Two-wheeler advertisements in India seem to follow a sort of invisible blueprint. They have to be edgy; a little macho; are about impressing other people; highlight speed, mileage, efficiency; and maybe reflect a certain statement of style. What they almost never are, are representations of a nation and its people. Which is only fair. After all, how can a two-wheeler capture the essence of a nation? That too a nation as diverse as India.
Well, it could. And it did. In 1989. When Bajaj released the famous “Hamara Bajaj” ad campaign.
A nation at a crossroads
India in 1989 was midway between the ideals of socialism on which it had been founded and a more liberalised way of life. The Union Budget of 1985 had opened up the economy to an extent, allowing the entry of international brands in some sectors. One of the most notable of these was the two-wheeler market, which was slowly moving towards motorbikes, after being dominated by the humble scooter for more than three decades.
That said, the scooter was still the go-to vehicle for most families in the country, even though getting one was no easy task. There was inevitably a long waiting list, and sometimes people had to wait for years to get a scooter – getting your two-wheeler was a major cause for celebration. The leading brand in the scooter market at that time was Bajaj. There were other brands too, but Bajaj was notable in being not just the most popular in terms of sheer volumes but perhaps the only “truly” Indian brand out there – the others had collaborations with the likes of Vespa and Lambretta (even Honda had taken baby steps into the scooter segment with a tie-up with Kinetic).
But notwithstanding its popularity, 1989 saw Bajaj facing a stiff challenge to its supremacy. Standing in its way were mainly motorbike-pushing brands like Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki, which were attracting consumers with high profile ad campaigns that highlighted their speed, style, mileage and overall superior technology. After being mainly a scooter market for decades, India seemed to be moving towards the motorbike era. Bajaj itself was making motorbikes (it had a tie-up with Kawasaki), but scooters were the brand’s biggest money earners. And now they were under threat.
Weaving a scooter into the fabric of India
Bajaj’s response to this was an ad campaign that set a new benchmark for Indian advertising – not just motor vehicle advertising, but advertising in general. The 1989 Hamara Bajaj ad campaign by the brand took a very unconventional route, one that succeeded but could just as easily have backfired, because it was so unusual. Even as the competition was talking about the latest and greatest specs and engineering, Bajaj decided to tap on something that almost no one associated with scooters – their Indianness.
The half-minute ad showed different Indians with their Bajaj scooters in different situations – from jogging to haggling to celebrating to learning how to ride. There was no talk of the kind of engineering that went into the scooters, their mileage or their speed. Just a wide variety of people from different regions, social strata, age groups and walks of life, all of them with one common bond – a Bajaj scooter. It was like a collection of slices of life from different sections of India, all with a Bajaj scooter in them.
With any other brand, this would have seemed a little unrealistic. But the Bajaj scooter, thanks to its popularity (particularly of the Chetak model), was a regular part of Indian life. There was a saying that almost everyone in the Indian middle class either had a Bajaj or was related to someone who had one. It just had never been really noticed. This ad changed that.
It was not as if the scooter was doing something dramatic or spectacular in the ad – it was just there in the most normal way possible, which was how it actually was in real life. What was truly remarkable was how inclusive the ad managed to be even in a mere 30-second time frame. It had so many different kinds of people that the chances of your identifying with at least one of them or what they were doing (mediating, haggling for fish, jogging, cleaning the scooter, adjusting one’s ‘look’ in the rear view mirror) was very high – it even showed a woman driving a scooter, which was a rarity in those days. It was almost as if the ad was trying to show different aspects of India in half a minute, from the traditional to the modern.
And it succeeded in doing so.
A key ingredient to the ad was the song that accompanied it. In an era when patriotism was slowly (if subtly) surfacing thanks to videos like “Mile Sur Mera Tumhara”, the Hamara Bajaj ad came with a stirring lyric:
Ki Buland Tasveer
A lofty picture
Of a lofty India:
While the competition was focusing on standing out, Bajaj was actually focusing on blending in. And it certainly worked for the brand. In a day and age when everything western was becoming aspirational and Indian goods were looked down upon, Bajaj simply tried to evoke Indian pride by linking it to a very Indian product. The fact that Bajaj’s scooters were truly Indian, with zero foreign associations, made the ad even more effective – no other two-wheeler brand could have pulled it off. And it did so without mentioning any model or any feature.
It was not a hard sell. It was not trying to push you to buy the product. It did not even claim that a Bajaj would change your life. It just showed how a Bajaj fit into your life. The scooter was not the hero of the story. Indians were. It made people feel good about owning a Bajaj scooter.
30 years later… still Hamara Bajaj!
Almost 30 years after it was first released, the product and brand behind it might have faded, but its concept remains timeless. It is the sort of concept that goes beyond a specific product and indeed can be used with almost any product that has a very Indian feel to it. We have seen a lot of brands try to play the Indian pride card, but we do not think anyone has played it as well as Bajaj did. What was remarkable was that it did not create an ad campaign around a new product but instead used its existing (some even very old) ones. It was a great example of a company using even its older models to reinforce their presence, even as the competition was talking about the latest and greatest specs and engineering.
Bajaj tackled what seemed like a practical problem with an emotional appeal. It managed to overshadow numbers with sentiment. And that too in a segment that was driven heavily by numbers – from BHP to 0-60 acceleration speed to gears to mileage. It did not try to tell viewers about its mileage or acceleration, but simply stated that if you had a Bajaj, you were a part of the community that is India. And of course, you felt very good about that.
Interestingly, it did not try to run down the competition or say that you HAD to have a Bajaj to be Indian. It just made Bajaj appear like a part of india. The message got through because, well, the scooter was literally everywhere. It might not have been as shiny and stylish as its competition, but it was omnipresent. No other two-wheeler brand could have made even a remotely similar claim.
Given its success it is hardly surprising that the company kept using the Hamara Bajaj line for years even after the original ad had run its course, with some of the most creative minds in India working on it. Today, a Bajaj scooter is a rare sight to see and bikes rule the roads, but the idea of Hamara Bajaj remains imprinted in Indian minds. The words “Hamara Bajaj” evoke pleasant nostalgia even today. Not too many ads have had that sort of feel good effect or made a brand so synonymous with a country and its people.
Ad-vantages: Key Takeaways
The consumer can be a hero too
Most brands make the product or its functionality the focus of an advertisement. However, in this case, Bajaj actually made the consumer of its product the hero of the ad. A classic case of making the viewer feel good.
Fitting in is as important as standing out
A key factor in the Hamara Bajaj ad is how the scooter was not made to appear as something sensational but rather as something routine, ubiquitous. It celebrated normalcy like few ads have.
Music and lyrics can be game changing
The imagery of the ad is beautiful, but it is the music and lyrics that deliver the final touch to the ad. People did not just remember what they saw, but even hummed the jingle! May be you are now too.
Advertising need not always have to be about “hard sell”
At no stage in the ad is there an appeal to buy a Bajaj scooter or talk of why Bajaj scooters are special. This remains one of the few ads that succeeded in spite of not seemingly try to sell a product!
Some Ad-ditional Facts:
• The original Hamara Bajaj ad is believed to have been the brainchild of one of Indian advertising’s most famous names, Alyque Padamsee. When another campaign around similar lines was planned, it was handled by another famous name, R Balakrishnan, better known as Balki, who would go on to make films like Cheeni Kum, Paa and Pad Man.
• Indian actor and film producer John Abraham wanted to use Hamara Bajaj as the title of his forthcoming film (directed by Shoojit Sircar), whose main character was called Sanjay Bajaj. However, the brand stopped him from doing so via a court order. No, the film’s character had nothing to do with two-wheelers!
• There are some who say that the idea of Hamara Bajaj stems from Chevrolet’s “Heartbeat of America,” a very popular ad from General Motors in the mid eighties (). Evidently both the then-MD Rahul Bajaj and the Lintas team were very impressed by the ad. We think Hamara Bajaj actually surpasses it!
Next week: How Cadbury’s made everyone go “Kya Swaad Hai Zindagi Mein”
Akriti Rana and Nimish Dubey write on technology and communication, and have worked in both fields. They have been associated with a regular section on advertising at TechPP.com.