In the mid-1980s, the Luna moped from the Pune-based Kinetic Group was a popular brand on Indian roads – a low-cost two-wheeler that helped bicycle riders upgrade to a better mode of transport. It was sleek, stylish, sported a chrome body and had both a regular as well as a pedal kick start – all of this indigenously built – and considered a hallmark of Indian innovation and manufacturing at that point.
Luna’s creator Arun Firodia says the moped tasted success quite quickly after its 1972 launch partly because it was marketed well and partly because there was nothing like it before. By the mid-1980s, Luna was amongst the leading players in its category, he says.
Yet, Firodia, son of Kinetic Group founder H K Firodia, yearned for more. Luna had been promoted in the 1970s and early 1980s as an affordable Indian product that could be used by anybody, anywhere, be it students or working adults, men or women.
Besides conventional advertising featuring actors such as Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil in the 1970s, Firodia also plugged Luna at cricket matches and in schools. He gave the moped as a trophy to the “Man of the Match” winner at key domestic cricket tournaments and to topppers of the State Secondary School Certificate, or SSC board examination, in states such as Maharashtra where the Kinetic Group was based.
“Players such as Sandeep Patil, Chandrashekar and many others, who played national cricket in the 1970s, were winners of a Luna,” Firodia, now 70, who is chairman of the Kinetic Group, and the author of the recently-released book “Innovation on Two Wheels”, says. “One of the winners was also Tony Greig, the first international player to get a Luna, which he donated to a charity,” Firodia reminisces.
The second part of this marketing exercise in the 1970s and 80s was placing the brand in films – something that Firodia knew had to be done owing to the popularity and reach of Bollywood. “In the Hindi film Gopichand Jasoos, released in 1982, actor Raj Kapoor, who plays the role of a private detective, can be seen riding a Luna,” Firodia, says. “It featured in other Hindi and language films as well including Tamil movies,” he adds owing to Luna’s popularity in southern states.
For all this marketing effort, which helped propel the brand to the top spot in the first 12 or13 years of its existence, Firodia felt it was time to make the next leap in communication. “We wanted an ad campaign that wasn’t gender or caste-specific. In other words, we did not want a campaign that addressed a South Indian or a North Indian or for that matter someone from the west or the east of the country. Instead, we wanted a campaign that talked to every customer located in any part of the country,” Firodia said.
This wasn’t easy. Firodia had been working with a few local agencies (such as Blaze Advertising in Mumbai and Tom & Day in Pune) to market the Luna. “Blaze had produced some of film-maker Shyam Benegal’s feature films and was also big in the cinema advertising space. So we used them during the 1970s. In the 1980s, we used Tom & Day for our advertising work,” Firodia says.
But the need for a stand-out ad campaign is what prompted Firodia to appoint ad agency Ogilvy & Mather (around 1984/85) to work on Luna and found himself dealing with a young copywriter called Piyush Pandey from the agency. “This was his [Pandey’s] first assignment and we found him very down-to-earth and connected to his roots. He wasn’t scared to think in Indian terms, which was not the norm back then,” he says.
“Characters such as Ram Murari, a government employee, Ravi Kumar, a trader, and Radha, a medical student, who were part of the campaign, were people viewers could relate to. They had issues of time management, wanted to strike a work-life balance and at the same time desired to excel in life, academics and business. We put Luna into these situations and showed how these characters could achieve their dreams with a little help from the moped, who could take them to work or to college or from one place to another quickly. It worked with consumers,” Firodia says.
For the workhorse that Luna was positioned as the tagline Chal Meri Luna (or Come on, Luna in English) seemed apt. It was inspired from the popular children’s song Chal Mere Ghode Tick Tick Tick from the 1959 movie Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan. “All the elements fell in place well – characters from everyday life, who had problems like any of us, a product that could help them achieve want they wanted and a tagline that was likeable and connected with our need to position Luna as a solutions provider,” says Firodia.
The Chal Meri Luna ad campaign, according to advertising experts, was a precursor to the 1990s wave of Indian advertising that used the local language and idiom to the hilt to communicate a brand message. Piyush Pandey and his creative team at O&M was at the centre of this new wave, bringing out ads for Fevicol and Asian Paints in the 1990s that celebrated life, culture and habits the Indian way.
“Before Luna, most ads in general on print or TV largely appealed to an elite, English-speaking audience and were too western in their tastes. In many respects, Chal Meri Luna broke barriers, making advertising accessible, allowing more people to enjoy it because it was in Hindi and the characters were eminently relatable,” says K V Sridhar, chief creative officer at digital agency Sapient Nitro.
Prahlad Kakkar, ad film-maker, who worked on a few ad films for Luna in the 1970s, says, “Chal Meri Luna appealed to the middle classes and positioned the Luna as one who could filfill their needs. In that sense, it was both functional and aspirational, which is why it worked and there were long waiting periods for the Luna.”
Thanks to Chal Meri Luna, the brand extended its reign at the top for another decade. By the 1990s, the moped market was declining rapidly, barring a few pockets in the south and west of the country, overtaken by high-performance motor bikes. By the first decade of the current century, Kinetic had exited the moped market in India, and the Luna brand exited with it. But for consumers of a certain age, that tagline endures.