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Indian dairy milks everything for a laugh
Publication Date : 21-12-2013
Probably India's oldest dairy brand, Amul butter is known for spreading not just tasty goodness but also topical humour.
That is why Rahul daCunha, the creative head of an advertising agency, scans the newspapers every morning for material to extend Amul's popular advertisement campaign, which has been running for some five decades.
"Politicians provide the best fodder every time they open their mouths," said daCunha, who took over the agency, daCunha Communications, together with the ad campaign, from his father two decades ago.
The ads, mostly tongue-in-cheek with their witty play on words, give their take on major events, political or otherwise, notable deaths, movies or whatever else is trending.
So, the current spat between India and the United States over the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York is headlined "Khobardaar USA", which means "Beware USA".
"Khobardaar" is a clever play on the name of the woman diplomat, Dr Devyani Khobragade.
In 1999, after the India-Pakistan Kargil conflict in Kashmir, out came an ad with the message: "Pak up and leave."
The star of the ads is the Amul girl, whose outfits always have polka dots and who wears her hair in a high ponytail secured by a polka-dot bow.
In the ad which did a take on the movie Life Of Pi - with the heading "Life of Every Pie" - the Amul girl feeds a slice of pie to Pi as the tiger watches. In smaller print are the words "Amul - Angle'e' for it" - a play on director Lee Ang's name.
The dairy giant, whose products include curd, milk and ice cream in addition to butter, makes for a unique Indian brand. The products are sourced and made by the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, a billion-dollar enterprise that has 3.5 million farmers.
The federation is the brainchild of Dr Verghese Kurien, who died last year at age 90. He created a cooperative system that cuts out middlemen and channels profits directly to farmers, in the process turning India into a major milk-producing nation.
The long-running ad campaign has become a cultural phenomenon all on its own, getting a mention in the Guinness World Records for longevity.
daCunha's agency has a free hand in coming up with the catchy ads.
R. S. Sodhi, managing director of Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, said: "The ad agency doesn't have to seek our approval. We see the ads when they appear in the newspapers, on hoardings or online.
"It is working very well, so why change it?"
The ads are published in nearly four dozen newspapers in English or one of the regional languages.
They also appear on 450 dedicated billboards across the country.
Every week, daCunha's agency has to create six ads for different media platforms.
The ad campaign has built up a loyal following.
Singapore-based digital communications professional Jacob Joseph Puthenparambil, for instance, keeps track of the ads on Facebook.
He said he remembers how when he was living in the southern Indian city of Kochi, he would check out the Amul billboard regularly.
"It's like a social commentary of what's happening in India. It strikes a chord," he said.
In fact, good or bad, the Amul girl always has a point of view.
For instance, she panned Bollywood hit Chennai Express with the heading - "Bokwaasoffice Hit?" - a play on bakwaas, which is Hindi for nonsense.
Her message to potential prime ministerial candidates in next year's elections - Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi from the Bharatiya Janata Party - was "Sharezyada", or share more. The ad showed her sitting between the two men and all three eating bread and butter.
Modi had earlier mocked his rival by referring to him as shahzada, or prince, because of the Gandhi name.
The retirement of India's cricket great Sachin Tendulkar last month was a major emotional moment for the country and it presented Mr daCunha with perhaps one of his biggest creative challenges.
"India retires hurt," said the Amul girl ahead of his retirement.
When the legendary batsman, also known as the "Master Blaster", failed to score a century in his final Test match, the words seemed almost prophetic.