The Amul Girl still pulls a crowd. It was a full house (no standing room) at the NCPA, and even after all these years, the hoarding which had its humble beginning at the Babulnath signal in Mumbai, still ensures a chuckle and at times a bit of posturing.
During the book launch of Amul’s India, based on 50 years of Amul Advertising by daCunha Communications published by Harper Collins, it was a throwback on the sunlit years of 'optimism, freedom and fun'. The panel which was promoting the book discussed the value of 'the classy and civil' observations on the state of the nation over five decades and how it can never be measured by marketability.
Rahul daCunha, managing director and creative head, daCunha Communications, said, “For the past decades, every three days there was a new punchline.” He hailed the commitment of the Amul management and R S Sodhi, the managing director of Amul, who was committed to backing the agency, 'even if there's trouble'.
R S Sodhi, who has been part of Amul’s milk producers’ co-operative's White Revolution for the past three decades, said the book's launch was a unique occasion for a company owned by 3.2 million farmers of Gujarat, with a turnover of Rs 12,000 crore per annum.
He spoke of Amul’s commitment to the brand for five decades, and how the group stood by the Amul girl even when Jagmohan Dalmiya threatened to sue Verghese Kurien, Amul's founder and the father of White Revolution, for Rs 500 cr. This was for the hoarding that said, "Dalmiya mein kuch kala hai? / Maska khao, paisa nahin."
The Amul girl has gone well beyond the hoarding today. Sodhi explained, “Amul’s butter topical can be accessed in 25 newspapers plus OOH, TV and even social media with a huge fan following on Facebook.” He reiterated Amul's committed to the Amul girl and Amul's India - the company will publish an updated print version of the book with hoardings of the year gone by.
Rahul's father Sylvester daCunha, reminisced and spoke delightfully of the fifties when it was 'tough times, and times of scarcity.' "The government said it was austere times, and so it was, with a milk famine. Procuring even half a litre of milk on the ration card was a cumbersome chore,” he recalled.
Sylvester quipped, "Milk is a nasty product; and very troublesome.”
That’s when Amul introduced butter. But it didn’t sell. According to daCunha, this was for two reasons. One: India is a country of fixed habits. And butter was not part of the gastronomic preferences of a majority of Indians. And two: When Amul was brought to daCunha, it was projected as a high pedigree product produced in a dairy laboratory and created by hard-working farmers. Therefore it was not a 'fun thing' to eat.
That’s why Sylvester and Eustance Fernandes created the Amul Girl - they wanted to introduce 'some fun'. The loveable girl was 'the Amul mascot who could speak'. And among the first things she uttered was the classic slogan: Utterly Butterly Delicious.
Sylvester and team then took the Amul girl 'out in the open'. She was put up on a hoarding at the Babulnath traffic signal in Marine Lines, Mumbai, for which then, the budget was Rs two lakhs.
Sylvester daCunha surmised, “We were told Indians can’t laugh at themselves. But Amul broke that myth. It was a subtle laugh. Not slapstick.”
He spoke of how, today, it is appallingly easy to be fooled by striking images and flowery words at the cost of honesty.
The last 19 years of the Amul girl It was then the turn of Rahul daCunha to recall highlights from the last 19 years of the Amul girl's journey. He spoke of how the Amul girl jostles for attention in 'the five Indias' - Mumbai, the Hindi belt, the quintessential East India, South India (specifically Chennai), and now, Facebook.
There are now 132 billboards on 90 sites in 69 cities, explained Rahul, noting that the Amul lingo became so popular that 'even mainstream media adapted it’s grammar'.
Rahul daCunha and later Manish Jhaveri (who writes the copy for the hoardings) spoke of how the brand has evolved and 'devolved'.
Santosh Desai, managing director of Future Brands, said it was special privilege to write a piece for Amul’s India. He marvelled at the Amul campaign and how it was sustained without being diminished for over five decades.
According to Harsha Bhogle, cricket commentator and scribe, the word that epitomised the Amul girl was 'consistency'. And the ability to take 'a little dig which was never hurtful, never cruel'.
The evening concluded with Alyque Padamsee, theatre personality and ad guru, who said, “India's contemporary history is not in the textbooks but in Amul's hoardings and pithy one-liners.”
He said there were two highlights of the campaign, one being the 'superb' slogan 'Utterly Butterly Delicious'. He said it was perhaps the best in the world, one that enabled Amul to steal a march over its then rival, Polsons.
Then, Padamsee labeled Amul’s hoarding as the 'Cartoon King of India'; 'perhaps edging out RK Laxman for this honour'. He said, “Experts like Santosh Desi write wordy columns, but Amul does it in one pungent line. Every single time.”
India has become a more sceptical country, which is good, and Indians a more cynical people, which is sad. This is the book which tells you why and how it happened.
Having said that, the last laugh belongs to the Amul girl.