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How Old Monk became an iconic brand with ‘zero’ ad spends

Old Monk was the undisputed single brand leader till 2002, not just among rum labels, but the entire branded spirits market in India. It was also for many years the largest Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL)

e4m by Ruhail Amin
Updated: Jan 11, 2018 8:58 AM

For decades together dark spirits have dominated the palates and markets in India. Among many homegrown brands that are available in the market today, one name which has managed to stand out and get a cult following of its own is Old Monk.


Old monk is especially known for its unique product design and superior taste which catapulted it among the most popular dark rums in the world. Kapil Mohan, the former Managing Director of Mohan Meakin—the makers of Old Monk recently passed away at the age of 88. Mohan who took the reigns of the company in 1970 breathed a new lease of life in the company, establishing it into a multi-faceted business house with a turnover exceeding Rs 400 crore.

Interestingly, Old Monk never advertised as Kapil Mohan believed that Old Monk’s taste was its best advertisement. “We do not advertise. I will not, and as long as I am in this chair, we will not (advertise),” Mohan had said in an interview in 2012.

Old Monk was the undisputed single brand leader till 2002, not just among rum labels, but the entire branded spirits market in India. It was also for many years the largest Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL). So what made Old Monk such an iconic brand?

According to Rabe Iyer, ‎Managing Director - ‎Motivator (Group M Media India Pvt. Ltd), “A few possible factors that could have played a role-The Consistency of Brand identity, the distinct bottle and elements making up the identity. Moreover, the logo, font, and packaging elements have seen little change over time: a strong positive for easy recognition and subtly passing the perception of standing consistent through time. Also, a strong imagery owing to its perceived popularity amongst the Armed forces for years where off-duty rituals also get passed on a tradition of the seniors made its local and indigenous birth very special besides having a broader appeal. Its physical availability over the years bettered with the so-called ‘Original’ available only in Military Canteens to now available easily, helped carry its legacy far and wide.”

Calling Old Monk as a cult brand, Mohit Joshi Managing Director, Havas Media Group India adds, “The Monk who never sold a Ferrari but without whom no college reunion is complete. Old Monk is a cult brand in its own right. Its unique bottle, smell, sweet taste enlivens memories, sparks nostalgia and warms up the bonds - and that gives it the special place that it holds in our hearts.” 

Kapil Mohan was awarded the Padamshree in 2010 for his immense contribution to Indian business. Ironically the man who made others relish the unique taste of Old Monk was someone who preferred a simple lifestyle and hardly drank. 

For Public Relations, Independent Political Communication Consultant and Digital Business Advisor Anup Sharma, Old Monk is not just another brand; it's a drink which was part of people’s cherished memories as they were 'coming-of-age'. “People have memories of binge hostel drinking to the first job celebration with the good Old Monk. Priced low it is one iconic bottle which rubs shoulder in the bar with some of the most expensive single malts and is the perfect example of India - strong, stable, spiritual and unique.

Raising a toast to the man behind this iconic brand, Rabe Iyer has these parting words to offer as a mark of tribute to the big man of Indian spirits who will be missed for generations to come:

“The soldiers braved the weather’s might,

Keeping the border safe and tight,

Tin, mug or anything that could hold The Old Monk nice,

Blushed the soldiers out of the harsher night.

Topped with a little water or Thumbs Up with or without Ice,

Stole the thunder, rushing their enemies Out of sight.”

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