Utterly ButterlyButt Precious
The Amul moppet recently Turned 50. here’s A peek i nto her Adventures
ifty years. Think of all that five decades in India could possibly encapsulate — 13 governments, 5 cens uses, 2 generations, myriad emotions and the Amul girl. Mascot of a butter brand, the Amul girl articulates what the nation really wants to know. Keeping her ear to the ground, she mostly echoes the public sentiment on every issue — be it national or international, politics or pop culture. The fearless, noseless, ageless narrator of a changing India recently turned 50. Who are the cast of characters lending voice to the country’s most talkative moppet? To find out, let us rewind to circa 1960s.
Before Amul became the market leader for butter in India, the brand that held the distinction was Polson. Owned by visionary businessman Pestonji Edulji Dalal — whose nickname was Polly — Polson offered an additional incentive of gift coupons that came with each pack, which only added to its soaring popularity among urban Indian households. Its icon was a young, sophisticated girl with blonde hair who would be seen buttering her toast. The catchline was simple: “Children Love Polson’s Butter: Guard Their Health and Give Them The Best”. Amul, though formed two decades ago, had not managed to make a similar impact. A reason why, in 1966, when Sylvester da Cunha’s company Advertising and Sales Promotion ( ASP) finally won the account for Amul, he and his art director Eustace Fernandes realised the need to create an image for the brand so powerful, so eloquent, that it could hope to dethrone Polson’s prim- and- proper girl.
Sylvester and Eustace brainstormed with the team at ASP, and came up with an icon of a chubby girl who would wear a polka- dotted dress and wouldn't have a nose. She would be armed with a sharp tongue, mouthing puns that could relate the trend of the time with the butter. In short, everything about
her would be irreverent as compared to the gentle Polson mascot. And that’s how the iconic Amul girl was born.
With the imagery getting everyone’s vote of confidence, the challenge was now to make an impact with the first ad. During those days, a television set wasn’t a common sight in middle class households and print ads were too expensive. Finally, decision was taken to put the Amul girl on a hoarding. One of the first ads placed her atop a horse ( to signify the trend of horse racing that was catching up then) with a catchline “Thoroughbread”.
An adorable moppet with sharp wit — the Amul girl had finally ‘ arrived’.
Five decades later, breathing life into an ageless Amul girl today are three men who have spent considerable part of their lives giving her a voice and a purpose. Sylvester da Cunha’s son Rahul has been spearheading the campaign since the early ’ 90s and has continued to do so at a time when change has been the only constant in the country. “My task is to navigate through issues. The main thing is to remain relevant and contemporary. What is making people angry? What are they reacting to?”
Every Monday morning, the da Cunha Communications 1967 Amul's first topical comes out, which comments on the trend of the day: horse- racing office in Mumbai bustles with energy. That’s when Rahul and copywriter Manish Jhaveri meet to discuss a basket of topics — both national as well as international — that the Amul girl could talk about in the campaigns for the week. Once the idea receives a nod from the team, Manish comes up with two or three potential lines to go with the campaign before handing over the task of illustrating the graphic to Jayant Rane, who typically takes two or three hours to draw the entire topical. Sounds deceptively simple, doesn’t it?
The time when Sylvester and his team took over the reins of Amul’s campaign was different. As Rahul observes, “Back in those days, things were steady and constant. We have entered an interesting time in the country where today is actually completely different from tomorrow.” The real challenge for the team is to comment on socially, politically ambiguous issues in the age of social media where some subjects can lead to polarising, heated debates.
In the past, Amul has had its own share of controversies. A few years ago, leading Indian newspaper Times of India r e p o r t e d h o w t h e mult i n a t i o n a l c o n g l o merat e Sahara threatened to sue Amul’s parent body Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation for a topical that took a dig at the news of the company allegedly collecting INR 100,000 ($ 1500) from each of its employees in order to raise INR 5,000 crore ($ 750 million) to bail out its head Subrata Roy. Standing next to two employees of Sahara begging for money, the Amul girl was spotted with the catchline “Be-
on a development, it can be quite good. They don’t need to constantly find something clever to say; just an observation, cleverly done, would be enough. The brand is unshakeable now.”
Her ‘ jolly- good- fellow’ image might have given the Amul girl some leeway, but for copywriter Manish Jhaveri, there are none. Tasked with the job of writing clever, catchy lines on tricky issues, Manish often finds himself in search of balance, even on issues where he may have a strong point of view. Ask him about the singularly most challenging assignment in recent times and he is ready with an answer. “Demonetisation. When it was announced, the views were too polarising. You couldn’t have been vitriolic, neither could you support it.” Over the years, Manish has introduced Hinglish to the Amul girl’s vocabulary, making her even more ac- 1992 The ad lampoons the Indian Airline pilots' strike for an increase in pay cessible to the urban Indian middle class that is as fluent in English as it is in Hindi.
Social media has been another game changer. While it has helped the team gauge public sentiment more accurately, it has also ensured that the output is multiplied. Earlier, they would Commenting on the increasing involvement of the underworld in Bollywood When Aamir Khan had to pay for his remarks on growing intolerance come up with nearly five topicals a month, today they work on as many topicals in a week. While Amul does have strong readership online, Rahul says print is as relevant to them now as ever. “Print is still powerful. There is a large part of India — 40 to 50 per cent — that is non- digital. Consumers largely watch television or read newspapers; it’s not a 100 per cent digital country. We get our older audiences through the press, and younger audiences through digital.”
If there is one thing that has changed significantly with digitisation, it is the artwork itself. In the old days, a topical would be handpainted from scratch. Today, they are made digitally.
“Since everything was handpainted earlier, the designs had to be kept simple. Now, there is a greater emphasis on detailing since these are digital prints,” says Jayant Rane, the third and the oldest member of the team behind the campaign. Like Rahul and Manish, his mem-