“Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it” - George Santayana
My first session for students of advertising management or people who join the advertising industry fresh is one titled “The times they are a changing”. It’s a historic look at ads from the last thirty years, particularly in India; as I strongly believe people should have a sense of history of the industry to which they belong. The reactions are two-fold from the audience, which is usually made up of young students and budding professionals in the advertising industry. “Oh I remember this ad!” is one nostalgic response, and people generally sing along with some of the jingles. After all, we were a radio generation before we graduated to black and white television. The other sobering observation, particularly from those about to join the industry, is interesting too: “do you think we would be able to make ads as good as these so that people will watch them thirty years later?”
It is this reaction that inspired this piece you are just going to read. Let me also quickly tell you that sometimes we tend to view our past through rose-tinted spectacles as we are aided and abetted by nostalgia and a sense of “those were the days”.
A peek into the past
Since I entered advertising in 1983, I have very strong memories of a few ads — none of which I was involved with, but which I still liked as a consumer of advertising and more importantly as a student of advertising. The first one, which you have all seen and which I have personally shown a few hundred times, is the ‘Liril girl in the waterfall’ ad. I also remember that this ad was shown primarily in cinema halls and I know people who would go early to the theatre to watch this ad! People knew the model’s name, the waterfall where the commercial was shot and just about every possible detail about the ad! Amazing, considering this was in a day and age when the internet was unheard of! Watch it once again:
Another ad that I really liked was the ad for Rasna. While there were several, the cute girl eyeballing the camera and saying “I love you Rasna” was special to me. Perhaps because I worked for Mudra in those days and we were particularly proud of our work for the brand. Here’s the ‘coffee, tea, or Rasna’ ad, the idea for which might have been borrowed from a titillating book titled “coffee, tea or me” which featured the adventures of an airhostess. Strategically this ad was designed to promote drinking of Rasna when people returned from work tired, on summer evenings.
Here’s one more commercial that every one of us must have watched hundreds of times. The commercial “ mile sur mera tumhara ” must have been aired thousands of times on national TV, and featured some of the greatest musicians of the time along with actors and cricketers who ruled the roost then. Arguably one of the best public service campaigns of the eighties and nineties, the ad certainly made us feel nostalgic and made us realise the complexity of our country and its diversity which could still lead to unity.
So where do we go from here?
Let me quickly tell you that there were other ads that were equally worthy of a mention that I liked, but I chose these three off the top of my mind. Who can forget the Hamara Bajaj ad?
The point is that there were quite a few ads that were memorable, likeable, and long-lasting in their popularity. These ads had simple ideas, were executed powerfully and had a greater share of voice and mind, as there was primarily only one channel, Doordarshan. But it would be simplistic to characterise their success primarily to the lack of competition. They succeeded because they represented the times we lived in then in a manner that was endearing.
This leads me to the present challenge and the test that all advertising agencies could be subjected to. How good are today’s ads, when we talk of history and posterity? Will they stand the test of time? I am not sure I know the answer to those questions but I do know that this could well be a benchmark that advertising agencies can strive to reach.
Let’s not make ads that will just be fine for today but will also stay on in the memory of consumers much longer. How do we do that? It’s simple. You don’t need to go to New Zealand, just focus on the simplicity of the message and the clarity in execution to achieve that.
And yet, how many commercials can you keep watching again and again? That’s the challenge that advertising agencies must face today if their work is to be remembered tomorrow.