Creative Genius: Ad Vets Remember Sylvester daCunha's Utterly Butterly Amul Girl

How over a drink Sylvester daCunha and his wife Nisha came up with the slogan: ‘Utterly Butterly Amul’.

5 min read
Hindi Female

“I remember when Sunil Gavaskar had scored two Test centuries during a series against West Indies surpassing the record by Sir Don Bradman in 1983. At that time, Amul’s billboard had read – 'Easy Sunil, we can’t change designs so fast',” recalled Sujit Sanyal, a veteran in the advertising industry, who had the chance of meeting Sylvester daCunha a couple of times.

How over a drink Sylvester daCunha and his wife Nisha came up with the slogan: ‘Utterly Butterly Amul’.

Advertising industry veteran Sujit Sanyal told The Quint that Amul topicals have been popular since the time of their inception in the 1960's. At that time, billboards had to be designed manually and when Sunil Gavaskar scored two Test centuries in the same week in the December of 1983, this is how Amul had displayed the billboard.

(Photo: Pinterest)

daCunha, who gave India the Amul Girl and the iconic ‘Utterly Butterly Delicious’ campaign, passed away on 20 June in Mumbai. He was in his 80s.

“Sylvie (daCunha) was a creative thinker, who was not curtailed by the syntax of advertising. His intellect went way beyond business,” said Sanyal, who was the secretary of the Advertising Club of Calcutta. Established in 1953, it is the oldest advertising club in India.

While describing the advertising scene in the Bombay (now Mumbai) circuit in the 1950s–1960s, Sanyal said that daCunha started his career with an ad agency called ASP (Advertising & Sales Promotion Co). At that time, Shyam Benegal was in-charge of ad films at ASP. Other popular names in the advertising industry at that time were Gerson daCunha, Sylvester’s brother who died in January last year, Alyque Padamsee, Syed Akhtar Mirza, and Muzaffar Ali, among others.

“They were all theatre people and their free thinking reflected in their work. They used to have fun while making ads,” Sanyal told The Quint.

Recalling one of his meetings with daCunha, Sanyal said, “I was meeting him in Mumbai to ask him to open an ad agency in Kolkata. Sylvie told me that he was happy doing his work and that he was not chasing after money. He was never a part of the rat race.”


‘You're Mad. But Go Ahead If You Think It Will Work': Varghese Kurien to daCunha

It was in the '60s that Varghese Kurien – popularly known as the ‘Milkman From Anand’ and ‘Father of the White Revolution in India’ – had approached daCunha to design an ad campaign for Amul. And so, the Amul Butter account moved to ASP in 1966.

In a piece written for 'Adkatha: The Story of Indian Advertising' and released during Ad Asia 2011, daCunha had said that the mood of the Amul ad had to be modernised from "earnest and technical to light-hearted and friendly". He described how over an evening drink he and his wife Nisha came up with the slogan:

“Nisha suggested - Why not say ‘Utterly Amul’? To which I added, why not ‘Utterly Butterly Amul’.”

He said that even though the slogan was initially ridiculed for being “ungrammatical,” Dr Kurien was supportive of it. He had told daCunha – “You’re mad. But go ahead if you think it’ll work.”

Pavan Singh, the General Marketing Manager at Amul India, in his personal capacity, said that there was immense trust between daCunha as the agency representative and Kurien as the client, where the latter would often not act on the impulse to make a change in the campaign.

In 1969, daCunha left ASP and started his own agency called daCunha Associates and retained Amul Butter’s account.


The Amul Girl

“It was daCunha's idea to have one Central Continuing Character (CCC) which was lovable and cute and would comment on anything under the sun,” recalled Singh.

He added that daCunha had pioneered the idea of ‘moment marketing’ way before the term was coined.

“Everyone asks how has daCunha managed to keep the brand alive and vibrant for over 60 years? It is through the Amul topicals, with the Amul Girl not just commenting on current affairs but also linking it back to the brand. The Amul Girl did not shy away from controversial topics. It was the witty wordplay and the intelligent placing of the billboards across India that has made this campaign the longest running campaign in India,” said Singh.

In his blog, daCunha had written that after the slogan was taken care of, the next step was to give the campaign a face. This is when Eustace Fernandes – the Art Director at ASP – came into the picture. Together the duo had decided that the face must be that of a child – “lovable and mischievous.”

“Eustace promptly produced a pony-tailed moppet in a polka-dot dress with hair ribbon to match. She made her debut in 1966 on a few Bombay bus panels and lamp post boards chirping ‘Utterly Butterly Amul’. The public responded with spontaneous amusement. This was confirmation for us, if any be needed, that humour sells.”
Sylvester daCunha had written in his piece.

Singh described that as the campaign evolved from billboards to print and then to digital and social media, ideas were being churned out in real time and the execution was timely. “There was a time when newspapers were vying to feature the campaign. Now celebrities feel honoured if the Amul topical features them. This is the exact opposite of a celebrity being a brand ambassador,” he elucidated.  

Sanyal said that despite the mascot not undergoing any change at all, the ad campaign has gone on for more than five generations.

“Doing it week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, there was immense consistency in communication. And that’s where his brilliance lies,” Singh added.


‘daCunha Was A Mentor, A Father Figure’

Singh, who had joined Amul in 1995, said that daCunha was like a mentor to him and used to always give astute and friendly advice on branding and marketing and how to generate “aspirational impulses” among the target community.

“We used to look up to him with awe. He was like a father figure to us – always gentle and kind and trying to clear our doubts to make a campaign complete,” he said.

Singh recalled how he was once in a meeting with daCunha during the ad campaign for Amul Cheese. “He told me jokingly that we designed the Amul Cheese Boy keeping my face in mind. It was his way of acknowledging a youngster’s effort and contribution to the campaign," said Singh.

He described how Rahul daCunha, who has taken after his father’s wit and sense of humor – had gradually started taking over the campaign as Sylvester’s health deteriorated due to age-related issues.

“After Dr Kurien passed away in 2012, daCunha was our only living link to Amul. We used to especially invite Sylvester to come and address the new batch, and each year he used to come with the same zeal and narrate the Amul story,” said Singh.

Sanyal too said that daCunha had a "crazy" sense of humour. "Once he was invited to the Calcutta Advertising Club to give a speech as he had made it to the club's Hall of Fame. You know what he did? He sang instead!" he said.

On 22 June, Amul shared a topical for daCunha's passing away on Twitter. It read:

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Topics:  Advertising   Amul   Branding 

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