Reading about Grant McCann Erickson celebrating their 55th anniversary, I recollected the days when I worked closely with them several decades ago. The name then was Grant Advertising. It was the early 1970s. I had moved over from Lever Brothers to Ceylon Tobacco Company (CTC) to handle communications (the word was hardly used then, we talked of ‘advertising and promotions’). I covered both brand and corporate communications.
CTC had six brands at that time; three filter brands, two plain brands and one mentholated. Advertising, however, was limited to just three with Grants handling Gold Leaf and Bristol, and de Alwis Advertising looking after Three Roses and Four Aces. The two agencies had been founded by the two ‘elder statesmen’ of the country’s ad industry, Grants, by Reggie Candappa, and the other by Anadatissa de Alwis.
The two contact persons known as account executives who coordinated the work were Asoka Jayasundera from Grants and Lucky Dias from de Alwis. Both ‘chiefs’ along with other key men from the agency joined the major discussions generally held at CTC. Both men being so genial and amiable, those discussions went beyond strict business meetings with a lot of banter.
Marketing Advisor from BAT Neil Davy and Marketing Manager Ernie Weerasinghe (who later became Marketing Director and now domiciled in USA) and the Market Research Manager Quintus Gunawardena, (he migrated to Canada where he passed away after a few years) were present at these discussions.
Bristol was the key brand at the time most of my time was spent planning and implementing both media advertising and outdoor promotions for the brand. Unlike today, avenues for publicity were extremely limited. There were no facilities for colour adverting, colour could only be used on in-store material like posters and show cards, and outdoor hoardings. With no television around, we made commercials to be screened in cinemas. Cinema slides were another popular form of advertising.
The highly successful Grants campaign for Bristol made the brand grow considerably. The theme was ‘Bristol belongs to the world of today’ and the key brand qualities highlighted were ‘Right size, right price, right taste’. No other copy was used. The simple, straightforward message was accepted by the customers and the brand just took off.
Bristol was linked to sports. Cricket was one sport which gained immensely from Bristol sponsorships. In fact, in the 70s there wasn’t a single other corporate coming into sponsor cricket. When a foreign team visited Sri Lanka, Grants designed the publicity materials and the ground materials were turned out by the company’s merchandising department.
I made it a point to be with the merchandising team throughout the operations when they set up the materials at the grounds both in Colombo and Kandy, going late into the night. It was ‘Bristol’ right round the grounds. The score board had Bristol branding. Enclosure boards, directional signs, ‘A’ boards, kiosks, sales boys in branded t-shirts, caps, all featured Bristol. These were the simple terms we used at a time when today’s sophisticated marketing jargon was unknown.
When discussing campaigns, it was a treat to watch Reggie C.’s instant reactions and coming out with ideas scribbling them on the white drawing paper pad he used to bring with him. I distinctly remember one incident. The ban on smoking, started when the Health Ministry stopped smoking in cinemas. An urgent meeting was summoned to discuss the issue.
As the discussion progressed Reggie C. started scribbling something. He had created a cinema slide. ‘No smoking—Not even a Bristol’ it said. It was a brilliant idea. Quickly the slides were made and released to the cinemas. If I remember right, we used the Bristol pack on the slide since there was no restriction on cigarette advertising.
Reggie C. had a good creative team led by Garreth Jayawardena who had returned from the UK, after studies. A man of few words, he was extremely talented. After he left Grants and formed his own agency Garads Advertising, we moved Gold Leaf to give him.
It’s so encouraging to see Neela, who was then growing up and walking into the father’s room occasionally, continuing the hard work Reggie C. put in building up the agency, a fitting tribute to a pioneer who will be remembered for a long time to come.