‘For my dad Sylvester daCunha, Amul was always bigger than the individual’: Rahul daCunha

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For many Indians, the morning news is incomplete without the Amul Girl’s daily candid talk about current affairs, news makers and celebrities. The iconic noseless girl with blue hair and a red polka-dot frock rode a billboard horse on her maiden voyage in March 1996. totally buttery delicious advertising, and since then it has remained at the top of people’s minds. Edman’s brainchild sylvester dacunhait is in now Guinness Book of World Records As the longest running advertising campaign in the world.

Sylvester, who passed away on June 20 at the age of 92, was one of India’s creative giants. After starting his own advertising agency, Dacunha Communications, in 1962, he worked with a myriad of leading brands including Britannia Biscuits, Lakme and Tata Tea. A multitasker, he was also the founder of Theater Group of Bombay, and worked as a food and nutrition consultant on several projects with the World Bank and UNICEF.

Sylvester da Cunha, creator of the Amul ad campaign

Sylvester da Cunha, creator of the Amul ad campaign

Remembering his father’s legacy, his son Rahul Dacunha says, “The Amul Girl is a great Indian icon. One of the reasons we love her is that she’s transcended brands — she’s everyone’s daughter. And that’s what an icon does. That’s what Dad did. With life being so uncomfortable, you look to these icons for reassurance that life is okay.

Adman and digital marketer Shubho Sengupta caught up with Rahul, the current director of Dacunha Communications, to remember his father’s legacy and the days ahead.

Shubho Sengupta: India has lost a legend in the passing away of Sylvester Dacunha. But his legacy is in capable hands. What is the secret to the longevity of your father’s biggest success, the Amul brand? The only icon that comes close to this is The Rolling Stones.

Rahul Dacunha: The only way we know about the Stones is that they wrote all their songs between the 60’s and 80’s, and are still living to those songs. I want a new single everyday. [Laughs.] It was fun!

There is no way that one can tell when you build something, whether it will have longevity, be durable. Would this be a great idea? Nowadays there are many people who advertise. And I don’t know if it’s because of social media, marketing of the moment, or meme culture, but people don’t think about something that will last forever.

an old amul hoarding

an old amul hoarding

When you look at my dad’s time, there were so many mascots that were created, whether it was dad playing Amul Girl, or Bobby playing Kooka Maharaja, or Gopi Kukde playing Onida Devil. An attempt was made to make a symbol. I saw an advertisement about IPL today and I can’t remember it. Is it because we put too much emphasis on celebrities and advertisements?

an advertisement of amul

an advertisement of amul

One thing I learned from Dad was that you create assets that don’t come from the factory. Amul Girl has created a sense of humour. Sure, there’s flavor and the whole ‘Utterly Butterly’ thing. But when you talk about longevity, it’s about building the assets that you want consumers to remember. And once you do that, the rest is history. When dad started Amul Girl, he didn’t think it would last so long. But I think consistently people have respected the brand personality. And there’s no question about it: You need a talented customer. The death of advertising has been a revolving door for marketing managers, as each tries to create their own legacy.

S: In the age of memes and emojis, twitter and chat GPT, the Amul girl has not only survived, but has outdone memes, outdone tweets. Last night, I was telling someone that I would be interviewing you, and he told me a story about a famous bakery in Pune (Kayani). This was in the early 2000s, and for some reason, Amul’s butter supply was a bit erratic at that time. The baker closed the shop and said, ‘When supplies resume, I’ll get my cookies out.’ My friend asked, ‘Why don’t you use some other butter?’ This 90-year-old man stared at him and said, ‘Don’t you know what a brand is?’ The core idea is so strong that it outlives any new medium, new technology.

R: forget about chat gpt And AI, my concern about where we are right now, is that we are creating a nation of imitators and technology. There’s nothing specific; It is designed to give you a conveyor belt like approach. Big ideas come from the brain, not the computer. So, technology is great, but the current technology is worrying because it lacks creativity, it lacks imagination. The whole purpose of advertising and creativity is to create a USP. Chat GPT is quite the opposite.

climbs on Amul's tongue

climbs on Amul’s tongue

Amul on Priyanka Chopra's Met Gala dress

Amul on Priyanka Chopra’s Met Gala dress

S: I agree. Chat GPT is great technology, but it lacks empathy. And without empathy, there is no brand engagement. The other thing I wanted to ask is that you didn’t start with your dad’s agency, you went to Lintas. Then what made you join your father later?

R: This is a question I will always be asking myself. The greatness of my dad was that he said, ‘You go and do your job. And I will do my work. He was always a creative person. And what we didn’t want is a clash because we both come from different creative worlds. But as Indian boys, there’s something about taking over your father’s business [laughs], I would say that working on the Amul brand was a big temptation for me. Taking on something that is so famous and so prestigious is a tremendous challenge. The beautiful thing about this campaign is that it is not easy. Now we’re not just hoarding, we’ve moved to the daily press, we’re on the new social media and the internet, which has given us completely new opportunities. One thing I’ve learned over the years in this wonderful country is that what works in the East doesn’t interest anyone in the South. Hence, one has to be careful both in terms of subject matter and language.

Amul welcomes Rishi Sunak

Amul welcomes Rishi Sunak

S: It’s been 20 years since the original trio – Sylvester Da Cunha, Eustace Fernandes and Usha Katranda – were replaced by (the new Amul trio) Rahul Da Cunha, Manish Jhaveri and Jayant Rane. I’m struggling to think of any brand in the world that has kept the DNA so true to the original. How did it happen so easily?

R: This is a real lesson in brand consistency. When you think about it, we’ve tried to maintain the same spirit that Dad and his team did, that you’re only as good as your last advertisement. Because the memory of the public is short. If you go back to the Rolling Stones band, what is the reason that ‘Exile on Main Street’ and ‘Goat’s Head Soup’ were so good? Because they realized that one hit album would only take you so far. If you don’t follow it up with a great second album, people will forget you – and in the modern Twitter age they are very quick to criticize. The rule in Dad’s time was to keep your title short. Even now, you have five seconds to catch a Millennial or Gen Z when he or she scrolls down on their phone. So it’s the classic rule: keep it tight, keep it memorable. And the brand is always bigger than the person.

Rahul da Cunha (centre) with theater actors Rajit Kapoor and Shernaz Patel.

Rahul da Cunha (centre) with theater actors Rajit Kapoor and Shernaz Patel | Photo Credit: Getty Images

SS: Your father and you were both successful administrators, but also deeply involved with the theatre. In fact, your father founded the Theater Group of Bombay. How did you two live in so many different worlds?

R: I come from a previous generation of people who did theater and advertising together. I think it comes from a certain mindset that multitasking is everything. For a lot of ad men in their 60s, 70s and 80s, including my dad, it was only natural that they did theatre. It was always part of my DNA. I also think Advertising and theater have always been linked Because both are performing arts.

The author is an Adman and Digital Marketer.

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