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It's all in the name


There were brands in the olden days, but no high profile ad wars and campaigns like today.

FATHER loved "Dettol" and believed it could cure all illnesses. We had to apply it liberally on all wounds, even minor scratches and mosquito bites. Our bathroom cupboard always had two or three bottles. "Put some of it in your rasam," mother would tease father. "Since you love its flavour so much!"

Father, in Heaven, must be one happy man because, this year, in the Economic Times Brand Equity survey of India's Most Trusted Brands, "Dettol" made it to the top, climbing five places and displacing last year's winner, "Lux". The other brands in the list were Britannia, Colgate, Tata Salt, Lux, Coca-Cola, Pepsodent, Pond's, Pepsi and Thums Up.

Basically, I don't like the words, "brand" and "product", particularly when they are used to describe newspapers, magazines and journals. But, in today's world, even journalists have begun referring to their publications as "products", which is subverting them to the whims of the ad world.

Today's brands are more visible than those in the past. They are everywhere — on the TV, hoardings, posters and print media. Some of the ads are so frequent that we get irritated and decide not to buy the advertised products. Other brands, while proclaiming their positive qualities, pull down those of their rivals. They are prepared to spend lakhs of rupees in litigation challenging the claims made by rival brands.

Yes, we did have brands when we were growing up. They were highly popular and we came to know of them from a few hoardings, banners, radio jingles from the Commercial Service of Radio Ceylon and advertisements, which never cluttered the pages of newspapers and magazines as they do now. Some of the brands are no longer seen today, but that is only to be expected.

"Lux" was also there in the olden days, though they used Hollywood stars to advertise the product. Most households used it because it was the most well known name. "Lifebuoy" in a red wrapper was another popular.

Tata Oil Mills' "Hamam", in a green wrapper, was an unobtrusive brand, which had its regular customers. Father used to bring home cakes of "Vinolia White Rose" soap, which had a mild but wonderful fragrance. I don't see it any more.

As for washing soaps and detergents, the competition was mainly between two major brands, "Sunlight" and "501". Detergent powders came later, but "Sunlight" was a clear winner in this category. "Colgate" toothpaste has been around for a long time, though earlier it battled against "Forhans" and "Macleans". The "Binaca" brand came to the fore during the "Binaca Geet Mala" era over Radio Ceylon. Among the popular desi ones was "Monkey brand" toothpowder which we used before brushing the teeth with toothbrush and paste.

Among the beauty products, Father used "Hazeline" snow (cream) after shaving. Though the family switched to Pond's gradually, father stuck to his favourite brand of snow! For years we were under the impression that only "Tomco" manufactured hair oils with "rose" and "jasmine" fragrances

Many favourite brands were not made locally but imported from England. The upper middle class homes regularly patronised brands like "Ovaltine", "Horlicks", "Cadbury" chocolates and "Huntley Palmers" biscuits, though the last seems to have disappeared. In case of a stomach upset, there were the famous "Kruschen salts" and "Epsom salts" which father regularly used. Our childhood was often marred by the painful and uncomfortable doses of unbranded castor oil which stank and from which there was no escape. We became familiar with "Philips' Milk of Magnesia" through the popular jingle on Radio Ceylon.

In Tambaram, where we lived during the early 1950s, there were big hoardings of "Jimmy's Liver Cure" and medicinal products like Lodhra, Amrita and Arka.

On the textiles front, "Binny" was easily the most popular brand. On the food and drink front, we were told to use "Dalda" vanaspati for cooking while "Lipton" and "Brooke Bond" were the top tea brands. There were hardly any soft drinks in the market and they were all locally made. Hence the absence of ad wars.

I remember that "Vimto" was a popular brand, and there was a variety of "crushes". In the South, plain soda was a popular drink; it was sold in huge bottles, which also contained big marbles. Most of us paid little attention to ads and went by tradition.

But there were campaigns and slogans, which held our attention. While still a small boy, I became familiar with boys marching around holding banners of "WIMCO" matchboxes with the symbol of a tiger and a sickle. The jingle went something like this, "Wimco, Vettu puli, ambadhu kuchi theepati. Arai anna, arai anna".

Those were days without any brand wars. No one dragged their rivals to the court; there were very few exaggerated claims. Sportsmen did not endorse commercial products. It would have been ridiculous for fast bowler C.R. Rangachari or all rounder M.J. Gopalan to endorse rival brands of soda!

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