Colours maketh a woman!

The human race has always sought beauty. A touch of white here. A dab of red there. A dash of green in between. A blue sash encircling. A myriad range of hues used to express the self, life or present sheer imagination. It’s an art, which has been honed to perfection over the millennia. And no one practices the art better than the female gender. After all, colours maketh a woman, heightening her mystique and increasing her allure!

This, it can be said, was the insight for an advertising campaign developed by Trikaya (now Grey) Advertising for Lakmé sometime around 1988-89. But, I seemed to have jumped ahead. Let me backtrack and recount the whole story*.

Sometime in the year 1988, Trikaya (now Grey) Advertising won the Lakmé account. It was a big win and the account was rightly seen as catapulting the agency into the major leagues.

As a result, there was a great deal of pressure to produce market shaking and award winning work. It was something right up the alley of the fashionable, creative talent in the agency. And they didn’t disappoint. They came up with some incredibly exciting work including the thought that we needed to re-brand Lakmé to Lakmé Colours and develop a new brand identity.

It wasn’t just the new branding and identity. Trikaya came up with mind blowing print work and a television commercial idea that had never been tried before by the Indian advertising industry.

It is important I mention here that Trikaya had long worried that the agency had a brilliant portfolio of print work but not so in television. That fact had to be corrected post haste because the medium of television had begun ruling the roost. Lakmé presented the answer to the agency’s prayers. Get the right script, execute it brilliantly and Trikaya would be able to say that the agency’s creative strength wasn’t just in print work.

The script was there. Now all that was needed was the client approval.

We thought getting the client to accede was a tall ask because the agency was proposing that it produce a television commercial in black and white for a cosmetics brand. So what, if it was called 4-colour black and white? It wasn’t colour and how did that jell with the agency proposal to rename the brand Lakmé Colours?

Surprisingly, it wasn’t as difficult as we thought to get the client’s nod.

Full credit goes here to the team at Lakmé because they saw the merit in what Trikaya was proposing – to combine the depth and mystique of black and white frames with only the Lakmé lip and nail shades being shown in full, glorious colour.

Only one problem remained.

The post-production work for the film could only be done in London and the client budget did not stretch to that expense. The result was that Lakmé agreed to do the film if Trikaya found a solution to the cost involved.

It was here that I came up with a risky bet. I proposed to Ravi Gupta and the rest of the agency team that we find a trusted ad film producer who needed a brilliant TV commercial on his show reel as much as the agency did and get him to agree to invest some of his own money in the production.

The agency went that route and got Johnny Pinto on board a project fraught with risks.

What if we failed to produce a brilliantly executed film? My heart was in my mouth with that thought.

The agency and the producer would both be out-of-pocket. The agency also ran the risk of possibly losing the Lakmé account no sooner than it had managed to put it in the bag.

Thankfully, the film turned out to be brilliant and on seeing it, everyone from the client (Simone Tata, Anil Chopra, Rajiv Bakshi) and the agency team (Ravi Gupta, Ramesh Iyengar, Christopher D’Rosario, Preeti Vyas Gianetti, Rekha Nigam, Anita Adya) knew that a real breakthrough television commercial was about to be telecast. The Trikaya creative team along with Johnny Pinto, the producer, had exceeded all expectations.

Writing this, the song we used to establish the Lakmé Colours promise on television comes back to me. It was Billy Joel’s ‘She’s Always a Woman.’

The lines and mood of the song were so evocative and appropriate. They were a perfect fit for the Lakmé Colours campaign idea. Thank the Lord we didn’t have to worry too much about copyright issues those days as long as we tinkered with the notes and lyrics here and there. Today, we’d have to pay through our nose to use someone else’s composition. Rightly so! Though I do wish people wouldn’t get so greedy about license fees. Here’s the modified Billy Joel lyrics we used:

“She can kill with a smile,

 She can talk with her eyes,

 She can ruin your day when she changes her mind,

 And she only reveals what she wants you to see,

 She acts like a child,

 But she’s always a woman to me”.

Billy Joel’s “She’s always a woman” was just the ticket for the English version of the television campaign. Fact of the matter though is that the campaign would mostly be broadcast in Hindi. Question was how does one make sure that the Hindi jingle was as evocative as Billy Joel’s lyrics?

Listen to what Rekha Nigam who wrote the Hindi version has to say on the subject: “Oh yes…I remember every moment of that campaign. I remember how challenging it was to create a Hindi song in the same tune and syntax as the Billy Joel classic..I just took inspiration from the original and wrote a new song. I can’t tell you how many people have complimented me on it! I remember the Lakmé team applauding after they heard it!”

Need I say more? I don’t think so. But here’s the Hindi lyrics for you to understand why the client applauded on hearing them:

“Aankhon mein jaise sagar gehra,

Adaaon mein uski hai jadoo bhara,

Khamosh reh ke bhi kuch keh jaaye,

Na samjhoon na janoo,

paheli si woh ban jaaye.” 

For the benefit of non-Hindi speaking readers, the above lines translate to:

I glimpse the depths of an ocean in her eyes,

Experience magic in her alluring ways,  

Her silence whispers so many messages,  

She’s an enigma I just can’t grasp or know.” 

So many memories are flooding my brain now, writing about the Lakmé Colours campaign.

One of them was the tension fraught photo shoot we did at Manori beach near Mumbai, India for the print campaign and point-of-sale material. The tension was caused by the fact that the client, Rajeev Bakshi, had announced that he would come for the shoot. That was anathema to the Trikaya creative team and Prabhudo Das Gupta, the eminent photographer known for his iconic black and white imagery. It was also anathema that any client servicing executive enter into what was considered a purely creative domain. An exception, however, had to be made what with the client insisting on attending the shoot. The result was that I was dispatched to the shoot to handle any client interference.

As it turned out, the tension was for nothing. Rajeev, as I found time and again, had a good eye and appreciation for good creative work and did not say one word when he saw that there was nothing to worry about. I guess he knew that a great campaign was in the making.

And, so it was!

Lakmé Colours was launched, became a market success and went onto winning the Campaign of the Year 1989 at the Ad Club (Bombay).

Almost twenty years later, the campaign, I think, can work even today. Listen to the Hindi lyrics sung and narrated by Rekha Nigam. And then watch the English version of the Lakmé Colours commercial. Once you have done that, I am sure you will agree that the campaign is relevant even today. It’s what they call a classic!

Lakmé Hindi lyrics

Lakmé Hindi lyrics sung by Rekha Nigam 


Featured Cover Image: colour block pose by Del May, Image by Bea Serendipity (Flickr CC By 2.0)

*The story has been previously published in my book A Dance with the Corporate Ton: Reflections of a Worker Ant. It has been modified here for the purposes of this post because in the book, it had a very personal slant incorporated. There, I was reflecting on how an unimaginably unstylish person ended up handling the Lakmé account.

*Simone Tata, née Dunoyer, is an Indian business person belonging to India’s premier business family, the Tatas. Credited for the creation and success of Lakmé, Simone Tata is now chairperson for Trent, the company behind the Westside retail chain in India (Lakmé was fully acquired by Hindustan Unilever in the year 1998 after first acquiring a 50% stake in 1996).

*Anil Chopra was CEO of Lakmé and later CEO of Lakmé-Lever. He is currently an independent management consultant as per his LinkedIn profile.

*Rajiv Bakshi was GM Lakmé prior to moving to Cadbury India as VP Marketing. Rajiv rose in Cadbury (now Mondelēz International) to become the Managing Director. He later did stints with Pepsi India, ICICI Venture and METRO Cash and Carry, India.

*Christopher D’Rozario was the Creative Director at Trikaya. Chris D’Rozario, as he is now known, is currently Executive Creative Director at Team One LA after spending several years as Executive Creative Director at Havas New York and the JWT New York office.

*Preeti Vyas Gianetti was an Art Director at Trikaya. Preeti currently has her own design consultancy and communication solutions agency, VGC.

*Billy Joel’s She’s Always a Woman was a song released in 1977 forming part of his album The Stranger.

*Prabhudo Das Gupta (1956-2012) was a noted fashion and fine-art photographer from India.

2 thoughts on “Colours maketh a woman!

  1. How about a call out to all the Harvey Weinsteins in Indian advertising

    and surely you must have seen a few both in agency and clientside?

    do a piece on that if you can. Will help more girls come out with their stories too.

    Even if you dont name names, the more folks will hear and discuss it, the lesser hopefully will they perpetrate such horrors in the future

    1. It may be hard to believe but during my years in advertising, any affairs that happened were consensual. Men in high positions didn’t abuse their power….not then. This is my view

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