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The Great Indian Ad Battle: Unheard stories of Perfetti Van Melle-owned brand Happydent’s Palace commercial

Perfetti Van Melle India’s Rajesh Ramakrishnan, McCann Worldgroup India’s Prasoon Joshi, and Equinox Films' Ram Madhvani get nostalgic.

By  Priyanka NairDec 27, 2022 10:37 AM
The Great Indian Ad Battle: Unheard stories of Perfetti Van Melle-owned brand Happydent’s Palace commercial
The Happydent Palace commercial was chosen as one of the top 20 ads of the 21st century by the international Gunn report. Image Credit: Illustrations by Animagic India’s Chetan Sharma.

Thirty-two contestants. Thirty-two matches. Four decades of excellence in advertising. Storyboard18’s mega editorial IP of 2023 The Great Indian Ad Battle was nothing less than a World Cup of Ads. As ad geeks, we wanted to bring in some freshness, curiosity, and excitement to the advertising and marketing community.

The Great Indian Ad Battle took place on Twitter and Instagram. Our in-house editorial team and aficionados from the digital-first consulting shop, hybrid created a list of thirty-two television commercials made after the advent of colour TV in India. Hybrid worked closely with our editorial team to execute the campaign end-to-end. If we missed any personal favorites, we apologize again. The competition was super tough and we're glad it's not us who had to pick the GOAT. Consumers voted, right from the beginning. They voted for Perfetti Van Melle-owned brand Happydent’s Palace commercial as the winner of The Great Indian Ad Battle. It’s an ad that has won several accolades worldwide and has been re-played by consumers over the years. The film stands out bright even today because of the braveness of the client, the nuanced thinking of the agency, and the creative lens of the director. Here are unheard stories of one of the top ads of the 21st century.

The genesis of the idea

The year was 2006. Sameer Suneja, who was leading marketing at Perfetti Van Melle India, reached out to his creative agency McCann Erickson now known as McCann Worldgroup India with a straightforward brief. Rajesh Ramakrishnan, managing director, Perfetti Van Melle India, recalls it for Storyboard18. “Our brief was to bring to life the product benefit itself i.e. a chewing gum that brings shine to the teeth. In fact, we had requested the agency to follow their international commercial which had a linear story of a girl going on a date and using the product to have a whiter, attractive smile."

However, during the brainstorming session, McCann Worldgroup India’s Prasoon Joshi, found it to be too straight-jacketed and he decided to “unfollow” the brief. “His cultural insight was that in India, the whiteness of teeth is not the priority, and therefore, the global copy will not work. Hence, the strategy was to use outrageous imagination and hyperbole to exaggerate the benefit and put forth the message in a surreal and imaginative manner,” says Ramakrishnan.

Joshi, the CEO and CCO of McCann Worldgroup India, and chairman of McCann Asia Pacific has been part of building brand Happydent since its launch in India. According to him, “Happydent is the story of conviction, belief, and the delicious balance of idea, craft, and experimentation.” Joshi tells Storyboard18 why really he decided to “unfollow” Suneja’s brief. “I always felt that a functional approach to gum that acceptably whitens your teeth would not be a solution for our country, which has paan and supari as part of the culture. Hence, I followed my gut and exaggerated the benefit to the hilt." He is grateful to Suneja for taking a leap of faith. Suneja is now the global CEO of Italian-Dutch confectionery and gum MNC.

Designing the storyboard

When Joshi represented the idea of a fantastical imaginary world lit by sparkling human teeth with illustrations, the brand team at first where left confused. As he explained the details, of a man employed as a light bulb - in a chandelier in a King's palace who is late and rushing to his work, and along the way meets his friends who are all employed as light bulbs, the client team didn’t believe he was serious. He admits, they took time to absorb and sign off.

Once that was done, Joshi approached the award-winning film director and partner at Equinox Films Ram Madhvani with his idea. Madhvani got to know that a few international directors were also reached out for the project. Since he absolutely loved the idea in the first go, he didn’t waste a lot of time and sent Joshi and Suneja the storyboard. Madhvani, who still believes that Indians love to see beautiful stories on screen even from brands, thought the idea of a man on a chandelier had to be made real life to grab consumers’ attention.

He remembers that with tight budgets, this royal script was shot in a palace in Panvel than Rajasthan. He adds, “We built the wooden bridge in Panvel and my brother Nrupen had just bought a new cycle and his front wheel has come off and so that went into the film.” According to Madhvani, the campaign got the right touches only because the client and agency teams gave his crew and him the time they needed for the post-production work. Singer Kailash Kher sang the jingle “Tera Man Roshan”. Shantanu Moitra composed the song. Fun fact: Joshi sang the last line of the song.

Another interesting aspect was utilizing the ancient Indian art form of Mallakhamb in the Palace commercial. The team did not rely on green screen shooting and SFX. The creative idea required people climbing up poles as streetlights or those underwater lights, or the man twisted in the form of that lamp shade. The team used real practitioners of this fascinating art form as part of the campaign, recall both Ramakrishnan and Joshi.

Winning big accolades

In 2007, McCann Worldgroup India entered the film for Cannes Lions. The campaign got India a Silver and a Bronze at the Oscars of advertising. Joshi recalls a special moment from that season of Cannes lions. The ad was a popular and favourite one of even amongst the international fraternity. Trevor Beattie, a founding partner, chairman and creative director of Beattie McGuinness Bungay, and former chairman and creative director of TBWA London wore a T-shirt with the line “Happydent For Grand Prix.” Beattie gifted Joshi one too.

The Happydent Palace commercial was chosen as one of the top 20 ads of the 21st century by the international Gunn report. “Apart from the love the TVC received, it also inspired many future marketeers to join and work for Perfetti Van Melle India,” says Ramakrishnan.

First Published on Dec 26, 2022 9:54 PM