The Ads Of Our Childhood Past

Pop Culture

The Ads Of Our Childhood Past

Illustration: Akshita Monga/Arré

Don’t those “You Know You Grew Up in India in the ’80s” lists swell your heart with love and longing for the time of pre-lib India? They peddle the sap of Ek Titli and pap of Parle-G, and pay an ode to a glorious childhood unfettered by the constraints of consumer choice.

In a fast-changing world today, nostalgia is a bug that bites us in the form of old films and bad remixes from the ’80s and ’90s, Michael Jackson posters, and the vast landscape of Indian consumer advertising. That leather-strapped Titan watch, the red Maruti 800, or the Atari 2800, the non-options of Doordarshan… Fevicol is the glue with which our common past is cobbled.

Products were the markers of the middle-class and jingles were the songs of our homes – the twirling Nirma girl, the nightmarish Lijjat Papad bunny bouncing about with a devilish cackle. The news of the Rasna girl dying in a plane crash triggered a massive online wake and this is a testament to our collective nostalgia. These brands were at the top of their game for a wee while, but the competition ushered in by Dr Manmohan Singh knocked them down.

Change arrived and corporations put their money where our mouth is, and the goodies managed to get a makeover, that is to say, they became aspirational. Malted drinks and schmaltzy noodles still stock supermarket shelves but they have expanded their base to the nouveau not-quite-riche or what Shashi Tharoor calls the “cattle class”. The spins, the spiels, the schticks have shifted. Nirma is no longer about the twirling girl or Jaya aur Sushma; it is about Hrithik Roshan doing the waves to some funky music, with not a hair out of place. Rasna has given way to the intensely more aspirational Tang, and the Lijjat bunny has hopped into extinction. Malted drinks are no longer the secret to “our energy”. We’re left with a landscape where whether you’re Salman or Irrfan, agencies will find a biscuit for you to endorse and the jingle will change every quarter.

Products were the markers of the middle-class and jingles were the songs of our homes.

Those old brands then are the poster children of the generation that coined the phrase. They’re an ideological head-butt against today’s “aspirational”, a term that may well encompass the exact same stuff, minus the cache it once had. Chances are slim that today’s kids will get nostalgic over the spanking new, millennially charged “everything is awesome” campaign that tries so hard to connect. Back in the day, they had us with a 60-second footage of a man riding a horse.

The poster children grew up and are left with memories of “Swad bhari, Shakti bhari… Parle-G.” Meanwhile, the teenage girl next to you in the store is arguing with her mother about yoga bars.