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Paying tribute to Indian soldiers on Independence Day

August 15, 2007

Today is India’s Independence Day and I am re-publishing one of my older posts which is basically about an advertising campaign which was published during the Kargil war to try and create awareness about what our soldiers go through day after day. I wrote this for A&M, an advertising and marketing magazine.

Winning empathy, genuine empathy, isn’t easy. But when an ad does make that lightening connection, it does incredible things. This one did that, and more.
Remember that black and white photo? Camouflage…webbed helmet. Gun clasped. A transistor radio in the other hand held upto his ear. Typewritten copy, alongside. Black, on white. In poetry format.



He loves Hindi songs.
Just like you.
He hates injections.
Just like you
he cried each time Amitabh died.
Just like you.
He’s been in love once or twice.
Just like you.
He’ll bleed if you cut him.
Just like you.
He’s happiest at home.
Just like you.
He loves the smell of rain on sun scorched earth.
Just like you.
He cheered India at old Trafford.
Just like you.
He dreams for his children.
Just like you.
He’s gone to die for a stranger.
And that stranger is you.’

That was the first ad for the Veer Jawan Fund. The campaign also featured an image of a young soldier holding a gun, soldiers gathered around a campsite.


Another ad was of a soldier trudging his way up the brutal Kargil terrain and a couple of TV spots as well. All aimed at the well earning Indian (so far removed from the grim realities of war). The print ads were the ones that put a lump in the throat.


The quantitative results? The campaign had garnered the fund Rs 20 crore within weeks of it’s release.
The agency which created the campaign wasn’t one of the big agencies in India. It was a small Delhi based agency ranked No. 46 at the time (rating as per the A&M Agency Report.) The creative direction was by Nitin Beri, a partner at the agency. But the credit goes to the entire team.


How did they think of it?
When the first tri-colour draped coffins came home, the Capital team, like millions of other Indians who’ve never contemplated the prospect of sacrificing anything much – let alone dying for their nation – knew that they had to do something to contribute to the national effort.
‘We decided that the best tribute we could pay to them was to collect as much money as we could for their families,’ says Sunil Sachdeva, Director, Capital.
How did they do it?
The team’s only ammunition: Advertising. Emotions. Words. Images. if ever these were needed to move people, it was now. No more hiding behind desks. Mo more cannon deafness. Action.
The idea was presented to the Ministry of Defense. It was that very day that the six disfigured bodies of Indian soldiers had been flown into Delhi. The sense of outrage in the city was palpable. The Capital team was met by a calm and determined joint secretary (E), Arvind Joshi. The presentation was made and Joshi assured the agency that the mechanics of the Fund would be sorted out immediately. It was. Within three days, the agency got to meet Lt Gen S.S Grewal, and he made the approvals almost instantly. The same day, fervent appeals were made to over a hundred national newspapers and magazines to carry the three add print campaign free of charge.
Nearly 30 publications responded, including some of India’s most prestigious. Almost all of Capital’s clients came forward to sponsor the campaign in the well read publications which didn’t give free space.
The television commercial was sponsored by Maruti Udyog Ltd (MUL), and almost all the main channels were kind enough to carry the spot at prime time. The total ad space/airtime used (both paid and unpaid ) was estimated at Rs 4 crore.
It didn’t go in vain, and thank the creative for it. Of the dozens of Kargil ads in the media, this one stood out. This was not a bugles-and-trumpets job. It was about people. The copy was poignant. Painful. Powerful. Death doesn’t normally find place in ads. Least of all voluntary death. Neither does the burden of guilt for something so weighty, so magical, so cherished – life. Which is why the last line had such an impact. It was a life so much like one’s own, cut so tragically short. And why? Someone, surely, should want to know. Which is why the last word had such an impact. You.
The thought lingers. It might just as well have been ‘you’.
Rarely has an indication of what it costs – in human terms, that is – to keep ‘you’ safe, sent so clear a message. And got so prompt a response.
There were those who felt that the jawan’s characterization was too ‘sissy’, The sharpest criticism, however, is not that the crying-when Amitabh-dies bit appears incongruent with bravery (tough guys do have hearts and do produce tears), but that the pronouncement of certain-death expressed in the last two lines could demoralise a soldier who gets to see the ad.
Not everyone agreed. It works the other way round they felt. That’s what’s sacrifice is all about. Very few can do it. People with hearts and guts. In any case, the ad was not meant to spill over from it’s target audience.
And it’s evident that Capital didn’t just pull the character of a hat. The ad was created with true bleary-eyed emotion. Some of the team members come from army backgrounds and understand not only the trauma undergone by the loved ones of war martyrs, but also the callous attitudes of successive governments towards them.
Besides, what’s important is that the ad won the ‘unknown solder’ considerable empathy and met it’s fund collection objective.

(This was published in the Advertising and Marketing Magazine (A&M) under the title – Fodder For Thought. )


21 Comments leave one →
  1. August 15, 2007 11:59 am

    Happy Independence Day!

    Those are some powerful ads!

  2. August 15, 2007 12:35 pm


    WHAT REASON do we have to be happy?

    you have mentioned how many have died for the nation.They died for us,for us the somebodies,who sit and just think about their sacrifices,will we ever have the guts to go give up our life? don’t we think about our near and dear ones?i think we should realise that something has to be done,i know we will never have a world without war nor a world without death,but is it right to wish happy independence?

    btw madame
    take a look at this poem-here

  3. August 15, 2007 1:28 pm

    Excellent independence day post! We Indians, as a country, value human life cheaply, and given the abundance of human population, think that our soldiers are ‘dispensable’. That is why compared to the outrage in western countries over the number of their soldiers killed in battle, most Indians don’t even have an inkling of how many soldiers are involved in active conflict, on the Pak border, on Siachen, in the North Eastern states, and so on. We just take it for granted, because the soldier base comes primarily from lower income groups.

    This is probably true not just of India, but several countries. Some time back, I’d written a post on how Americans are obsessed with the American Idol show, and who the Real American Idol was for me. Though the post was specific to the American situation, my intent was generic and applied to all countries.

    Wounded soldiers in battle are not cared for adequately in Indian military hospitals. My extended family has personally sheltered some disabled and injured soldiers from the Kargil war. Their plight in the military medical hospitals was appalling. My cousin used to write letters to soldiers on the front, and you won’t believe how the soldiers felt and reciprocated.

    We all can do so much, in so many different ways. But we’re caught in our own routine way of life. It is advertising campaigns like these, that raise the awareness. Salute to the post!

  4. August 15, 2007 2:32 pm

    very touching Nita..
    wish you happy independence day.

  5. August 15, 2007 4:46 pm

    absolutely beautiful.
    happy independence day

  6. August 15, 2007 5:25 pm

    Happy Independence Day!

    I think these ads are great, largely because the evoke emotion. That, for me, is the hallmark of great advertising.

  7. August 15, 2007 5:59 pm

    Thanks for your wishes everyone. India is 60 years old and I am feeling sentimental and mushy…

  8. Anil permalink
    August 15, 2007 6:14 pm

    every time I read that Ad my eyes go moist and the hair stands on the back of my hand. Brilliant advertising? actually brilliant communication.

  9. August 15, 2007 7:21 pm

    What else is advertising, if not communication? 🙂

  10. Nil permalink
    August 15, 2007 7:44 pm

    Happy Independence Day to all out there. I can’t believe it’s been 60 years already! India has come a long way. The last decade has seen big changes to the economy, with India becoming increasingly industrialised and emerging as a big player in the world, now. My hope now is that the gap between rich and poor is addressed. That gap needs to be closed. I hope to see an equitable nation where the wealth is shared-out. Coupled with improvements of social well being.

  11. August 15, 2007 8:18 pm

    Happy Independence Day to you all!

    How great it is to see advertising that touches on a profound issue rather than trying to sell the latest in Jeans, shoes or other commodities. And these hit directly not only to the heart but the head – they are simply, brilliant. G

  12. August 15, 2007 8:29 pm

    Well success has different interpretations. For me India breaking out of the shackles and becoming a free economy is success, that we are the fastest growing economies in the World is success, that we have become an important factor in the IT revolution is success, that some of the richest people are Indians is success. I strongly believe that India grows younger at 60.

  13. August 15, 2007 9:12 pm

    Happy Independence Day… Its truly an Amazing Ad campaign
    I once got to meet an army officer in Train while travelling and i was praising the Army and the officers for what they are doing to us for making our lives Safe and for our Sound sleep we get every night… He listened to me and then said that Even people like us i.e Engineers, Doctors etc have been contributing a great deal to the country….
    This statement shows that even though they were doing great Sacrifice… They are still So without Pride of it…. With this incident.. The respect i had for the Army grew even Higher

  14. August 15, 2007 11:31 pm

    I may be getting the wrong impression, but is “Independence Day” considered India’s birthday? I know it’s a tremendously important day in Indian history, but India is one of the most ancient cultures on earth… is there another day on the calender celebrating the actual creation of India? Or does the day celebrate the creation of the current borders of India?

  15. August 16, 2007 12:09 am

    Gabriel, at midnight on 15th august India got freedom from British Rule. And before the British arrived, India as we know it today did not exist.
    Its past midnight now and so that makes it the 16th ..well, we got our independence 60 years ago, yesterday. Pakistan was born on the 14th of August because the British first carved Pakistan out of India.
    I guess I am going to write this comment and crash into bed!. I don’t usually stay up this late, but have been breaking my head over the post I am doing tomorrow…one on crime.

  16. August 16, 2007 1:05 am

    60 years. Now thats definitely an occasion to celebrate.

  17. August 16, 2007 1:17 am

    Happy Birthday.

  18. Karishma permalink
    August 20, 2007 12:19 am


    I’m speachless…

  19. jasi permalink
    August 15, 2009 10:49 am

    happy independence day…to all my fellow indian frnds all over the world…..thank u to those soldiers who sacrified their lives for us…..thank u…..

  20. vasudev permalink
    August 15, 2009 2:44 pm

    [He’s gone to die for a stranger.
    And that stranger is you]

    sorry to disagree. in all the three wars which preceded kargil he went to die for a group of strangers and those strangers were the prime minister, the defence minister and the home minister. please do not pass on the sin to us poor citizens. we never wanted war and when we did win wars finally, at the cost of so many of us in unifirm, we never wanted what we had gained to be signed away as charity.

  21. divya sharma permalink
    January 23, 2011 11:54 am

    i m specless just like evrone……………………..

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