The most memorable Indian advertisements from decades gone by

Revisiting the most memorable ads, picked by ad gurus that entertained us and shaped our mindset
From print to billboards to TV commercials, ads have covered every spectrum and become an indispensable catalyst for a changing India
From print to billboards to TV commercials, ads have covered every spectrum and become an indispensable catalyst for a changing India
Updated on Aug 02, 2020 08:16 AM IST
Copy Link
Hindustan Times | ByBy Team HT Brunch

The century-old journey of advertising in India is rich with stories – stories that include change-inducing narratives, nuggets of nostalgia and simple advocacy. From print to billboards to television commercials, advertisements have covered every spectrum, becoming an indispensable catalyst for a changing India. As adman Prasoon Joshi says, “A memorable ad is respectful to the consumer, sensitive to social change, and in sync with human good.”


Join us on a nostalgic journey as we chronicle the ads that became memorable, one way or another.

Making waves
Liril girl

When a young woman in a bikini made a splash on TV screens in 1974, viewers were captivated. The Liril girl, who cavorted under a cascading waterfall, became the poster girl for fun and freedom.

While the original Liril girl, Karen Lunel, was the brand’s face for nearly a decade, we saw other beauties over the years (and many before they entered Bollywood) such as Pooja Batra, Preity Zinta, Tara Sharma and Deepika Padukone. Brazilian model Anabelle is the last Liril Girl and with her too, the narrative remains familiar, but the appeal enduring.

Expert speak

“A girl in a bikini was alien to India. She became an aspirational symbol for women from big families in small towns, for the only time they had to themselves and could dream of freedom was while bathing.” — Prahlad Kakkar

Paradise regained
Dhara jalebi

A miffed little boy, Babloo, leaves home as everybody is always scolding him. At the railway station, he spots the servant, who tells him that his mother has made jalebis. “Jalebi?” he says, and with one word, child-actor Parzaan Dastur captured the hearts of audiences across the country.

Once back home, when he eats hot jalebis, a halo appears above his head. Also, Dhara’s ‘Anokhi Shuddhata’ tagline had a resonance that struck farther than the product.

Expert speak

“Every child wants to run away at some point, but also wants to come back home to his or her favourite food. There was a charm and spontaneity in the ad that worked.” —Prahlad Kakkar

Clean & clear
Nirma’s Deepika ji

A homemaker approaches a grocery store to collect her order, and notices that the shopkeeper has given her the wrong detergent. As she points to the one she wants, the puzzled shopkeeper tells ‘Deepika ji’ that she always preferred the expensive one.

“...Par wahi safedi, wahi jhaag, kam daamon mein mile, toh koi yeh kyun le, woh na le,” says Deepika ji, as the Nirma song begins playing in the background. At a time when most brands for domestic products targeted the women, this broke the mould by showing her asserting her choice.

Expert speak

“The Nirma ads never preached, just entertained.” —Prahlad Kakkar

An ageless appeal

A radiant-looking woman, dressed in orange is a star performer – as a dancer, a basketball player, photographer, choreographer, artist et al. She’s the envy of the women around, who mistake her for a college student, until a little girl runs towards her, shouting, “Mummyyy!” And, the women are shocked.

For over 25 years, Santoor has used the same premise in its ads.

Expert speak

“That a married woman could also be seen as desirable sealed it for the brand.” —Agnello Dias

Birthday special

In the ad, an excited little girl speaks about her birthday party – she has a new dress, all her friends will be coming and they’re going to have a blast. Most importantly, her mom’s serving Rasna, in 11 flavours. ‘I love you, Rasna’, she says while hugging the chilled glass. For a generation that grew up before brands like Tang entered the Indian market, this homegrown drink is still symbolic of childhood delight.

Expert speak

“The choice of the girl and the voice used in the dubbing made her stand out because that one line and its delivery was refreshingly ‘non-addy.’ —Agnello Dias

Rooting for retro

A nerdy boy skips around the block, grinning from ear to ear and infusing the surroundings with his fresh breath, as a nasal voice, reminiscent of old Bollywood, croons: ‘Kya aap Close-Up karte hain’. Along the way, he charms the women, and wins over the neighbourhood’s macho men. The catchy jingle caught on, with the brand selling confidence boost as a sure-fire way to attract the attention of the opposite sex.

Expert speak

“It had a great melody that got it hooked to our minds. Also, the retro-cool fusion with old Bollywood was done for the first time ever.” —Agnello Dias

“Retro-cool fusion with old bollywood was done for the first time ever [in the Close-up ad]” —Agnello Dias

From the horse’s mouth
MDH masala

With ‘Asli masale sach sach’ as its tagline, MDH built on the values and traditions of Indian culture to sell its masalas, and who better than to extol these than a sprightly old man? When looking for a brand ambassador, MDH didn’t have to look too far and took on Dharampal Gulati, the owner of the spice company. Everything from the advertising to packaging and promotions to designing is done in-house.

Flamboyant flavour
Pan Parag

Aur mere liye?” “Ek se mere kya hoga?” These two lines send Doordashan viewers into a spiral of nostalgia. The ad has late actor Jalal Agha at a party where guests praise him for his flamboyance. “TV mein toh hamesha tayyaar rehte ho, aaj kahaan hai tumhara dibba,” says one guest, as Agha pulls out a big pouch of Pan Parag.

The ad was recreated with TV actor Aman Verma in the 2000s, but didn’t have the same recall value.

Expert speak

“It was a kind of clean humour in a party. And, Jalal Agha was an instance of a well-cast mini celeb.” —Agnello Dias

Age no bar
Bajaj Bulbs

Jab mein chhota bachcha tha, badi shararat karta tha, meri chori pakdi jaati... jab roshni deta Bajaj!” The Bajaj bulb ad of the ’80s had a jingle that was catchy and it subtly connected the brand with the trust of generations. An old man shares how as a child when his parents caught him reading comics under a duvet late night, it was the light from Bajaj bulbs that flooded his room. And now, as an old man when he tries to raid the fridge at night for desserts, again it is those bulbs that light up the house when he is caught by his wife.

Utterly adorable
The Amul moppet

Ever since she made her first appearance on a hoarding in 1967, the Amul butter girl with her amusing takes on current events has been the nation’s favourite social critic. Her debut, however, was not in her trademark red polka-dot frock, but kneeling in prayer in a pink nightdress. The Utterly Butterly Delicious campaign is the longest-running one in India.

Expert speak

“The Amul girl was a society voyeur who had a witty take on life.” —Swapan Seth

Feminism yesterday
Surf’s Lalita ji

Surf’s ‘Lalita ji’ was the first feminist of washing powders. The 1984 commercial presented the Indian homemaker as a confident and articulate shopper, dressed in a crisp white-and-blue sari, her hair rolled into a huge bun, she haggled with a vegetable vendor, when a man off-camera asks why a prudent shopper like her prefers an expensive detergent like Surf, she explains the difference between a cheap purchase and a smart one.

Expert speak

“Lalita ji was pragmatic and hard-nosed and exemplified an India that had begun to see women drive a hard bargain” — Swapan Seth

“After the Lijjat papad puppet [a bunny], this [Vodafone pug] was the most iconic animal seen on TV”  —Anuja Chauhan

Satanic verse
Onida TV

In a dark, barren landscape, a TV screen is smashed and from behind the TV set emerges the Onida devil, dressed in green, fingers ending in talons, wearing tiny horns and a wicked smile, goading Onida users to revel in their purchase. Model coordinator David Whitbread modelled for this ad, and played the devil for 14 years. Later, Rajesh Khera, Aamir Bashir, Ashish Chowdhry took on the role, but didn’t have the same impact.

Bunny love
Lijjat Papad

The first ever to feature a puppet, the Lijjat papad ad opened with the chuckle of the bunny, sitting with a family munching papad. Created by Mumbai-based puppeteer Ramdas Padhye, the bunny punctuated each line of the jingle with, karram kurram.

Expert speak

“In those days you didn’t hear voices like that in a jingle. Also, the ad presented papad as a fun food, a category that sits between kids and adults.” —Anuja Chauhan

Simply pawsome
The Hutch/Vodafone Pug

This ad made the pug cute and the most in-demand pet in the 2000s. The dog first appeared in 2003 in the erstwhile Hutch mobile services commercial, tirelessly following his owner, a little boy, through the day. The ad soundtrack (You and I... in this beautiful world...) along with the picturesque setting made it a hit.

Expert speak

“After the Lijjat papad puppet, this was the most iconic animal seen on TV. And the dog, following the boy everywhere, was great for the brand.” —Anuja Chauhan

From HT Brunch, August 2, 2020

Follow us on

Connect with us on

Close Story
Story Saved
Saved Articles
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Sunday, May 22, 2022