Today is Rabindranath Tagore’s 74th death anniversary. Asian Lite News pays tributes to Tagore with a special article. Tagore’s glitzy trysts with advertisements ….writes Anurag Dey
“I know of no foreign soaps better than Godrej’s and I will make a point of using it.” Well, the words are not of a beautiful woman endorsing a toiletry rather of a polymath who reshaped Bengali literature and music and composed the national anthem of India, as also the one Bangladesh adopted after it came into being.
It may be unusual to associate the heavily-bearded and monastic looking Rabindranath Tagore with endorsing soaps and hair oil, but the Nobel laureate, over a span of five decades, did appear in hundreds of advertisements.
Much like his rich, diverse and vast literary and musical oeuvre,Tagore’s creations in the ad-world too covered a wide variety of products, including books, stationery, medicines, cosmetics, food products and musical instruments.
The advertisements appeared mostly in magazines and journals like Basumati, Calcutta Municipal Gazette, Bhandar, Sadhana et al and in newspapers like Ananda Bazar Patrika, Amritabazar Patrika and The Statesman.
“It began with publishers asking Tagore to give a brief introduction about his books which they used in newspapers to promote them. Subsequently it became a trend as others too urged him to pen a few lines about their products,” Tagore researcher Arun Kumar Roy said.
“Starting of in 1889 with the promoting a collection of his songs, till his death in 1941, Tagore is estimated to have appeared in at least a few hundred advertisements,” Roy said.
Having won the National Film Award for Best Book on Cinema for his “Rabindranath O Chalachithra”, Roy has been working on this lesser known facet of the bard for over a decade and is coming out with a book titled “Rabindranath O Vigyapan” (Tagore and Advertisements).
Unlike the modern day brand ambassadors who charge a fortune to endorse a product, it is not known whether Tagore sought huge monetary benefits, rather his main motive was to push the Swadeshi or nationalist agenda.
Promoting Radium Snow, Tagore wrote: “Those who use beauty products like snow, cream and perfumery products like eau de cologne will find the products manufactured by the Radium factory not so different from foreign products.”
There are a host of advertisements in which the creator of “Gitanajali” has written effusively about indigenous companies and their products, hailing them as better than their foreign competitors.
The Godrej soap ad featured Tagore’s photograph and appeared in a host of newspapers across the country.
Another Tagore researcher, Pabitra Sarkar, attributed “patriotism” to Tagore appearing in the endorsements.
“Almost all the companies or products that he endorsed were by indigenous companies who struggled to compete with foreign or established brands. He considered it his duty to support the Swadeshi enterprises,” said Sarkar .
Tagore, however, did appear in an ad of Bournvita – a chocolate beverage manufactured by British multinational Cadbury.
It was not only commodities, but the name and fame of Asia’s first Nobel laureate was used by individuals as well. For instance, Amar Krishna Ghosh, who contested the local board election of the Reserve Bank in 1935, came up with ads containing Tagore’s blessings.
“I wish the success of Amar Krishna Ghosh in the Reserve Bank’s local board elections,” Tagore wrote.
There were many instances where he was indirectly involved in advertisements with people using ‘brand Tagore’ for promoting themselves.
“Immediately after Tagore renounced his knighthood in response to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919, a fruit juice vendor in the city came out with a quirky ad using the bard’s name.
“Tagore has given up his knighthood but can you afford to give up drinking our fruit juices”, this punch line created quite a buzz among the people,” said Roy.
Had TagoreAbeen alive today, his brand value could have run into crores of rupees, giving a run for their money to big shot endorsers, leading ad guru Prahlad Kakkar said.
“Brand ambassadors are chosen on their ability to connect with the masses at large. Who could have been a better person than Tagore himself whose connect was the world over right from the elite down to the common man,” Kakkar told IANS.
“Most of the celebrity endorsers are movie stars or sportspersons. Had Tagore been alive today he could have been the biggest endorser, giving a run for their money to the Sachin Tendulkars and Shah Rukh Khans,” Kakkar added.
Tagore who left an indelible mark in the field of music, also used his creativity to promote record companies and firms selling musical instruments. One of them was Dwarkin & Son – one of the oldest companies in India and credited with inventing the Indian harmonium.
He also had endorsed insurance companies including the Hindusthan Co-Operative Insurance Society Limited floated by the Tagore family in 1919, for which he used to canvass regularly.
Lamenting the lack of resources on this aspect of Tagore, Roy hoped his book will create interests among people to come up with more research.