The Evolution of Indian Advertising Since 1947

    How one of the world's fastest-growing ad markets came to be!


    At its core, advertising is an attempt to get the information of your brand out in a multitude of similar products & series.

    After Indian independence, newspaper studios took to advertising with fancier and bolder ads. This is where the country's first generation of original commercial illustrators & copywriters came out of, the forefathers of India's blooming ad industry we are so familiar with today.

    Here's a look at the evolution of Indian advertising over the past 80 years:

    Pre-Independence:

    B Dattaram and Co. was (possibly) India’s first advertising agency. Established back in 1905 in Mumbai (then Bombay), it made way for multiple Indian ad agencies and partnered with their foreign counterparts.

    J Walter Thomson landed on Indian shores in 1929, Ogilvy & Mather and Hindustan Thompson Associates were soon formed.  As early as 1939, Hindustan Unilever’s advertising department unveiled the first multi-media ad campaign for 'Dalda', India's first major ‘brand’.

    It was also the heyday of KC Das (the iconic sweets brand) and Horlicks (the health drink) with Bengalis & Odias trying to convince the world about the origins of the delicious Rasgulla and that Horlicks could be gulped down 'chilled on ice'.

    Do note advertising was primarily aimed at affluent ‘Sahibs’ and ‘Memsahibs’ (intelligentsia) who could afford premium products.

    Post Independence:

    Indian advertising thought & muscle started taking charge of advertisements circulated on Indian soil. Several advertising associations were set up to safeguard the interests of Indian advertisers.

    The 1960s:

    This is what the first-ever ad featuring the Amul Butter Girl, unveiled in 1966 looked like.

    It was in the 60s that Amul launched its iconic 'utterly butterly delicious' campaign. It was the decade when every Indian desired the quintessential 'happy family' and every man and woman wanted to be 'perfect', and that reflected in ads.

    India’s apparel brand, Zodiac chose a brawny man as its model, taking a leaf out of David Ogilvy’s Hathaway Shirt ads. In 1967, the first TV commercial appeared on Vividh Bharati. Cigarette ads were legal back then, and Wills Cigarettes launched its 'Made For Each Other' contest in 1969 – the core of arguably its most iconic ad crusades.

    The 1970s:

    Indian advertising became more organized and way more focused as the National readership Survey (NRS) was launched.

    This was the decade when Karen Lunel & Rekha’s photos were morphed into fashionable saris. It was also here that company ads started appearing on TV and they took to sponsoring popular TV series like ‘Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi’ and ‘Hum log’.

    Image credit: OldIndianAds

    This was also the heyday of Ambassador and HMT print ads which were synonymous with climbing the social ladder.

    The 1980s:

    Indian TV took off big time after the Asiad games were broadcast in colour for the first time ever.

    This was the golden run for Indian advertising.

    It was the age of Rediffusion Classic's Eveready 'Give me Red' campaign, the 'Ramayan', Mahabharata' and 'Buniyaad' – some of the biggest mega soaps in Indian media history were aired. These were closely followed with Lalitaji's advice on why Surf is better than any detergent (Indian) money could buy.

    The 1990s:

    The age of liberalization couldn’t have arrived at a better moment.

    Global names like Pepsi set foot in India, and transformed the Indian ad industry with its ‘Yeh Dil Maange More’ campaign that won at Cannes. Ericsson rolled out trendy ads to push the sales of its sleek new handheld phone.

    In 1991, India’s first targeted satellite channel Zee TV was launched, and the subsequent media boom saw the mushrooming of cable & satellite channels and print publications & magazines. It was also around this time when ad agencies cultivated the idea of Public Relations (PR) and ad-specific websites were born.

    The 2000s:

    The 2000s ushered in the Consumer boom and digital advertising evolved.

    One of the most iconic ads of all time.

    Hutch (now Vodafone) launched its iconic ‘Wherever you go, the network follows you’ campaign with the symbolic boy and his pet Pug. This is also the time when ad agencies went bonkers with their creativity to woo consumers.

    Ads became vision-centric rather than reality centric. Chewing a pack of gum can make your teeth glow like chandeliers & Red Bull could now 'give your wings'.

    Post-2010:

    Since 2010, there has been a rapid surge in ad spending & creative storytelling. With the rapid penetration of smartphones & 4G connectivity, digital advertising is the next big thing.

    Distribution of ad expense across India from '16 to '20, with estimates until 2022.

    In 2021, advertising major Dentsu’s Global Ad Spends Forecast rates India as one of the top markets based on its year-on-year growth rate. In India, advertising spending is forecast to grow at 10.8% in 2021 to reach a whopping Rs. 67,000 Crores ($9 billion).

    Zenith Media forecasts that digital media will command 58% of total global ad spending by 2023. At nearly $360 billion, that’s plain bonkers.

    With new categories and mediums like social commerce, social media, audio & video OTT already emerging, the future of advertising is exciting.

    Saikat Pyne

    Saikat Pyne

    Saikat Pyne is an award-winning integrated marketing & communications specialist. He has consulted 40+ leading brands on ways to build their reputation with digital-first content.