Illustration by Suneesh Kalarickal.
The year was 1989. A time when advertising was truly an art form, a time of brand building. The search for the ‘Big Idea’ was crucial in determining audience choice. David Abbott’s main rule of copywriting, ‘Don’t be boring’ was firmly embedded in our headspace.
Creative guys such as myself were inspired to think of ideas, not compelled to force-fit a Bollywood icon into the communication…maybe we were blessed not to live in an lazy era of overpaid underwhelming Ranveer Singh and co. endorsing brands. You were encouraged to think out of the box, and it was here and now that I learnt my biggest lesson – brands need concepts not made in the factory; to really cut through the clutter, think of a function that is not produced in the factory. But most vitally, it was a time, when clients and agencies worked hand in hand to create brands. Clients approved work that had an intriguing idea, not just appealing aesthetics.
Most importantly, brand equity was non-negotiable, immune to the mercy of the ever revolving doors of marketing managers.
Emotional benefits were to be preferred over manufacturer’s statements. Put simply, Levi’s jeans sold the idea of sex, ‘buy us, because when you slip into our jeans, you become another person, a sexier avatar of yourself’. This kind of emotional claim was so much more personal and persuasive than the functional and direct ‘Buy us because we have cool fly buttons’.
So in 1989, I was working at the finest school of advertising - Lintas, run by Alyque Padamsee, creatively led by my mentor Kersey Katrak.
Prashant Godbole and I were an art director-copywriter team. We were assigned to work on the Bajaj Auto account. Bajaj Auto was the king of two wheelers, even back then – The Kawasaki Bajaj RTZ, the M80 bike, and the scooter Bajaj Chetak, were among the wide array of products that the company offered. But in this Gulliver-like two wheeler market, the Lilliputians were growing in size and stature, via their foreign collaborations. Bajaj scooters in particular, suffered from a perverse problem that can afflict a leader - they were regarded solid, but not sleek, they were reliable but old fashioned. The swanky Star Warsy Kinetic Honda was snapping at its heels. LML had Vespa.
Here was a market leader with an image problem. One morning Kersey Katrak called Prashant Godbole and me into his room, “Lads, we’re faced with a peculiar issue, Bajaj scooters are the leader, every second Indian rides one, but it’s become a blind spot. Foreign collaborators are flashing their wares, sales aren’t dropping alarmingly, but we’re taking a bit of a beating in the marketplace, we’re coming across as a bit old fashioned.”
And then he said the words that have stayed with me for 31 years, “We need to take the Bajaj scooter out of the realm of mere transportation to the larger aspect of India.”
“Do you mean patriotism?” we asked him.
“No not patriotism so much as Indianess. We need to make a weakness into a strength. We don’t have the aesthetic bells and whistles, and Bajaj are not likely to go in for a foreign collaborator – so perhaps what’s required is a strong emotional appeal.”
The first campaign we created was in English. ‘The Great Indian Spirit’ was the headline that I wrote. The idea clearly was to occupy a space that fulfilled two strategic needs -
1. Inhabit the Indianess platform
2. Move the consumer away from the functional to an emotional appeal
Prashant and I and our immediate creative head, Kiran Khalap, created a visual palette that were vignettes from Indian life and traditions - a typical Parsi gentleman lovingly wiping down his scooter, a hero combing his hair in the small rear view mirror, a Bengali carrying his fish, images where the Bajaj Scooter, was merely a means of transport, to get the common man around while he finished his daily chores and customs.
The greatest story lies in the creation of the anthem/jingle – "Hamara Bajaj".
For the lyrics, we hired Jaikrit Rawat, Indian advertising’s most famed Hindi writer – he fully understood what needed to be crafted, and this is what he wrote
Yeh asmaan (repeat)
Ki Buland TasveerHamara Bajaj
And Louis Banks, the maestro armed with these poetic words composed his soundtrack too, in Raga Jaijaiwanti.
And so D-Day arrived, the Lintas team arrived in Pune to ‘sell’ the campaign. The marketing team was obviously nervous to sign off on such an ad. This was after all a huge creative departure from regular scooter advertising.
One man and only one man, had the power to approve this breakaway campaign, and that man was Rahul Bajaj, and one young man was chosen to present this campaign to him, and that was Rahul daCunha. Seated next to me was Alyque Padamsee, the pressure was nerve racking, including a small handwritten note to me, mid-presentation, which read, “Speak up, my boy, you’re meant to be in the theatre, if I can’t hear you, how will Mr Bajaj! Come on! PROJECT your voice”.
Long story short, the visionary that Rahul Bajaj was, he saw that this campaign had the power to reach the consumer and to reinforce the leadership position for the company like no pretender could. He signed off on our TV and press ads, and filmmaker Sumantra Ghosal made our iconic ad.
Thirty one years later, the auto giant hasn’t retained the tagline, pity.
But Hamara Bajaj is a feeling that has stayed in every Indian's heart. An anthem that has moved way beyond the ad.Rahul daCunha is the creative head of daCunha Communications.