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ECE bulb hi laana: How a boring brand name got etched in Indian memory

The TV ad of ECE bulbs featured actor Kanwarjit Paintal and the jingle hit an amazing chord with viewers.

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As a product, bulbs have no aspirational value. They barely shake up the lives of consumers. But rewind and look back 20 years ago. A light bulb brand—ECE Bulb, manufactured and marketed by ECE Industries, part of the BK Birla Group in the early 1980s—took the market by storm with its advertising strategy. This was a time when lighting your homes and workspaces meant just putting a few plain white tube lights.  There were no interior designers deciding the angles of several lights in several corners.

But even with such limited desire, the ECE bulbs had an uphill task. Why? Just look at the name of the brand. It is saddled with the banal.

Marketing and brand expert Harish Bijoor noted that the most “unmemorable” part of ECE Bulbs was its brand name. “There was no brand connect, the name was most ordinary and said nothing to the consumers, but the advertising strategy was unforgettable and the jingle was catchy yet simple, just reiterating the fact that one had to buy ECE bulbs—bhool mat jana, ECE bulbs hi laana,” Bijoor said, adding that there was nothing glamourous about the advertisement either.

Also read: Liril and Lalitaji: A tale of two ads and how they captured India’s attention

One of the television campaigns featuring actor Kanwarjit Paintal was multi-lingual and hit an amazing chord with the viewers. The office goer, here portrayed by Paintal, is reminded by his wife before he leaves for office to get an ECE bulb. Throughout the day, all the people he meets—a domestic worker, people in the lift, a restaurant owner among others keep reminding him to get an ECE bulb.

The ad, which was telecast nationally on Doordarshan, showed people from various parts of the country speaking different languages, trying to hammer in one simple message: Don’t forget the ECE bulb.

The multi-lingual nature of the advertisement also worked as a national-integration jingle for a while, like Doordarshan’s classic Mile Sur Mera Tumhara.

Brand consultant Santosh Sood explained that there was little that could differentiate one brand of bulbs and tubes from another unlike other product categories such as a soap or a toothpaste. “So, the important thing was to ensure that the brand name remained at the top of the minds of the consumers, and the catchy jingle managed to do that,” Sood added. The advertisement successfully showcased how the entire country was obsessed with the brand.

Also read: How a salt brand named after a British explorer took on the ‘desh ka namak’

The campaign reflected a dual facet. Bijoor said the campaign was overt and covert at the same time. “It was overt because the advertisement kept hammering the same point and this was so obvious that it seemed it will not work, but it was covert at the same time as it quietly worked on people and had an impact on their purchasing decision,” Bijoor added.

Late ad guru Alyque Padamsee, talking to ThePrint in September 2018, said that an advertising strategy must be carved keeping in mind the consumers. “It has to connect with the consumer, you need to know your target audience and then carve out the ad and, of course, it always needs to have something that makes it different and memorable,” Padamsee said. In this case, it was a catchy jingle and a simple message.

From the early 1990s, market contours started to change and companies including multinational firms such as Philips and GE initiated segmentation of bulbs and tubes.

In 2013, Osram India Ltd, the wholly owned subsidiary of Osram GmbH of Germany, bought out the lamp business of ECE Industries at a cost of Rs 42.5 crore, which was keen to focus on its other businesses.

Osram GmbH did not respond to ThePrint’s query on the issue.

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