Tea, detergents, butter, ice cream, and ointments are all products of daily use, not very exciting in the general scheme of things. Until you give them a name. Wagh Bakri, Nirma, Amul, Vadilal, Moov. Suddenly, they have associations and personalities. You ask for them by name, deliberately choosing them over others. If you like Wagh Bakri, you are a certain kind of person. If you go with Vadilal, you identify with what it stands for.
Socialist India did not set too much store by brands. In the early days after independence, the focus was on heavy industry: steel, cement, fertilisers, chemicals. Industries that required big investments. Consumer products like soaps, toothpaste, chocolate, biscuits were not considered worthy of the government’s attention. Brands, with their advertising and promotion and complicated identity associations, were considered a capitalist concept.
For the most part, old-time British multinationals (MNCs) like Unilever and Colgate held sway in this space, with only a few Indian business houses like Godrej and Dabur venturing to join them. In the absence of choice, some of these company names became generic. Cadbury, for example, was the name children gave to all chocolates in the 70s.
Gujarat too was part of this trend. But despite its policy focus on petrochemicals, fertilisers, chemicals and such, the State did produce some great consumer brands, even in the early phase.
Many of Gujarat’s early brands were in textiles, a field the State still excels in. There is also the co-operative brand Amul, which has withstood the liberalisation and globalisation of the 90s. Nirma detergent exploded onto the scene in the 80s, a native David that put the Unilever Goliath on the backfoot in the 80s. Other iconic brands from Gujarat include Vadilal ice cream, Rasna soft drink concentrate, Yera glassware, Glycodin cough syrup, Dhara oil. These are national brands, known to consumers all over the country and, in some cases, on foreign shores as well.
In a six-part series launching this week, Vibes of India will present the stories of Gujarat’s most iconic brands. Most of these brands are more than 50 years old, and the series takes a historical perspective, providing insights into how Indian consumers behaved in times gone by. Some brands featured in the series have moved past their heyday and are not as powerful as they once were. Some might not even be known to the millennial generation, though their parents would remember them fondly. But they still make for fascinating stories and can serve as an inspiration to the new generation of entrepreneurs in Gujarat.
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