Gopi Kukde, the former art director at Advertising Avenues, reminisces about his school days. Once, he was asked by the principal of his school to write ‘Thought for the day’ which was based on the main gate of his school.
When Kukde made his way to the principal’s room, he came across a thick book. The few pages of the book in the beginning contained the images of God and everything heavenly. Towards the end of the book, everything was about hell and the devil.
Would Kukde know that in the 1980s, that book’s imagery would serve as an inspiration to create Onida’s ‘The Devil Man’?
1980s: Onida meets Avenues
It was the era of the early 1980s. Many television manufacturers would purchase 2,000-3,000 old stocks of television sets from other countries, sell them and then repeat the process. Most of these companies advertised the greatness of their technology which was beyond the target audience’s understanding.
The office of the Advertising Avenues (agency) was set up in Goutam Rakshit’s (founder and managing director) bedroom which was at Peddar Road. When Kukde was on his way to the office, he came across the owners of Mirc Electronics (parent company of Onida), Sonu Mirchandani and Gulu Mirchandani who were joined by their brother-in-law Vijay Mansukhani.
The owners had mentioned to the professionals at Avenues that they were going to set up an after-sales service in Vasai. They also praised Japanese technology and mentioned how despite them not needing repairs the companies back there had an after-sales service facility.
When the professionals at Avenues first saw Onida television in one of their meetings, Kukde was all set to sell off his top-of-the-line BPL television. It was that good!
When it came to advertising Onida television, the company had only Rs 3 lakh of advertising budget and a great risk taking ability, Kukde states. The thought process that went into the minds of the creatives at Avenues was not to highlight that ‘the product is good and we are superior in technology’. This would have resulted in Onida getting lost in the crowd of competitors.
So Kukde, Rakshit and Ashok Roy (the copywriter), brainstormed together and they questioned, “What is it that I want to own?” “What I envy is something I want to own,” came the answer.
Then Avenues worked on the first campaign of Onida which showcased a broken television. The headline read, “The only TV around a stone’s throw.” There was a stone around and the television had cracked. The baseline (coined by Roy) read, “Neighbour’s envy, owner’s pride”.
Kukde said, “It's like a jealous neighbour has actually broken the TV because he or she is so jealous. Now, this ad shook the advertising and the television world."
Rakshit suggested the Mirchandanis raise the cost of Onida television since it was an aspirational product and the target audience of Onida was always the affluent people or people from the higher echelons of society. Though they were uncomfortable with this recommendation, they followed the words of Rakshit.
Through this campaign, a target audience was born, which was the affluent people. They had no qualms about purchasing a product which was costlier by Rs 2,000. “There was one thing for sure. The after-sales services were good and the consumers were convinced that their hands were on a product which was good in quality.”
The campaign, introduced in 1983, ran for close to a year.
Birth of Onida’s ‘Devil Man’
Then came the period when people were graduating from black-and-white television to colour television. Avenues saw this as an opportunity to cash in. And, this paved the way for the birth of the ‘Devil Man’ for the Devil is the one that gives one negative thoughts.
David Whitbread was the model coordinator at Avenues, who, as Kukde puts it, had a ‘cute face’. Whitbread had a thick moustache, and it was quite a task when Avenues asked him to shave it off. Whitbread’s line in his first ad was, “Why do you want to envy a product when you can buy it?” It took Whitbread four to five hours to deliver it.
Right from the tail to the costume of the Devil were designed by Kukde himself. The tail was made out of rubber. The makeup was done by Mickey Contractor and Whitbread was paid Rs 6,000 for it. It was shot at Mehboob Studios, stated a media report. In 1984, the Devil Man was introduced and Whitbread’s journey lasted for 14 years.
The campaign went on to create some noise. It got the people talking, some understood the campaign and some did not. As Kukde put it, “The way we wanted Onida’s Devil man to be was to not be a salesman but one’s friend. That's how we created 15 or 16, 10 second commercials which didn't have the logo but only the devil.
Apart from television, top-of-the-line regional magazines and hoardings were a part of the media and marketing mix.
Fading of Onida and the Devil
Time passed and a lot of changes took place within the company where the Devil began sporting a moustache and was also decked in ‘suit-boot’.
The competitors of Onida were all top-of-the-line brands, and there came a period when Ogilvy advised the brand that Onida no longer stood out as the product of envy.
And then began the descent of Onida. “Advertising campaigns are like musical chairs. Once you find a chair, stay put on it. These people got up from their high personality chairs and began competing with somebody who was much lower than them.”
Apart from television, Onida brought in various electronic items, and Kukde feels that many things suffered in this process. There were various actors, right from Rajesh Khera, and Aamir Bashir to Ashish Chaudhary who went on to play the Devil where they were portrayed as salesmen.
The company withdrew the Devil in 1998 (the account was handled by a different agency) citing that the mascot was no longer attractive to the eyes of the consumers, highlighted in a blog. Along with the mascot, the tagline ‘Neighbour’s envy, owner’s pride’ too was scrapped.
However, the Devil Man made a comeback in 2004 (handled by Rediffusion DY&R) but with little to no effect due to ownership issues within the company and insufficient promotions. The Devil Man, played by Rajesh Khera looked more suave and contemporary.
In 2007, the account of Onida went to McCann Erickson, which was earlier handled by Rediffusion DY&R. By 2009, the Devil ceased to exist.
In 2016, the brand introduced ‘God’ as their new mascot to promote their new range of air-conditioners. The audience failed to connect with the mascot.
In 2018, during the occasion of season 11 of the Indian Premier League, the mascot was seen promoting Onida’s latest range of air-conditioners. Here, the Devil is shown along with his wife, whom he is afraid of.
However, the mascot has once again made a comeback in an ad campaign (conceptualised by Taproot Dentsu) that graced the television screens coinciding with this year’s IPL.