India at 75: Horlicks to Maggi - 15 unforgettable brands we grew up with

While some brands have braved the challenges of time, a few have become distant memories of simpler days. Some have reinvented themselves. Here's a look at 15 brands we have grown up with

Topics  Brands | Indian brands | Horlicks

1. Horlicks: A glassful of energy

For many Indians in cities and towns across generations, memories of childhood are incomplete without a daily dose of energy drinks. Chances are they drank up glasses of Horlicks with the promise of growing “taller, stronger, sharper” by the day. It was the launch of Horlicks soon after Independence in the 1950s that introduced the category of health food drinks in India.

In the last 50-plus years, its popularity was helped by the White Revolution that transformed India into the largest producer of milk — a key ingredient for the malty drink. While competing against rivals like Bournvita, Boost and Complan, British pharma giant GSK enjoyed the lion’s share of the market thanks to its flagship brand. Two years ago, FMCG major HUL bought Horlicks after the merger of GSK’s consumer healthcare division.

2. IIM: Down to business

The Indian Institute of Management (IIM) brought fizz to the Indian eco-system, literally too, energising the nation. Remember Indra Nooyi, the former PepsiCo chairperson and CEO? She passed out from IIM Calcutta in 1976, a year before what would later be her business rival — Coca-Cola — withdrew from the Indian market. 

IIM Calcutta was, in fact, the first of the IIMs to take shape, on November 13, 1961. It was set up in collaboration with the MIT Sloan School of Management, the West Bengal government, the Ford Foundation, and the Indian industry. IIM Ahmedabad followed a month later. Also read: India at 75: Chelpark and 14 other brands that will take you back in time

Established as part of the nation-building process in 1961, each year thousands of students pass out from these 20 institutes and make their mark across streams.

3. IIT: A game of give and tech

Can the Bharat story be complete without the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)? “Google it!” That’s been the buzz word for more than a decade now. So go ahead, do it. And it will lead you to Pichai Sundararajan (or Sundar Pichai), the chief executive officer of Google itself, a 1989-batch IIT Kharagpur alumnus. And, that’s just a sliver of how these modern India’s gurukuls have contributed to the country and, in turn, the world.

Six of these, “the originals”, were established between 1951 and 1994, and have since grown to become 23-strong. The IITs have transformed India into a hub of innovation, of science and technology. They churn out entrepreneurs and problem-solvers. Healthcare, education, agriculture — the IITs have had an impact on all. Also read: India at 75: The Maharajah and 14 other brands that had great impact on us

Government of India’s estimates show that these institutions, where excellence is enhanced, may have contributed anywhere between $300 billion and $400 billion to the world economy.

4. IPL: Cricket carnival

There were cheerleaders. There were drums. There were singers. And there were dancers. The spectators in the stadium watched, their eyes wide. Sitting in their homes, glued to the TV screen, the audience also watched, mesmerised, as the carnival of cricket took off. The birth of the Indian Premier League (IPL) was by no means a low-key affair. This was in 2008 — a year after the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had nipped the Zee-run Indian Cricket League in the bud. From the word go, IPL revolutionised the world of cricket and sealed the Indian cricket board’s position as the world’s most cash-rich sports administration.

The T20 format caught people’s imagination after India won the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007. IPL cashed in on that and soon became so popular that many leading world players have preferred to play in the league instead of representing their countries. Also read: India at 75: 'Hamara Bajaj' to Luna - 15 brands that you will never forget

Earlier this year, the media rights for the annual tourney, which stretches beyond 45 days were sold for a staggering Rs 48,390 crore for a five-year period.

5. ISI mark: OK, tested

Would a safety helmet be considered a lifesaver without an ISI mark? Highly unlikely. For millions of Indians who use two-wheelers, these accessories bring an assurance of safety only if they have the famous ‘ISI’ seal. Numerous consumer awareness campaigns over the decades have urged buyers to look for the mark before selecting a product. The quality standard extends to a range of industrial products, bought and used by consumers every day. 

Set up in January 1947, the Indian Standards Institution (ISI) gave way to the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) after a 1986 legislation. The ISI mark continues to be provided by the BIS after testing of industrial products in its labs and is synonymous with quality standards in the Indian marketplace. By 2018, over 20,000 standards had been formulated by the bureau and are currently in force.

6. Jio: A phone in every hand

It came. It saw. It conquered. And how! Jio, which soft-launched in 2015 before throwing its SIM cards open to the public a year later, captured the market instantly. For several months, it provided a launch offer of free calling and messaging. Not only did the move draw subscribers of other networks to it, the free plans pushed the SIM cards deep into rural India, a large chunk of which had remained out of the ambit of smartphones.

Suddenly, everyone seemed to be using smartphones. Jio’s cheap data plans extended its reach deeper and across social strata. Whether it was house helps, vegetable vendors, rickshaw-pullers or the upwardly mobile professions — everyone was equally connected. Also read: India at 75: Parle-G and 14 other brands inseparable from the India story

Months before the pandemic hit, Jio also launched a fibre-to-the-home service, which gained ground as the world was pushed to working from home. Now, 5G is on the way. Today, Jio is the largest mobile network operator in India and the third-largest in the world with close to 410 million subscribers.

7. Khadi: The national fabric

If there is one fabric that’s woven into the very idea of nationalism and India’s freedom struggle, it is khadi. To this day, the handspun, handwoven fabric conjures up images of Mahatma Gandhi and the swadeshi movement he led. The All India Khadi Board came up on Gandhi’s suggestion in 1924.

Over the past 75 years since Independence, the khadi movement has continued. An All India Khadi and Village Industries Board was created and then the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), a statutory body, was formed in 1957 through an Act of Parliament. KVIC is now what promotes Brand Khadi. Khadi is also a fashion statement. Prominent designers such as Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Ritu Kumar and Rohit Bal have employed the fabric for contemporary creations. 

At the same time, leading clothing retailers like Fabindia have had to back down from using the charkha and selling apparel with the ‘khadi’ tag over trademark issues raised by the KVIC. The Indian government’s push for the idea of khadi is part of its ‘Make-in-India’ initiative. According to the Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises, KVIC clocked a turnover of Rs 1.15 trillion in FY22.

8. Kissan jam and ketchup: Jam session

When Kissan met The Wall, it resulted in an unforgettable “jam session”. The “Jam Jam Jammy” series of ads at the turn of the century lent a moniker to star batsman Rahul Dravid and made Kissan a much-loved Indian packaged food brand. Kissan’s story, however, goes back decades earlier. The brand apparently got its name after a train passing through Punjab made a stop at a processing unit where farmers sold freshly picked fruits. First introduced for British settlers in 1935, the Mitchell Bros of UK set up India’s first fruit and vegetable processing unit in Bangalore (now Bengaluru) in 1947 for Kissan. In 1950, United Breweries acquired Kissan and in 1993, it went to Brooke Bond India before it became a part of Hindustan Unilever.

Kissan made jams a staple in Indian households and led the ketchup segment until it was upstaged by Maggi. The Rs 500-crore brand has also empowered farmers, helping them gain expertise in cultivation, especially of tomatoes, and played a pioneering role in introducing now familiar items like canned fruits and baked beans.

9. Lakme: Glammed up

“On a bad day, there’s always lipstick,” Audrey Hepburn famously said. For Indian women, that lipstick was, for a long, long time, Lakme. The idea for a homegrown cosmetics brand emerged when former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru learnt that Indian women were splurging on western brands. He approached JRD Tata and in 1952, Lakme was born. It was named after the French opera, Lakme, which is the French word for goddess Lakshmi.

It was Simone Naval Tata, a Swiss-born Indian businesswoman from the Tata family, who understood the need to employ aggressive marketing strategies to break taboos around cosmetics and make Lakme a household name — with an affordable range of products suitable for Indian skin tones.

The brand roped in ’80s supermodel Shyamoli Verma as the Lakme girl. In the first Lakme ad, Verma is seen playing a range of Indian instruments — a blend of modernity and tradition. The Tatas sold their stake in Lakme to Hindustan Unilever in the late 1990s. The brand has stayed resilient and is now also the title sponsor for India’s bi-annual Lakme Fashion Week.

10. LIC: Companion for life, and beyond

How many brands can promise to stay with a person even in death — and deliver on that promise? Well, this one can. And it does. Life Insurance Corporation’s (LIC’s) promise of “zindagi ke saath bhi, zindagi ke baad bhi (with you in life and death)” has come to be trusted like few other promises.

India’s state-owned insurance and investment company was set up in 1956 by an Act of Parliament, and over 245 insurance firms and provident societies were merged to create this behemoth. The idea was to spread life insurance to rural areas and ensure that each insurable person had a financial cover.

Today, LIC has the largest network of insurance agents in the country — an army of 1.35 million individual agents (as of March 2021). That’s 55 per cent of the total agent network in India and 7.2 times the number of agents with the second-largest life insurer, SBI Life. At 82 per cent, LIC offers the highest return on equity. And, its market share is unparalleled globally — even though it has fallen from 100 per cent in the pre-2000 era to 64.1 per cent in 2020, according to a CRISIL report. Its IPO launched in May was the country’s biggest-ever, and it has recently broken into the Fortune 500 list.

11. Lifebuoy: Keeping health & hygiene afloat

If a soap were to come back from the gym, it had to be Lifebuoy. Such is the association with the robust red bar that health, hygiene and fitness have remained its USPs for decades. With the tagline “Lifebuoy hai jahan, tandurusti hai wahan”, it promised health to all Indians. Lifebuoy ads initially projected the sporty bar of soap as something to keep men healthy after they’d sweated it out — the imagery a contrast to the glamorous beauty soaps. 

It has since evolved into a family-oriented brand but its messaging has continued to focus on health. Owned by Hindustan Unilever, Lifebuoy first arrived on Indian shores in 1895. Unilever founder William Lever had introduced the heritage brand a year earlier to help contain the spread of cholera in England. More than a century and a quarter later, India remains the soap’s top-selling market, and the diverse range of products — hand washes to sanitisers — have helped the brand maintain its lion’s share and reassert its core claims in the face of a pandemic.

12. Lipton & Brooke Bond: To a tea

A tiger stares into your soul; what do you do? You cooly pick up a cup of Lipton tea, take a sip and stare back at it. Lipton tea, specifically Lipton Tiger tea, wasn’t for the light-hearted. It was sher dil jawanon ke liye (for those with the heart of a lion).

Tea has come a long way from Ceylon’s (now Sri Lanka) plantations. Much before Covid boosters, people looked to their shelves for Lipton tea to build immunity. The company ticked its consumers’ wish-list by giving them affordable quick-to-make tea in dip bags. In 1972, Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) acquired Lipton and in 1977, Lipton Tea (India) was born. Some years later, in 1984, Brooke Bond, too, joined the mix through an international acquisition.

Brooke Bond earned a special place as a perfect companion for cosy get-togethers, rainy evenings and deep thoughts. Banking on warmth and the power of the beverage to bring people closer, the 115-year-old brand has managed to stand out. Tea today constitutes 80 per cent of HUL’s business.

13. Liv 52: Herbal healing

Life in India can be a gastronomic misadventure unless you have a healthy gut and functional liver. One often has to resort to over-the-counter medicines or dime-a-dozen home remedies. But thanks to their faith in traditional treatments, countless Indians are perennially grateful to the trusty old Liv.52 — a sweet syrup that promises to boost appetite and protect the liver.

With the idea of commercialising Ayurvedic and herbal products to suit contemporary needs in mind, M Manal started the Himalaya Group in 1930. In 1955, it launched the Liv.52, a product with hepatoprotective (a substance that prevents damage to liver) effects that became the company’s identity. Liv.52 has been the only herbal medicine in India’s top-10 best-selling drugs. 

Himalaya introduced a slew of products under the Liv.52 label, the most important being the Liv.52 HB — the first herbal drug for management of Hepatitis B infection. After years of dominance, Himalaya’s Neem Face Wash edged past Liv.52 as the top money-spinner. But for most people, Himalaya will always be the “Liv.52 company”.

14. Lux: Beauty soap of film stars

From a ‘laundry soap’ to a ‘beauty soap of the stars’, the Lux advertising journey in India has aged like fine wine — just like its brand ambassadors.It started as Sunlight Flakes, a laundry soap in 1899 produced by Lever Brothers. The name changed to Lux in 1900 — a Latin word for ‘light’ and suggestive of ‘luxury’.

Filmi sitaron ka manpasand sabun was how Hindustan Unilever’s Lux was first launched in India in 1941, with Leela Chitnis as its brand ambassador. A line in the ad claimed: “9 out of 10 film stars use Lux toilet soap.”

To land an endorsement deal with Lux meant a new movie star had “arrived”. The relationship of the star with the brand was almost symbiotic. Targeting the upper- and middle-class, Lux was promoted as a luxury soap affordable for all.

From “Hema Malini’s dream-girl complexion” to “the light of Vidya Sinha’s smile”, the soap branded itself as the “secret behind beautiful faces” in the Hindi film industry. In 2005, Lux celebrated 75 years of its stardom, and for the first time featured a male celebrity (SRK, the baadshah) in a bathtub of rose petals with four leading ladies in a TVC.

15. Maggi: Instant hit

The “two-minute Maggi” has conquered the country that swears by slow, layered cooking. It arrived in India in 1983 and quickly realised that it was not competing against any other brand but against the traditional habit of consuming rice and roti. So, it positioned itself as a quick-solution product.

An offering from the house of Nestle, it came with the stamp of trust. A product of the industrial revolution, when women did not have enough time to cook after spending long hours working in factories, Maggi liberated a whole generation of Indian women who could now prepare something yummy for their kids in no time.

Maggi soon became synonymous with the category of fast-to-cook noodles. And while it firmly established itself in Indian homes, it also helped launch businesses. Maggi Joints and Maggi Points are a thing now, especially in universities and tourist destinations, particularly in the hills, where they serve piping hot bowls of the noodle prepared with onion, chilli, egg, broccoli, peas, cheese — even chicken.

The brand became embroiled in controversy in 2015 when it was banned for allegedly having high levels of lead. But once restored on Indian shelves, it quickly reclaimed its position as India’s favourite instant noodle. 


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First Published: Thu,August 11 2022 18:00 IST
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