Can you imagine a newspaper in New York carrying an advertisement dominated by an Indian image? Or one that refers to Calcutta as a global destination? Here are some of the advertisements that go a long way in establishing the importance, excitement and glamour that Indian motoring enjoyed in yesteryears
Advertisements have traditionally been the best way to catch the consumer’s eye. Major automobile sector marques developed special advertisement campaigns for the Indian market here and many of them were in Bengali and other regional languages, some of which were printed in these columns earlier. Some of the advertisements with native images and references were carried worldwide in those days. This was because the global giants dominating the auto world had felt that these would convince the consumer in USA or UK/Europe that a product good enough for us was good for them as well. In other words, it was an endorsement for the Indian market that it was sophisticated and discerning enough and enjoyed credibility to win over an overseas consumer.
Firestone & the Maharaja
Firestone was the world’s largest tyre company till the 1940s and was set up in 1900 by Harvey Firestone. A friend of Henry Ford, Harvey was a very aggressive marketing man, and the Firestone tyres were sold on the claim that they lasted longer, offered a smoother ride and were more resistant to punctures than those of his competitors.
Known for using striking images in advertisements, Firestone chose the image of a wealthy Indian sitting on a howdah atop a beautifully caparisoned elephant to establish his product. The advertisement was popular between 1918-1925 and was carried all over the world. The structure seen in the background of the advertisement resembled Victoria Memorial and given Firestone’s tough reputation on account of Harvey’s eye for detail and perfection, it does not seem to be a coincidence.
Buick & the Calcutta Connect
General Motors, the world’s largest car company till very recently, sold the world’s largest selling car, the Chevrolet, as well as its premium brand, the Buick. This Buick advertisement from the 1930s was in circulation in USA, Europe/UK, Australia and Japan/China and of course, India. Extolling the virtues of the Buick brand, it stated, “Circling The Globe – The ‘Round the World’ Buick route – New York City across the Atlantic to London, Paris, Cairo, Calcutta, … World-wide reliability – that’s Buick”.
It is heartening to note the integration of our market with the global advertising and marketing space as well as the fact that the Calcutta buyer was considered special enough to merit mention in Buick promotions.
Drivers today often place a divine image or similar object on car dashboards. In the past, radiator mascots were used for a similar display. While landowners or other eminent families carried their personal crest on the radiator badge or cap, others used divine images. These were made overseas and imported for sale locally.
The fact that global automobile sector majors paid so much attention to Indian buyers in the past is eye-opening. As the Indian economy opens up, let us hope that these great marques will come back into the market once more.