The Air India Maharajah and the Parle-G Girl. Photo: David Pollack / Contributor, Facebook/Parle-G
The decades between the 1960s and 90s saw Indian advertising produce some of the most iconic work of its times. Back then, mascots (particularly cartoon characters) were a popular way of communicating with people and helped cement brand recall in the minds of consumers. Here are some of the most popular mascots of Indian brands including the Air India Maharaja, Amul’s utterly butterly Girl and Gattu of Asian Paints. These characters will take you back memory lane and make you relive their catchy one-liners and trademark jingles.
India’s most memorable brand mascots:
Air India Maharaja
Hands folded in ‘Namaskar’, dressed in trademark red and yellow with a turban and moustache to boot, the Air India Maharaja has been one of the most popular Indian brand mascots, and for good reason. Anyone flying the airline would recognise him as quintessentially Indian, and the perfect depiction of Indian hospitality. The mascot is also emblematic of the good old days of Indian aviation. The Maharaja was created in 1946 by Bobby Kooka, then commercial director of Air India and Umesh Rao, an artist with advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson. And who can forget the vintage Air India posters with the Maharaja that were a great way to promote the airline’s new flight routes and destinations? In 2015, the Maharaja shed his traditional avatar for a modern update and younger look, complete with spiked hair, jeans and sneakers.
Who doesn’t recognise this cheeky brand mascot? Blue hair tied up in a half pony, dressed in a trademark polka-dotted frock—the poster child for Indian dairy brand Amul Butter has charmed her way into millions of Indian households. This hand-drawn mascot became a runaway hit ever since the first ad came out in 1966 with the tagline ‘Utterly Butterly – Delicious Amul’.
daCunha communications was the agency tasked with creating a brand identity and the little Amul moppet was the answer. Sylvester daCunha was the brains behind this along with Art Director, Eustace Fernandez. It’s one of the very few brand mascots that has stood the test of time, more so, because her cuteness notwithstanding, the little girl’s astute social commentary and satire associated with current affairs remains on point.
Gattu from Asian Paints
Legendary cartoonist R.K. Laxman was the brains behind Gattu, the iconic brand mascot of Indian paints company, Asian Paints. The impish Gattu, with a lock of hair falling over his forehead, would often be depicted paintbrush in hand, up to some antic or the other. Word has it that Laxman literally saw the image of a boy with a paintbrush take shape in his mind while smoking through a pack of cigarettes. In order to name the mascot, the company ran a contest, offering the winner prize money of Rs500 for the best name.
Gattu as a mascot was finally (and reluctantly) done away with in 2002, as the brand decided to shed its domestic image to that of a multinational player offering decorative solutions.
The cherub-faced baby girl (though she doesn’t have a name) continues to adorn the packaging of the iconic biscuit brand Parle-G and helps further its image as a biscuit of the people. While rumours and theories circulated widely about the identity of the mysterious girl, the company revealed that it was an illustration created by Maganlal Daiya of ad agency Everest, in the 1960s which entrenched itself in the public’s imagination from the get-go.
We’ve all grown up hearing the foot-tapping jingle, as fictional housewives Hema, Rekha, Jaya and Sushma, gave Nirma Detergent their seal of approval. The Nirma girl twirling in a white frock is as iconic as it gets and remains embedded in the minds of consumers even today. It also catapulted the Gujarat-based brand into the big leagues, giving players like Hindustan Unilever (HUL) stiff competition with its newer detergent brands like Surf.
Believe it or not, the Indian Railways has an official brand mascot, an elephant called ‘Bholu’, dressed as a guard, holding up a green flag or a signal lamp. The friendly-looking pachyderm was created by the National Institute of Design (India) and unveiled in 2002, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Indian Railways. It went on to gain popularity with the masses and has been retained as a permanent mascot.
Launched by the West Bengal State AIDS Prevention and Control Society to spread awareness about HIV-AIDS, Bula-di was a doll-like character dressed in a sari, who made her first appearance on World AIDS Day (December 1) in 2004. She soon became a regular fixture in advertisements, outdoor hoardings, radio and newspapers, doling out information about the dangers of unprotected sex. Her accessible avatar made these conversations easier to translate in a public realm.
If your childhood involved eating Boomer bubblegum, you would surely remember the catchy jingle, ‘Boom Boom Boomer’. It’s one of the oldest chewing gum brands in the country and the Boomer man was the ideal depiction of an animated superhero. Remember, this was a period when cartoon characters reigned supreme and the brand was quick to latch on to this, in order to grow its appeal in the Indian candy market. Today, the mascot may not remain but it’s left an enduring legacy.
Not many know this, but Mumbai’s international airport has a brand mascot in the form of Titu the peacock, also paying ode to Terminal 2 of Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. Titu’s design elements are inspired by the colourful bird and it is positioned as your personal airport buddy that will help you with receiving flight updates, shopping and food, directions to your departure gate, and much more.
This affable-looking tiger was the official mascot of the 2010 Commonwealth games held in Delhi. Deriving its name from the Hindi word for tiger, Shera was meant to showcase athletic prowess as well as depict the modern Indian. It grew to become one of the most visible faces during the course of the games.