, Cyprus and Malta.
Sabko Maloom Hai: Well, back in those days, there was a large and thriving black market for Maruti vehicles. Everyone knew it. Everyone knew of it. Again, the signs of societal reality: the ad does not mention black marketers but in a round about way cautions customers against devious short-cuts. The copy is candid enough to say that if customers are ‘lucky enough’, their booking would mature by the next year! Who says advertising is not a mirror to the realities of our actual existence in society?
Maruti goes cool: I mentioned in my previous piece too that only less than 3% of Marutis would roll out from the factory with OE fitted air conditioning. But with more Marutis on the road, and general increase in vehicular traffic, more and more customers were beginning to opt for factory fitted ACs in their cars. The ad below announcing the air conditioning as a standard offering at Maruti is one of my absolute favorites for once again the fabulous job done by the art director. I don’t know how many of you noticed the fogged out glasses in the girl’s glares. What a fantastic portrayal of the power of the air conditioning, and what subtle art direction – that too 30 years ago!
In the compendium that Mr. Nanda sent me there are many many more beautiful ads. Many of them actually belong now to a museum, rather than a dusty guard book in the agency studio. To be honest, I am impressed, actually very impressed that Rediffusion has archived all of its creative history so well. Most ad agencies do not have anything close to this kind of housekeeping. Thanks once again, Diwan Arun Nanda.
One can decide not to get nostalgic about the advertising I have presented above. One can decide to take a distant, academic and even a scholastic view of these ads as the evolution of one company, one brand, one market leader. The contents above are great study material for students of both business management and sociology.
I am personally proud to have been part of the Maruti journey. I was not at Rediffusion when any of the above ads were created. I joined the Maruti brand in 1994, and had the privilege to service the account till 2001 at Rediffusion. The love affair with Maruti continued while I was Group CEO at Zee. When I set up the Dentsu joint venture in 2003, Maruti was obviously on top of my agenda. My old friend, Kinji Saito, who was then the Marketing Director at Maruti Suzuki, gave us our first assignment in Dentsu: to design and create a display area at the new corporate office of Maruti Suzuki at Vasant Kunj. I set up a design unit under the banner of ‘iki’ (chic in Japanese) to get the assignment going. That first display has metamorphosed into what we know today as NEXA showrooms. I also went ahead and launched a full new ad agency for Maruti, the Dentsu Creative impact which continues even today to be one of Maruti’s preferred agency partners.
Like all good things in life, this nostalgia trip too must end. In my last Blog I had urged Maruti to buy the first Maruti 800 ever sold and showcase it somewhere where it could remind everyone of where and how the journey began. Before I sign off today, I would make one more impassioned plea to the current brand custodians at Maruti: do create a Maruti museum for all the milestones of the past 35 years. You have been creating history. You owe it to future generations to preserve some of the past so that the folklore of ‘the people’s car’ will carry through for years to come.
(Dr Sandeep Goyal loves writing on the history and evolution of brands. Especially, when he has personally been involved in shaping some of that history.)
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