It was the end of the year 1992. And as was our custom, the senior colleagues of the agency got together for a year-end session at a nearby watering hole. The hot topic was the launch of Zee TV by a then unknown entrepreneur promising non-stop Hindi entertainment. Some of us were not sure if Zee TV could ever top the kind of content that Doordarshan was churning out. We even thought that Star TV with its English/ phoren content was a surefire winner. As it happened, Zee TV ended up becoming a national phenomenon and Star TV went desi with the launch of Star Plus.

Why is this relevant to an article on the changing world of advertising, 1994 to 2019? Let me explain. Till the growth of Hindi (and Indian language) satellite TV, Indian brand marketers and their agencies were quite happy creating one piece of communication and let it run for a couple of years on DD and cinemas. The entry of non-stop entertainment increased the amount of media being consumed by Indian homes. From maybe less than 60 minutes a day, we rapidly saw Indian consumers get to 2.5 hours of television consumption. This opened up multiple opportunities to communicate with them.

The golden age

The golden age of television advertising was born. Classic ads such as Cadbury’s Cricket Match – Dancing Girl , NDDB Doodh Doodh , Dhara Jilebi , Pepsi Dil Maange More , Fevicol Fishermen , Maruti Service Station , Coca-Cola Thanda Matlab , Naukri Hari Sadu , followed. The first Indian television ad to win a Lion at Cannes was the Ericsson ‘One Black Coffee’ ad.

While TV advertising was taking flight, print advertising was also getting its own share of glory. The biggest scandal of that decade was the Tuff Shoes ‘Python’ ad released in 1995. It ended up becoming the longest court case involving an ad; the case dragged on in the Mumbai courts for a record 14 years.

New print titles were born during the 1990s, including The Hindu BusinessLine (now celebrating its 25th anniversary) and numerous Indian language newspapers and magazines. Newspapers started innovating by offering innovative advertising packages to brands. Buzzing Newspapers. Scented Frontpage. Mirror Finish Paper. Glossy niche magazines, global titles, flooded the Indian market.

FM Radio was opened up to the private sector in 2001 and today they span over 350 stations across 101 cities. FM has grown into a very powerful localised advertising medium, though most channels play the same kind of popular music. Many opportunities for innovation lurking there.

Cinema was once the only audio visual medium in the country. Brands with big budgets went on to make magum opus films for cinema. But the growth of TV ended up crushing the ad revenues of cinemas. As always Indian cinemas are having a second innings in the 2000s with the growth of multiplexes and the digitisation of all cinema screens. The stumbling block of ‘film prints’ is not gone. Cinema advertising is once again on the rise. And movie theatres are getting transformed into brand engagement platforms.

The opening up of the economy also saw outdoor advertising getting transformed. From simple painted hoardings to complex visuals printed on vinyl. Innovations in outdoor won Indian agencies more medals in global competitions. Airports got transformed into glitzy shopping and dining destinations. Even the humble luggage conveyor belt started belting out commercial messages.

The 2010s have seen the rise of digital marketing. In the early days of digital marketing most brands were satisfied with creating a 30-second ad for TV and running a longer version on YouTube.

Several wonderful long-format films got created, including Lifebuoy ‘Help a Child Reach 5’, Google ‘Reunion’ etc. But the digital medium offers many more opportunities for brands to engage in interesting conversations with consumers. Brands like Ariel managed to score a good one with their #ShareTheLoad campaign.

What next?

What can we expect for the coming decade? Will traditional media and older forms of advertising find their way to the grave?

At the first Foote Cone Belding (FCB) Global Conference, the holding company chairman announced that ‘The 30-second ad is dead’. This was in 1997. But 20 years later, even in the US, the 30-second ad lives on. In a country like India where a large part of the population is yet to enter the consumption cycle, I think traditional media will continue to grow.

Industry experts point out that the total media advertising in India is set to hit ₹65,000 crore in FY 2020 and will continue to grow at over 10 per cent for the next decade. Digital advertising and its various forms (search, social media, influencer marketing) are expected to outpace the overall ad growth and capture 20 per cent of the total pie soon. But the good news to all other media is that the ‘old’ media too will continue to grow as literacy improves and economic prosperity reaches the lower rungs of society.

One big change that I expect is the increasing appetite of brands for interesting content around their brand. So, as against 600 satellite channels, we will see 6,000 channels on the internet taking flight. They will each explore their own way of generating revenue, from advertising, product placement and sponsorships. We as a country are today the biggest consumers of video content. Reliance Jio’s latest estimates indicate each of their 250 million subscribers consumes 11 GB of content every month. That roughly translates into two hours of video content being consumed every day. Imagine the number of talented young people who will be needed in the content creation industry to satisfy this thirst for content. It is exciting times ahead for the Indian marketing communication industry indeed.

If Indian advertising came of age in the 1990s and 2000s, it is all set to spread its wings and go wider and deeper in the 2020s and beyond.

The author is an independent brand strategist, author and founder of, a brand advisory. His book Nawabs, Nudes, Noodles – India Through 50 Years of Advertising explored the changing contours of Indian society through the advertising lens.