At a recently held afaqs! event, we asked R S Sodhi, managing director, Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, the owner of Amul, when he would get down to contemporising the brand's lovable mascot, the Amul girl. He may have skirted the question at the time, but is back with an answer today. The Amul girl has leaped right out of her outdoor pedestal onto our TV screens for an ad film that introduces viewers to a bunch of different ways of consuming Amul butter.
The moppet has appeared in Amul butter TVCs in the past but only as a sign off towards the end. Around a decade back, though, she did appear all through the brand's TVCs but in a flat, two-dimensional, sketch-like form.
"We have contemporised our butter girl. Nowadays everything is in 3D -- movies, games -- so why not the Amul girl?" Sodhi says about the change. In fact, today her popularity is being leveraged beyond billboards. "We are extending the butter girl to other things also," Sodhi says. The girl has started appearing on Amul's otherwise boring milk packets. And besides reproducing the billboards as press ads in newspapers, Amul has also started airing them on TV as quick 10-second films! Here's how: A scene of an actual road is integrated with a graphic billboard which is a replication of Amul's actual billboard. Given the nature of the content of these topical ads, these short films are aired on Hindi and English news channels.
However, the ad spends, Sodhi insists, are still "less than one per cent of the total sales turnover." What has changed is Amul's "media selection strategy" such that the moppet is better exposed.
TV for food, Outdoor for wit
These 10-second 'billboard films' notwithstanding, Amul's media strategy is such that outdoor continues to be used for chronicling the nation's socio-political events and TV is used to highlight the brand's product benefits. In the new TVC, for instance, the mascot introduces children to more 'modern' ways -- as Sodhi puts it -- of eating Amul butter, that is, with noodles, pasta or corn.
The nature of the two media channels - TV and outdoor - are in part the reason for such a strategy. TV lends itself to sensorial advertising. Ever since it made the leap from black and white to colour, Amul butter, like many other food brands, started using it as a medium to lure consumers with appetising sights and sounds. So, shots of food became dominant and the Amul girl gradually began appearing more towards the end of the films. On the other hand, given the limited reading time available to commuters, outdoor is better suited for quick, witty copy.
"TV is a lively medium where you can show food in a nicer way," says Sodhi, adding that the purpose of the two mediums is "totally different" for Amul butter. As Kiran Khalap, co-founder, chlorophyll, points out, "Outdoor has two tracks of information, static image and words. TV has five -- moving images, supers, dialogue, music and special effects."
Rahul daCunha of daCunha Communications, the agency behind the butter brand's ads, says, "The role of the Amul girl is different on each platform. On the outdoor medium, she is a social observer; the strategy is to comment on India. But the strategy for TV is: sell more butter. So, in a sense, her role on TV is more hard working."
daCunha goes on to tell us that over the past few years, Amul butter has found yet another media platform in digital (particularly Facebook and Twitter) for its topical outdoor creatives. "We need to target the youth," he says. In fact, the brand has upped its digital spends by 30-35 per cent over the past year.
"Around five years back," says daCunha, "we used to do one hoarding a week. Today, we create one new topical ad daily." Of these, some are for the outdoor space, some appear only on Twitter, some appear in print, and some are released only in a specific area, say South Mumbai or South India. With time, the brand's ads have become more targeted, depending on their relevance on different platforms and in different geographies.
Created by Sylvester daCunha in 1966 to rival Polson's butter girl, the Amul girl was first used in outdoor ads that were put up on a few lampposts in Mumbai. Public reaction to her was immediate and positive. People found her really cute -- cute enough for the brand to make billboards her permanent home, one that she has inhabited for over 50 years. Thus, at a time when there was no TV and every brand was going the print, cinema or radio way, Amul butter decided to embrace outdoor.
So, did the butter girl need this leap into 3D? "Sure. Bringing a mascot alive allows her to develop a different relationship with the younger audiences," he says, adding, "Not contemporising can be a loss. The Air India Maharaja has been reduced from a witty commentator on various nationalities to a cardboard cut out announcing flights. The Maharaja's association of royalty may be outdated in the 21st century."
On billboards, the Amul girl is witty and spunky but in this ad film, she is almost a goody two-shoes. Could this disconnect in the mascot's personality traits confuse the consumer? "One ad cannot confuse anybody; a relatively longer running campaign may," Khalap asserts.