Thursday, November 6, 2014

Growth of Advertising in Chennai


Mass media as we understand today took roots with the establishment of Print media in the  West during the 17th century., which offered opportunities to reach a large and dispersed audience simultaneously.  It was East India Company of the British Empire that brought this media to India and to Chennai.

Evolution of Print media
Newspaper publishing started in Chennai with the launch of a weekly, The Madras Courier, in 1785. It was followed by the weeklies The Madras Gazzette and The Government Gazzette in 1795. The Spectator, founded in 1836, was the first English newspaper in Chennai to be owned by an Indian and became the city's first daily newspaper in 1853.
Early advertisements in Madras Courier  were in the form of classifieds.

In 1851 the Madras Almanac & Compendium of Intelligence carried public auctions, theft, theatre, birth and death announcements. 

In 1860 came the ‘Fort St. George Gazette and the Madras Times.  And it was in 1870 that the Madras Mail which occupied a pride of place on Mount Road was started.

In the decades that followed several Tamil publications were launched: 1881 – Swadesamitran (Tamil weekly), 1888 – Jana Vridhi, 1894 – Gnana Banu (religious weekly), 1897 - Pariyan (A Dalit weekly) – all of which carried relevant classified announcements.  But the history of journalism  and advertising in Madras, is very much linked to the growth of the MahaVishnu of Mount Road – The Hindu. While in the early years Madras Mail ( later became The Mail) was credited with introducing new printing technologies,  Hindu, under G.Kasturi became a trend setter in introducing  several innovations not only in terms of printing technology but also in terms of distribution. Hindu was the first publishing house to own aircrafts to distribute the paper to different cities and introduced facsimile editions of its paper printed from different centres.

Started in 1878 by G Subramania Aiyar as a weekly tabloid with M Veeraraghava Chariar as partner Hindu became a daily newspaper in 1889 which was bought over by Kasturi Iyengar in 1905.

It is interesting to note that in the initial years the first page of the paper was entirely devoted to advertising – mostly classifieds covering a range of topics from ballroom dancing to widow remarriage!

Several other publications followed , significant among them being Ananda Bodhini (1920), Ananda Vikatan (1926) and Indian Express (1938) all of which were successful in getting advertising  support for their publications.
Today, Chennai has six major print media groups that publish about eight major newspapers and magazines. The major English dailies are The Times of India, The Hindu, The New Indian Express and The Deccan Chronicle; evening dailies: The Trinity Mirror and The News Today. As of today, The Hindu is the city's most read English newspaper, with a daily circulation of over 5.5 lakh copies. The major business dailies published from the city are The Economic Times, The Hindu Business Line, Business Standard, and The Financial Express. The major Tamil dailies include the Dina Thanthi, Dinakaran, Dina Mani, Dina Malar, Tamizh Ossai, Tamil Murasu, News Today, Makkal Kural and Malai Malar.
Hundreds of magazines are today published from Chennai. The popular ones are Ananda Vikatan, Kumudam, Kalki, Nakkheeran,  Kungumam, Swathi (Telugu magazine), Frontline and Sportstar
Chennai was also a pioneer in starting free community newspapers. South Madras News by Speciality Publications owned by R.Desikan was the first community newspaper of India started  in 1974.  Today apart from the popular neighbourhood newspapers such as The Annanagar Times and The Adyar Times there are a whole host of neighborhood  papers catering  to particular localities all carrying local news and  advertisements targeted at specific target audiences. Madras  also has  a fortnightly exclusively devoted  to Madras  city & its heritage called Madras Musings - A Tabloid supported by  the leading corporates of Chennai and edited by S.Muthiah the well know Chronicler of Madras and Heritage specialist.
Newspaper representatives to advertising agents
Contribution of the legendary S S Vasan (Gemini Film fame) and T Sadasivam in the growth of the advertising business in Madras  during the 1930s is significant.  Vasan was into mail order and publishing business.  He started Vasan Advertising Centre canvassing advertisements for various newspapers and getting commission from them – one of the early  representatives of advertising agency business. He bought out Ananda Vikatan and also started  Merry Magazine in English.  Ananda Vikatan which was being edited by another legendary Tamil writer- Kalki Krishnamurthy had T Sadasivam as the advertisement representative charged with the responsibility of getting new advertisement business.  Sadasivam had a flair for writing very persuasive direct mailers appealing for advertisements.  It is said, thanks to Sadasivam’s efforts advertising income of Ananda Vikatan went up from Rs.6,000/- to Rs.72,000/- in six months.

Sadasivam left Ananda Vikatan  and started  Kalki with Krishnamurthy as the Editor. The magazine became a big success thanks to the popular historical novels penned by `Kalki`and serialized in the magazine week after week.

Paper advertisements in those days covered products like Keshavardhini Hair Oil, Asoka Beetlenut powder, Amrutanjan, Narasus Coffee, Binny & Co, Westend Watch Co., Himalaya snow, Horlicks Malted Milk, cars like Rover, Morris, Murphy radio, Macleans toothpaste, Andrews Liver salt etc apart from advertisements for announcing new film releases.

One of the earliest full fledged advertising agency was started by P S Mani Aiyer in 1939.  Mr. Aiyar began  his advertising career by canvassing advertisements for Swadesamitran and the Hindu.  It is said that he got 25% commission from these  newspapers for the ads he got for them.  Simpson and Spencer & Co were two of his well known clients.  He had innovative ideas.  He hired artists to create advertisements with interesting visuals. He is supposed to have persuaded Simpson & Co,  dealers of cars, to offer cars on hire purchase.  A car costing Rs.3,500/- was available on a monthly instalment of Rs.100/-.

Later V.G.Panneerdas & Co, popularly known as VGP made the hire purchase system popular for all types of consumer durables among middle class  households  making extensive use of Print and out door media.

It was in the early 1930s that advertisements which were essentially classified ads started getting a  new look with the introduction of visuals to support the catchy copy matter. Line  drawings and half tone prints of human figures were used to make the advertisements more attractive.

 The 1940s saw a number  of local agencies being started  like United India Publicity  Company(UIPC) (1939), Eastern Advertising(1944), Elegant Publicities (1945), Federal Advertising and Criterion Publicities (1946) . UIPC was perhaps the first among the Madras based agencies to get accreditation from Indian Newspaper Society (INS). D J Keymer  & Co. was the only multinational agency headquartered in Calcutta to have a branch in Madras at that time.  It was soon to be followed by F D Stewarts, Grant Advertising (1954) with Lance Dane as the Manager and J Walter Thompson (1955) with R K Swamy as its Manager. Umesh Rao, the art director who was working with JWT Madras around the time is credited with creating the famous drawing of the `Maharaja` mascot for AIR INDIA, conceived by Bobby Khooka of AIR INDIA.

Credit for introducing professionalism into the  advertising scene in Madras must go to R K Swamy.  He not only used research for the first time to develop effective advertising strategies  but also came  out with some very creative ads for his clients like TVS & T.I Cycles.

‘Set your watch on the arrival of a TVS bus’; ‘You can trust TVS’; ‘Hercules  Cycle – your life time companion` were headlines of some of the famous ads he and his team created.

When JWT denied Swamy  the CEO`s  post, he quit his job to start R K Swamy Associates in 1972. In addition to walking away with some prestigious clients of JWT Madras, he persuaded several large public sector undertakings to do advertising for the first time to build a good image for themselves.  Some of the ads that his agency created for BHEL, ONGC and SAIL are trail blazing  efforts of the time. His son Srinivasan K Swamy as the current chairman of the group has not only helped the group march forward with many diversifications but is, like his father, doing his bit for the cause of advertising through his involvement with several industry bodies.  He has the  distinction of being the President of Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAof I), a premier industry body, for three consecutive years.

Another legend Mani (S R) Aiyar  based in Madras office of BOMAS in the sixties was a hard core professional who made significant contribution to the Madras Advertising scene when he was in Madras.

Though 70s and 80s saw a steady growth of advertising business in Madras it was during the late 90s that Madras gained greater  importance in the world of advertising thanks to the influx of a number of new MNCs like Hyundai, Ford, Renault, BMW, Nokia, Citi Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and others. Even software giants like TCS and Infosys established large  bases in Madras – all leading to increased advertising spend originating from Madras. It was also the time when a few local brands like Cavin Care, the wellknown FMCG group, were putting their roots in the marketing world which were to give a tough fight to the multinationals  in later years.

Meanwhile, Madras had already become a retail capital of India. Departmental stores like Spencers and retail chains like Viveks, which had their origins in Madras, inspired a whole lot of new groups to enter the field. New textile and jewellery showrooms like Chennai Silks, Pothys, RMKVs, Saravanas, Princes and Joy Alukkas appeared on the scene dominated earlier by Nallis, Kumarans, Vummidis and Nathellas. These new retailers splurged big on media advertising, even putting many of the FMCG brands to shame in terms of advertising spend.

The 1980s to 90s saw almost all leading multinational agencies opening their branches in Madras.  Thanks to the efforts  of some of the best creative minds of these agencies, the standard of advertising, especially print & TV advertising went up,  reflecting in the top quality of advertisements generated at that time. This was the period when  advertising business in Chennai was at its peak..

Many local agencies started by executives and creative heads who left the multinational organizations to start on their own also contributed significantly to the growth in the standard & quality of advertising. One of the earliest was Gopulu, the well known cartoonist with Ananda Vikatan  who teamed with Mrs Vimala to start an agency called `Adwave advertising` which created  some interesting campaigns for the Madras based Shriram group.

Fountainhead, Insight Advertising, Rubecon etc. not only created good advertisements which won awards but also helped build brands.

Insights` efforts for Solidaire TV, Reubicon`s efforts to build a national brand ‘Color Plus’ a ready made garment unit operating from Ambattur near Madras are well known case studies.

Thanks to the growth of Television in the 90s, importance of print media for promoting Fast Moving consumer Goods (FMCGs), Consumer Durables and other services started going down from early 2000. Today print media is dominated by advertisements from retailers (Jewellery / Textiles), Real estate promoters, automobile companies apart from a whole list of educational institutions.  Consumer durable companies use the media only for promoting their discount sales during festival season or for announcing new launches.  The trend has definitely affected the volume of business emanating from Madras for print media.

Radio advertising

Until early 60s only print and outdoor advertising were popular.  However, in the early 60s Radio Ceylon  started offering commercial services to Indian advertisers  as AIR did not allow commercials to be played. Radio Ceylon  was represented in India by Radio Advertising Services owned by the Sayani brothers (Hamid &Amin) with headquarters in Bombay. S.V.Venkatraman ( father of actor S.V.Sekhar) was the manager of Radio Advertising in Madras. In addition L.R.Swamy & Co was also allowed to canvass advertisements for Radio Ceylon.

Thanks to the wide coverage of Radio Ceylon across the length and breath of India Mayilvahanan a popular Tamil voice and Amin Sayani of the Binaca Geethmala fame became household names in the 60s & 70s. Some of the memorable radio spots of the time were for brands like Gopal Tooth Powder, Ponvandu Soap & Woodwards Gripe mixture apart from Tamil versions of the well known multinational brands like Colgate Dental Cream,  Lifebouy Soap, Lux etc.

Though Vivid Bharathi was started by AIR in 1967 as a commercial service to counter the popularity of Radio Ceylon it never reached the heights of Radio Ceylon as an advertising medium because of the restrictions the government  imposed on the duration  & frequency of commercials.

Radio broadcasting in Madras  started from the radio station at the Rippon Buildings complex, founded in 1930 and was then shifted to All India Radio`s own premises  in 1938. The city has two AM and fifteen FM radio stations, operated by Anna University,
M.O.P. Vaishnav College, All India Radio and many private broadcasters.

 Starting of the FM stations by AIR and opening the radio medium to the private sector has favourably impacted this medium. These FM radio stations operating out of Madras offer 24x7 interesting programmes aimed at attracting a wide spectrum of audiences especially the youth which is moving out of the Print medium. However Radio is more popular as a mobile medium as people listen to it while they are commuting by bus, two wheelers or four wheelers. The extensive reach of mobiles with radio listening facility
has certainly made radio more popular. Because of  the focused target audience it offers Radio as an advertising medium is bound to grow as evident from the growing popularity of many of the FM channels in Chennai.

Film / TV Advertising

Madras in the earlier days was producing not only Tamil cinema, but was the hub of Telugu, Kannada & Malayalam cinemas. And later it grew in to a big industry. Cinema advertising, in the form of one minute ad films in all cinema halls across Tamilnadu  was started by the founder of AVM studios operating under the name of  Central Publicity which was  later bought over by Blaze advertising, Mumbai.  Cinema was a leading advertising medium of the time.

During the 70s and 80s.  film  advertising in Madras , essentially consisted of dubbed versions of Hindi/English spots produced in Bombay for famous brands, played in cinema theatres. Many of these commercials did not connect with local audiences because  they not only featured North Indian models but also the language used were totally outdated having been translated by writers in Bombay who had moved out of Madras decades earlier. To this scene entered S Krishnaswamy  of Krishnaswamy Associates,  the well known documentary producer and his brother S V Ramanan who attempted to create some original commercials in Tamil aimed at the Tamil audience.  Krishnaswamy even tried using puppetary animation  for promoting MFL (Madras Fertilizers Ltd.). 

Asian Games in 1982 opened up colour television and TV spots in colour came into vogue.  For quite some time even television commercials beamed on local DD continued to be dubbed versions of Bombay Production Houses.

Entry of Jayendra Panchpakesan, an ex-copy writer and film writer and P C Sriram the well known cinematographer / Director who together started  J S Films, changed all that.  As a team they came up with some good concepts and executed the same to the demanding standards of the Bombay advertising world.  Their role in helping create  famous brands like Rasna (I love you Rasna), BPL (Home Alone), Regaul  (Chottu Neelam) is well known in the industry.  At one stage they were flooded with assignments from all leading advertising agencies from Bombay handling a host of multinational brands.

Over a period of time the team split and Jayendra started Real Image, India`s leading provider of technology in the film, video and audio domains.  He also launched QCN – a digital out of home advertising solution provider with central  monitoring and control facility. Real Image also represents several global players in the field in India and abroad

Another Madras based advertising film producer who caught  the imagination of the Bombay Advertising world was Rajiv Menon who is also well known as a cinematographer and Director.  He produced some memorable ad films for Asian Paints and Titan watches.

The Madras ad world can be proud that it nurtured some of today’s celebrities during their days of struggle. Today’s icon A R Rehman was popular as Dilip in his earlier avatar – he used to compose advertising jingles for many products in his spare time. He pioneered the concept of composing background music for a jingle on his Casio keyboard and recording it with a dummy voice or his own, before calling a professional singer to sing the jingle -- saving a lot of time and money in the process.

Balakrishnan (Balki) National Creative Director of Lowe Lintas is another contribution  from Chennai to the national advertising scene.  He is also well known as a Director of feature films having directed Amitabh Bachchan  in his films- Cheeni Kum & Paa. 

Senthil from JWT Madras who conceived  the  Cannes Award winning Naka Mooka commercial for Times of India is another Madras boy who is doing well on the national advertising scene.

M.G.(Ambi) Parameshwaran and Ramanujam Sridhar are the other Madras boys  known for their intellectual contribution to the advetrtising field in the form of books on Branding &  Advertising based on their long association with the advertising business.


Madras was well known for the huge, larger than life, hoardings on Mount Road promoting new and old feature films.  The idea was first conceived by the legendary film director S.S. Vasan for the block buster movie Chandralekha in the early 50s.  The idea caught on and over the years not only films but also products and services of all types started featuring their messages  on hoardings occupying every vantage point on the roads of Madras, leading to mindless  growth of the media.  Many accidents later the State Government passed a law in 2008 barring hoardings in public places.

 For over four decades thousands of talented artists made a living out of manually painting the big hoardings using miniature drawings as reference.  The advent of the easy to assemble flexi sheets printed with the hoarding messages, threw those talented people out of job. The banning of the medium completely in Chennai  has left many people dependent on this medium literally on the streets.

Technology has opened up new avenues for outdoor display of advertising.  The ubiquitous giant-size hoardings have been replaced by a slew of other outdoor media, now popular as OOH (Out-Of Home ) advertising. These include everything -- posters, banners, kiosks, bus shelters, wall sites, hoardings, mobile vans, all vehicles that move, dynamic display units in and outside the mega malls.  

Satellite and Cable TV
It was in mid 90s that the advertising through cable TV started penetrating homes in Madras.  The government`s decision to allow private channels to enter the TV space dominated till then by government owned DD,  has led to proliferation of TV channels. From just one TV channel in the early 80s, today nationally there are nearly 700 channels. covering almost every language of the country.
 In Tamil alone we have scores of TVchannels  offering a wide variety of programmes catering to different tastes of audiences. Almost every political party has its own TV channel Like Jaya(AIADMK), Kalaignar (DMK), Makkal  (PMK) and Captain (DMDK) to mention a few. Leading them all  is Sun TV, one of the most successful and profitable channels operating  out of Chennai that has today become a big multimedia conglomerate. The Sun Network, a Rs. 5000 crore public firm, is the country's second-largest broadcasting company, in terms of viewership share. Some of its TV shows have generated the highest television rating points in the country. In addition to owning 19 TV channels in all major South Indian languages, the group owns FM radio stations in over eleven cities and some Tamil magazines and newspapers.
 Sun TV was also a pioneer in promoting  regional and retail advertising which not only helped in their own business success but also in helping the explosive growth of the business of regional brands advertised on its channel.  Sun TV continues to be way ahead of its competition, even today.
Direct-to-home (DTH) is available in Chennai via DD Direct Plus, Dish TV, Tata Sky, Sun Direct DTH, BIG TV, Airtel Digital TV and Videocon d2h.
Chennai is the first city in India to have implemented the Conditional Access System for cable television.

Rural Marketing:

Rural Marketing – a buzz word for several decades now has become a necessity for many brands of FMCG and consumer durable products. It has seen  some pioneering initiatives emanating from Madras.  Though promoting products in villages through road shows using vans was in vogue, right from the early 50s,  by companies like the TTKs,  it was  Thomas Maliakkal a well known Madras based  adman who started ORA( Outdoor Rural Advertising) to offer a well planned audio visual van operation to reach the villages of Tamilnadu. The idea of featuring multiple brands  in every operation  so that the cost of such an effort  is shared by advertisers was a pioneering effort of the time.  After his demise R Parthasarathy of Kripa Outdoor has been continuing to be an important player in this field for the last 30 years.

Grant Advertising and later Anugrah Marketing headed by R V Rajan pioneered several rural communication programmes  for their agri input clients and later for all type of products leading to more and more clients understanding the importance of rural marketing. Starting of the Rural Marketing Association of India (RMAI) in 2005 was an initiative of Anugrah Madison. RMAI  continues to be actively involved in disseminating new knowledge on Rural marketing to the industry.

Social Media:

Though Corporates in Chennai have begun to use social media it is yet to get the attention it deserves. There are a few Social Media specialists like Unmetric and a few individuals who are advising clients on Social media. The best known name ,ofcourse ,is Kirubha Shanker referred to as the Czar of social media by the The Hindu ,is based out of Chennai.

Role of Advertising Club, Madras

The Advertising Club Madras, which celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 2006 is the third oldest Adclub to be started in the country, after Advertising Clubs in Calcutta and Bombay. The Club has been closely associated with the evolution of advertising in Chennai through its members who are a cross section of professionals from the advertising agencies, advertisers and the media. With a permanent Secretariat located in its owned premises in T.Nagar, Advertising Club Madras is the only Club in the country which has been successfully running a One Year PG Diploma course in Advertising for the last 20 years without a break. The seminars, workshops, national and international conferences conducted by the Club have brought to the city veterans in the field from across the world and provided an opportunity for the members to learn from their experiences.

Current Advertising Scene in Chennai

The last decade has seen a steady decline of traditional advertising spend in Chennai  by FMCG companies ( like Cavincare) and consumer durable companies (like Hyundai & Ford)  many of whom have moved their marketing departments to Mumbai or Delhi leading to a major setback for the Chennai  branches of the established multinational agencies. Though  there has been a tremendous growth in the advertising business from the Retail, Realty and Educational sectors, it has not helped professional agencies because many of the new generation advertisers representing these groups are not professional in their approach and go for media agencies who are able to offer them lowest rates. Many of them even negotiate directly with the media for rates based on bulk booking, affecting the survival of many traditional agencies depending solely on commission income. Besides technology has made it so easy for `hole in the  wall` design outfits offering creative services to clients at low costs, that the big agencies find themselves in a bind unable to compete with such outfits. Many of the multinational agencies have either closed shop in Chennai or drastically cut down their operations.. However for an adman who is willing to adapt to the changing scene in Chennai the profession still provides enough opportunities. As evident from the success of many local agencies.

Once considered an overgown village that went to sleep by 9.00 pm, Madras during the past decade has acquired a 24 x 7 reputation. The city has drawn people from all parts of India. Result: This metropolis can offer anything that anyone wants! Be it the choice of food, products, services or even entertainment!

Old, tradition-rich conservative Madras is today a vibrant cosmopolitan Chennai. The young are willing to try out anything new! What better challenge than that for the advertising professional? I am sure that the Chennai advertising world will soon bounce back to its glorious past!

Feedback welcome on


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