The legacy lives on: Remembering Anil ‘Billy’ Kapoor

Under his watch, the agency was functional in launching several top brands and increasing brand saliency for many others

e4m by Mansi Sharma
Updated: Apr 14, 2021 5:08 PM
anil kapoor ads

The late 80s and early 90s were a catalytic phase for the Indian media industry. Headlined by iconic shows like Ramayan (1987-88) and Mahabharat (1988-90), which brought Indian audiences in front of the small screen in a never-seen-before manner, followed by the opening up of the economy (1991) and the advent of the cable television (1992), the era transformed the Indian audience. The consumption patterns were changing, and so were the media habits. This, expectedly, started a huge transition of work and vision within the advertising industry too. From being print-centric to creating occasional video ads that used to run for years on DD and cinema, now it was facing the thrill and excitement of curating content for non-stop television.

And while all of this was developing, an outsider entered the Indian agency scenario to define what those decades stood for in his own unique way. Anil Kapoor, or Billy as he is fondly called, was the find of legendary advertising icon Bal Mundkur, the founder of Ulka advertising (now FCB Ulka). It was the year 1988 and the doyen was navigating a ‘sinking boat’, as many of his counterparts thought Ulka was in its 28th year. He was not willing to give up and handed over the helms of the agency to Kapoor, who at that time was working with a pharma company called Boots. He had very little experience of working with an agency -- he had started his career with MCM that soon got defunct.

Many people thought it was a crazy decision to hand over an agency to a marketing guy and bets were placed on Ulka’s minimal sheen dying soon. However, Kapoor soon took the agency back to its throne, among the top five agencies of those times. He introduced a unique set of fancy workers in the otherwise laid-back advertising industry -- the suited-booted managers who turned the fortunes of the agency. The names were Shashi Sinha, Niteen Bhagwat, Ambi Parameswaran, Arvind Wable, and Nagesh Alai, all of whom are now leading legacies of their own. The agency became a strategy-focused entity, a relatively new idea to the Indian ad world.

Soon after, old brands like Zodiac Clothing Company came back with their accounts, and newer clients like Air India, Mahindra & Mahindra, Santoor Sandal Soaps, and LML Vespa started their association with Ulka, many of which are still the loyal clients of the agency. Despite being in a managerial position, Kapoor was highly involved in the creative functions of the agency and led some amazing campaigns.

Here are some of the iconic brands that steered towards great businesses and exceptional brand image under Kapoor’s watch, who left this world after a long battle with cancer earlier this week.

Santoor Soaps -- My Skin Lies About My Age

When Wipro hired FCB Ulka as the agency for Santoor in 1989, the toilet soap brand was dealing with huge competitive pressures, market uncertainties, and low sales. The brief was to double the sales and establish the brand as a strong entity in the market. The agency established the brand as one promising a ‘younger looking skin’ and the “mummy” ads started rolling -- something that the brand stands by to date.

Sundrop -- Healthy Oil For Healthy People

ITC was taking a bold step to venture ahead of its popular tobacco business and enter the edible oil market with sunflower oil. With great marketing insights and a strategic approach to grab the market that was slowly moving towards healthier eating alternatives, FCB Ulka helped the brand launch as “Healthy Oil For Healthy People.” Reportedly, the brand became the largest selling refined sunflower oil within just six months of the launch.

LML Vespa -- Power & Style

Soon after its launch in the late 80s, LMP Vespa was struggling to keep its brand relevant in the market, enchanted by an already established and much-loved player Bajaj. FCB Ulka worked on the complete image revolution of LML Vespa, under Kapoor’s able guidance. The brand was positioned as the epitome of ‘power and style,’ something that attracted the younger generation then. The TV film featured a young girl on the scooter, radically opposite to the competitive brand’s imagery, and a peppy music score defined the ambience. Decades of association between the brand and agency made it one of the most successful brands in the category.

NDDB - Doodh Doodh Doodh

Often confused as an Amul ad, this FCB Ulka marvel was in fact created for an initiative by Operation Flood or the Billion Litre Project by Amul founder Dr Verghese Kurien. The idea was to make milk “cool” among the urban customers. And if you too have grown in the 90s, you surely must remember the foot-tapping background score and the colourful visuals of this unique ad. Anil Kapoor worked closely with the creative team at Ulka and Dr Kurien to create this masterpiece.

Amul Ice Cream -- Real Milk Real Ice Cream

FCB Ulka has been functional in launching a number of brands under the legendary Amul name, and one of them is the ice cream. It was in the early 90s that Amul tried to diversify beyond its milk and butter propositions with Amul Ice Creams. FCB, which had earlier experience of launching the company’s Malai Paneer brand as well, was shouldered the responsibility to manage the release and brand image of the product. Riding on Amul’s strong values of purity and quality, Kapoor and team gave birth to the Real Milk Real Ice Cream campaign, which continues even today.

Tata Indica

With its launch getting delayed in a market that was dealing with a bombardment of new brands, Tata Indica had a two-fold challenge to deal with -- the rising competition and Tata’s image as a truck manufacturer. FCB Ulka dealt with it using a brilliant pre-launch strategy, presenting it as a bold and confident Indian car. It was followed by a strong positioning of “Why Settle For Less,” a print and OOH only campaign as the budgets were limited. The TV commercials launched after nine months of the brand hitting the road and the rest is history. The brand became one of the most loved and successful ones in the industry.

Nerolac -- Jab Ghar Ki Raunak Badhani Ho

Another iconic campaign that FCB Ulka churned out under Anil Kapoor’s watch was Nerolac’s jingle that still charms the listeners. The commercial marked the beginning of Nerolac’s journey in TV advertising and did wonders for brand recall.

These are some of the very few iconic campaigns that were created under the doyen’s vigil. He not only took FCB Ulka to newer heights of success but also redefined how advertising was done and seen in the country. His contribution to the brands, the agency, and the industry will surely live on…

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