Amul: Where to Next?

I wrote this a few months ago for an Indian publication, thought I’d publish it here as well.

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One of the most iconic brands of India, the mere mention of Amul Butter is likely to bring a smile to any conversation where it comes up. It has painstakingly created an image of being tongue-in-cheek, irreverent and yet rooted in Indian culture. It has earned its place in history as a brand that mirrors India’s ups-and-downs beautifully.

So what is it about Amul that has made it so popular?

For one, it uses humour as an effective advertising strategy: humour evokes emotion, and it has recently been proved that emotional advertising is almost twice as likely to succeed as rational advertising. It taps into the sentiment of the masses with its advertising copy– whether it is Bollywood movies or cricket, the copy on its print ads is especially amusing and a pretty accurate reflection of the times. In addition, it has the advantage of being able to use nostalgia: in 1967, Amul introduced the campaign which is today one of the longest-running in the world. Anyone who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s associates the brand today with their childhood, thanks to the cheeky little Amul girl, who was, and continues to be, the brand mascot.

Two, it has the advantage of working with a familiar team that they are no doubt comfortable with. Despite changes in packaging through the years, Amul has retained its original advertising agency – Sylvester Da Cunha, who created the Amul girl, still works on the account and Da Cunha Associates remains the full-service agency for the brand. Apparently, the agency has absolute freedom to do what they want with the copy for the ads, which in these days of client control certainly benefits the brand, even if they court the occasional controversy!

Amul’s primary advertising channel remains outdoor. However, with billboard ads being banned in two of India’s biggest cities, Delhi and Chennai, the brand needs to re-think its strategy. What is important here is that it needs to be the right strategy: in 2008 Amul ventured into the digital space by establishing a presence on Second Life. The logic behind this move was ostensibly to allow fans to have an insight into the way they work (the whole process of milk distribution is virtualized, for example, and they even have a virtual ice cream parlour), but this wasn’t a particularly smart marketing tactic. Over the last month, Second Life was nowhere near the top 100 sites visited in India in terms of traffic, according to Alexa. Kudos to them for entering the digital space in an innovative manner way back in 2008 (given that there were hardly any Indian brands on Second Life at all at the time), but it would be smart if they’d learnt rapidly and explored the digital arena in a different way. Digital is definitely the way forward, but it isn’t an easy space to navigate.

There is no doubt that Amul’s brand equity is strong. It has had a very successful past and present (its turnover is expected to cross $2 billion the next fiscal year). But complacency is dangerous. I wouldn’t want to see a name that is cherished by millions of Indians to lose out to the onslaught of newer brands, or simply to those that are hungrier.

[Image from Amul’s archive of print ads]

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