Little girls are not particularly popular in India going by the declining child sex ratio in the country. But one little girl continues to flourish 50 years after she was created by adman Sylvester daCunha with some inspiration from his wife, Nisha, and illustrated by Eustace Fernandes. She is the Amul girl who first appeared on a billboard in 1966 and continues to rule the billboards to this day with her pixie looks, her polka-dotted frock and her trademark ponytail. She is someone who sometimes gives you attitude, sometimes empathises with you, most times brings you up with the news and always makes you smile, even chuckle, since she never fails to deliver a line or two that is catchy, simple, and memorable.
Think of the changing times. Amul was once a small village enterprise. Today, it is a pan-India co-operative with a Rs 5,000-crore turnover and a whole range of products to sell, apart from butter. The media has, of course, got "utterly" transformed over the last 50 years as well. From the humble billboard and radio spots to television and now the Internet, the changing media has also meant that advertising itself has had to constantly re-invent itself to stay relevant.
And re-invent itself it has, driven by new concepts, new technologies and new ideas. But through it all, the little Amul girl has endured with her "utterly butterly delicious" slogan, which still has a contemporary ring to it.
A new book, Amul’s India, compiled by Alpana Parida (Collins Business) recalls 50 years of Amul advertising by daCunha Communications. It has contributions from, among others, theatre and advertising honcho Alyque Padamsee, Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, ad man Rahul daCunha, television personality Rajdeep Sardesai, filmmaker Shyam Benegal, cricket commentator Sunil Gavaskar and Sylvester daCunha, the man who gave shape and form to the Amul advertising campaign.
Most of the contributions are insightful. Most are also nostalgic and see these ads as a throwback to a younger India and more innocent times. In those days when the media advertising circus was much smaller, the Amul girl stood out much taller than her three-and-a-half feet. But, as each of the contributors will assure you, she stands pretty tall even today.
Sylvester remembers how the Amul girl was created. She seems to have been a counterpoint to the Sophisticated Polson Lady – Polson being the butter of choice in those days. He talks about how the chairman of Amul, Dr Verghese Kurien, (who recently passed away) gave him and his team an absolutely free hand in the conceptualisation of the advertisement campaign. Kurien even told them that they could put up banners, without his approval. This is one of the reasons why Amul was able to respond so rapidly to local and international developments, anticipating the instant reporting of today’s new media.
Cultural commentator Santosh Desai, an ad man himself, analyses the evolution of the Amul campaign in the five decades it has been in existence and how it has managed to keep its relevance through the times, as India evolved from being a land of hunger to the swaggering behemoth it has now become — albeit still hungry — as the decades of liberalisation came and went and the politician was replaced by the celebrity as the exemplar in the public mind. This is the perfect setting for Rajdeep Sardesai to remember his childhood days as a Mumbai schoolboy.
While all the contributions are very well written, the best part of the book is undoubtedly the little posters that are reproduced with small explanations to give them the right context since you, as a reader, may have forgotten the original story. It is these posters that really make the book a collector’s item, especially if you are my sort of reader who prefers pictures to words in books!
The success of the Amul advertisement is undoubtedly because of the skilful use of what is known as the lowest form of wit – that is the pun. Yet, everyone and his aunt in India is a ‘pun-dit’, and the use of the pun is what has given the advertising its instant approachability. The other trick is that every Amul ad has two lines – one concerning the event in question; the other repeating the catchphrase that has lasted over the decades – "utterly butterly delicious", or variations thereof. So when you are reading the advertisement you get two smart lines for the price of one. To add to the humour are the lovely and colourful illustrations – and the book has some extremely cute ones.
Remarkably, daCunha Communications has managed to maintain the quality of the ads, although it must have seen a large number of copywriters and artists come in and go out through its doors over the last 50 years. Yet, there can be no disputing, that the success of the campaign could not have been assured without the success of the butter on which it rode.
It may be appropriate to raise a toast (pun intended) to the butter that has enabled many women to shun poverty and has enriched breakfst tables sacross the country, over so many years.