Brand Owners' Summit: Confessions of a serial 'punner'

By Shweta Mulki , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Marketing | December 16, 2015
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"Earlier, we got sued, today we get trolled and sued" - Rahul daCunha on Amul's topicals standing the test of time.

In a session moderated by afaqs! executive editor Ashwini Gangal at the afaqs! Brand Owners' Summit held at the Westin Hotel, Mumbai, on December 9, the audience was entertained by Rahul daCunha, director and owner, daCunha Communications, the makers of the classic Amul ads. daCunha narrated interesting anecdotes behind Amul's popular topicals, and spoke about staying relevant in the minds of time-strapped consumers.

Rahul daCunha

For starters, the audience was impressed by the fact that the creative team behind Amul's topicals, which comprised of three members -- daCunha, writer Manish Jhaveri, and cartoonist Jayant Rane -- brought out a topical every single day.

When asked what 'staying relevant' meant to him, daCunha answered, "We just had a topical that referred to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha's face on milk packets which were distributed during the Chennai floods. In it, we had the Amul girl's face on the butter packets in a creative, with the descriptor saying 'Ammazing Self Promotion'. We got calls to take off Jayalalitha's poster by her supporters who said that it wasn't her fault, and that it was done by party workers."

da Cunha summarised this point by saying that the idea of relevance to him means 'what is talked about today can work five years later.'

When Gangal asked how differently were the creatives crafted keeping in mind their reach across platforms -- outdoor, digital, and social media -- daCunha said that the choice of topic was an important criterion. When social media was born, they looked at topics that could be appreciated all over the entire country, but one of the Amul heads gave them the feedback that the topicals were more north and west-specific. Some of that could be attributed to skewed media coverage, said daCunha.

He said, "We've become so colonised that what's relevant in South Bombay is not relevant in North Bombay. We are creating more site specific topics."

Taking a looking at topicals on politicians, daCunha suggested that people could get tired of the 'politician, scandal and corruption' theme now, but a topical on Google's Sundar Pichai got over 18 lakh hits, indicating that someone who had 'worked his way up' was being given the thumbs up.

Touching upon the issue of language diversity, daCunha said, "Language is so varied and influential. Chennai doesn't speak English, but Andhra Pradesh does. While classic Hindi films songs are a common thread nation-wide, a 'khali-peeli jhagda mat karo' on the taxi strike issue, may work in Mumbai, but will not in Delhi."

Does sophisticated language work better online? Referring to the popularity of a topical on South African batsman AB DeVilliers online and then offline, daCunha revealed that sometimes online traction is gauged before a topical goes across the country on hoardings.

When asked about controversial topics, in the 'then and now' context, and on having lawyers on standby, daCunha joked, "Earlier we got sued, today we get trolled and sued". He mentioned that people, more often than not, ask for two things -- one is to remove the ad, and the other is to say sorry. He added that they had a 'no sorry policy', but also added that sometimes jokes could backfire. When a topical took a jab at Sahara chief Subroto Roy, his employees, who the topical had supported, had objected to it.

When Gangal asked whether outdoor could still be Amul's lead medium in the era of digital, daCunha replied that outdoor has its limitations of scale, but nothing matched the magnificence of its size. He added that digital, while high in reach, was still a medium of the young, while print had been great in terms of a captive audience.

Social media also helps navigate through interesting trends, said daCunha and added that digital helps in gauging the momentum of a particular topic. daCunha expressed his amusement at the recent popularity of a year-old topical on Aamir Khan, which turned out to be relevant in the light of the actor's recent headline-making comments.

During audience interactions, daCunha talked about the essential differentiator when it came to staying relevant and said, "When my Dad got the campaign in the 80s, the initial one year was largely food-oriented, but shortly after that it transitioned to topical events, with a food message. The bottom-line is to sell brands, but here it was about selling concepts."

The ninth edition of the afaqs! Brand Owners' Summit in Mumbai was powered by Amagi, with Wall Street as the outdoor partner, Kairali as the wellness partner, Furlenco as the furniture rental partner, and GainBuzz as its reach partner.

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