Akshit Pushkarna

How OK TATA became a staple on all highway trucks

Harish Bhat, brand custodian, Tata Group, talks about the slogan commonly seen on the back panel of trucks.

‘OK Tata’ is probably the most seen line on Indian roads. You may have seen this catchphrase on the back panel of trucks on highways. But has anyone wondered why it is so prominently visible on Indian roads?

Tata once used its range of trucks as a free advertising space for ‘OK Soap’, a brand marketed by the Tata Oil Mills Company during the 1960s. Although the brand is now defunct, the branding is still commonly seen behind trucks, and people don’t know what it refers to.

OK Soap was launched at a time when branded bathing soap bars were just gaining popularity in India and were being adopted in the Indian household. Unilever’s Lifebuoy held a lion’s share of the soap market at the time, according to brand historians. 

To leave its imprints on the soap market, Tata Oil Mills Company decided to put its advertising muscle behind the promotion of the soap line. Coincidentally, Tata had a monopoly in the truck segment at that time when OK Soap was launched. Bhat says that a marketing manager at that time, had the idea of advertising OK Soap on back panels of these trucks.

World War II was still a fresh event that had occurred not too long ago at that time. It caused a severe shortage of diesel. So, trucks were forced to run on kerosene at the time. ‘OK’ means ‘On Kerosene’, a prompt which was inscribed at the back of the trucks. It was an attempt to warn drivers to maintain a safe distance from the trucks. For Tata Trucks, the first company to start manufacturing trucks in India, this ‘OK’ migrated next to the Tata logo.

This created an opportunity for the brand to leverage the 'OK Tata' for promotion of the new soap. To use this to advertise the soap line, Tata also added a picture of lotus to 'OK Tata' behind the trucks, so that it refers to the soap line. Lotus became a visual symbol for the soap line.

OK Soap’s commercial was titled ‘Subah subah kamal khile’. The main messaging the brand wanted to drive with this campaign is one can bloom like a lotus if they showered with OK soap. The ad also emphasised value for money and the size of the soap offers.

OK soaps were discontinued by Tata when they decided to move out of the business space company. Tata Oil Mills Company was sold to rival Hindustan Unilever (HUL) in the early-1990s. The decision was made because the company wasn’t able to meet its long-term business goals.

Even though the soap isn't available in the market now and we don't have a diesel crisis at our hand, ‘Horn OK Please’, ‘OK Tata’ and ‘OK Tata Bye Bye’, all derivatives of the initial OK soap ads inscribed on the trucks, are still a common sight on the highways. Yet, people aren’t really aware of the story behind these phrases, until now.

While Tata used this method of advertising several decades ago, it hasn't ventured heavily into using automobiles as vehicles of advertising products. Still, other brands have utilised their means of transportation to put out their brand names in the public domain.

How OK TATA became a staple on all highway trucks

Brands like Wheelseye, Delhivery, among others inscribe their brand names on trucks. Swiggy, Pidge, etc., have their brand names on the back of the bags on delivery agents' bikes which commute within densely populated areas within a city. However, none of these branding vehicles have been able to leave a lasting impression like Tata did with 'OK Tata'.

Every Sunday, Harish Bhat, brand custodian, Tata Group, shares stories about the company’s 145 years of operations in India, on his LinkedIn profile. The company, he believes, has a host of “fascinating tales of passion, purpose, courage, grit, resilience, failure and success.” The series is called ‘SHO-T-S’ (Short Tata Stories). In the 84th installment of the series, Bhat talks about this as one of the most memorable marketing stories of Tata.

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