New Cadbury ad not a remake, but a retake: Piyush Pandey

Pandey, Chairman, Global Creative and Executive Chairman, India Ogilvy, takes us through the making of the latest Cadbury ad inspired from the iconic 1994 Kuch Khaas Hai campaign

e4m by Neeta Nair
Updated: Sep 20, 2021 9:21 AM

Roughly three decades ago, when Indian advertising still had an English hangover, Kuch Khaas Hai ad for Cadbury Dairy Milk was one of the iconic campaigns that helped Piyush Pandey solidify his position as the adman who brought earthiness and a strong Indian-ness to copywriting in the country. Interestingly, the jingle for this particular ad whose sequel is winning hearts and breaking the internet today was first written in English before turning the same score into Hindi and recorded in the voice of Shankar Mahadevan. Nearly 27 years later, millennials and Gen Z alike are humming the same jingle and giving it as much love because of the beautiful twist incorporated into the story. Nothing has really changed in the frames and yet everything has. 

exchange4media caught up with Piyush Pandey, Chairman, Global Creative and Executive Chairman, India Ogilvy, shortly after the release of the new ad that ends with #GoodLuckGirls, an ode to the women athletes in the country, aptly signifying the changing times ….a woman on the pitch, a man cheering for her and that euphoric almost unchoreographed dance sequence which melts hearts faster than a Dairy Milk on a hot summer day. 

Edited excerpts 

This is one of those rare pieces of work which is being celebrated by agencies across the industry, not just people from Ogilvy. As someone who made the 1994 Cadbury ad, what were your first thoughts after seeing the sequel?

It is all about young kids doing magic, and I’d say magic because not many people get away and are recognized after touching an iconic ad. As far as I am concerned, I feel on top of the world, because it’s a phenomenal display of bravery with a very strong idea. For example, people will always compare a Godfather2 with part 1. Instead what has happened here is that people are remembering the old, but love the new equally. In fact, from a client's point of view, it actually captures the last 27 years of brand love because there is so much nostalgia, which is coming out even when you are seeing something new. So it's a salute to so many years of brand love that the consumer has given you.

Most remakes disappoint, so when Kainaz, Harshad and Sukesh bounced the idea off you, did you feel that an ad that has reached such a cult status must not be tampered with, did you have any apprehensions at all?

I was not scared. But I was concerned, and therefore I was their sounding board on what not to touch. 

And what was that exactly, what did you ask them not to touch?

I told them not to fall in the trap which happens to most people when they want to take a cult idea forward—e.g. let’s modernize the music a bit, let’s get a younger voice to sing etc. See, you don’t tamper with the music that people love till date. So, we used the same track which I recorded at the end of 1993. Nothing was touched and there were no attempts at adding some music here and there, or say, getting Shankar Mahadevan’s son to sing it for the new advertisement. So, I cautioned them about all that and they got the point very easily. In fact, I just received a message from Shankar Mahadevan saying, “Sir it was 27 years back.” And there's a whole lot of hearts in it. He’s loving it. So the integrity of the fame of that ad was kept intact. And yet the freshness of the idea is there from frame one when you see a girl playing. That's the biggest idea --role reversal, which is such a fantastic cultural context for us. So I told them, ‘Your idea is big enough, now don't do anything else. Just focus on that idea.’ And they've done a fabulous job of it.

Absolutely, it is hard hitting because of the spin-off, with a girl swinging the bat in the new ad. I heard that even at Ogilvy, it was a girl gang behind the execution of the idea…

Yes, there are a whole lot of girls involved in this ad and the idea came from three young girls. I had a word with them this morning. I have not even met some of them because they joined in the last one and a half years during the pandemic. They did a brave thing and the three youngsters were so suitably supported right through by Harshad, Kainaz and Sukesh. And to add to all that, I think it was a brave client who bought that idea in 1993. And it's a braver client to touch it and turn it into gold, once again.

Back then Mondelez changed the perception that chocolates are meant only for children through the Kuch Khaas Hai ad, while at the same time, watching model Shimona Rashi dancing with gay abandon on a cricket field helped associate the brand with a sense of freedom; and now Mondelez is being credited for keeping up with the changing times courtesy the new ad….what makes it special for you?

These are two very different eras. Back then, we were just in the early days of liberalization, so there was optimism in the air. And in those days, it was normal to see men breaking into a cricket field and running to the center. Watching a woman do it was something that delighted people, it was freedom of a certain kind. And today we have come a long way from seeing men play cricket, our girls are doing so well. Thus the role reversal becomes the idea. When people try and do the same thing again the thought process goes something like this – let me do this again, by changing some music, making it a little more contemporary. But that's where they fail. Why our young team didn’t fail is because they came in with a new idea, which is from the family of the 1994 ad—they infused all the personality and the magic of 1994 in today's context.

You had mentioned at the time of your book release around five years ago that the Cadbury ad was the turning point of your career, just as it was the turning point for Indian advertising as per experts. Do you think the new ad will be remembered in the same breath as the 1994 ad in the decades to come?

I think the common aspect between the two ads is that at that point of time, I made it from the heart. And the young team has done the same. Cutting across the limit between logic and magic, that’s the boundary I crossed. And that's exactly what they've done now. Another beauty of the ad is that the viewers are not comparing the two. This has the power of a fresh idea with the legs of the first one. It borrows from the mother ad and yet has the freshness in today’s context. It's basically the roots and wings story, where you respect your roots, and give the wings.

Many people in the industry are saying that just like Bollywood, the era of remakes has arrived in the ad industry with this particular ad…. your comment?

No, I think those people are not reading it right. This is not a remake, it is a retake. You cannot simply do a remake, that is the difference. The kids at Ogilvy brought in a new twist, unlike the modern day remixes where you try to fool around with the music, sing the same song differently, it loses the magic of the original and will last two months at best. And yet when you hear the original, you want to hear it again. That is why the new Cadbury ad is being loved because it’s not a remake, it's a fresh take.

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