1966 – That’s from when Amul, an Indian dairy cooperative, has been running its marketing campaign. Effectively, that makes it the longest running marketing campaign ever. One of my favourite childhood memories is riding on the back seat of a yellow taxi in the streets of Calcutta and looking out for the new Amul hoarding on a particular stretch of the road. The advertisement on the hoarding was nothing special. It was simple word play using an attribute of a Amul product -usually Amul butter, while referencing a current newsworthy event. As a kid, I challenged myself to get the joke as fast as I could (some of them were tough to get, especially as a kid and if you didn’t read the news). The message was not overtly funny or logical, but the frequency in which they made these new posters was quite extraordinary. Was it even possible to pull down the old hoarding and pull this new one up (not even taking into account the time it took to come up with the new ad)?
Nostalgia can sometimes negate flaws, and Amul products to be honest are nothing special. The company sold products ranging from butter, milk, flavoured milk and even competed in the beverage market with the likes of Coca Cola and Pepsi. Most of its products are low priced and are targeted not only towards the lower and middle income level population but also towards vendors who use milk and butter in their products. The driving force behind the brand and the campaign is its simplicity. The advertising account has been handled by one agency since 1966. Using a mascot of a mischievous girl called the “Amul girl”, the brand since then has been synonymous with touching the pulse of a nation in their ads.
A key aspect of their campaign which has kept them unique has been how rooted their campaign has been. An occasional TV advert aside for their beverage, they have stayed away from digital channels. Even their website today looks dated. They have stuck to their core philosophy of regularly posting ads referencing a current event whilst sneaking in their value proposition of how tasty or delicious their butter is. A lot of their advertisements are probably lost in translation and reference national news. A recent one after the demise of David Bowie is below.
Using sketches which reflect fickle public opinions as well as jovial opinions on current events, the Amul banners are part of pop culture in India. To draw a parallel, the impact could be compared to South Park’s commitment to referencing current events, although the latter’s approach is much riskier. Decades of brand building has solidified Amul’s image among the cost conscious Indian household and the company is a source of national pride.
At a certain point of time, I feel the Amul brand and its ads went much beyond sales and profits. For instance, the company has never really strived to sell its butter or milk. In fact, thinking back amongst the haze of childhood, I have never felt the urge to buy an Amul product (although its ice cream was quite good-As a kid everyone probably enjoys ice cream). Amul is a dairy cooperative which is based on the milk sourced from regional farmers in the state of Gujarat, and directly sold to consumers. A similar social approach lies in their marketing. No fancy ads, or talking up their product as the best – but a credible mouth piece commentating on society. The sincerity to their marketing campaign has been what has stood out. They have created awareness/attention to their brand (“The Taste of India”). The have never created an interest or desire to sell their products on a whole and this is what has bothered yet struck a chord with me. Perhaps that is what brand building is about, striking a chord with people yet never coming across as someone trying to sell.