Why Indians secretly hate Campa Cola and Ambassador

Shivaji Dasgupta, Managing Director, Inexgro Brand Advisory, writes about why banking on nostalgia isn't always necessarily going to work in the favour of companies looking to relaunch products

Shivaji Dasgupta
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Why Indians secretly hate Campa Cola and Ambassador

Most recently, in a spurt of nostalgia acquisition, Reliance decided to relaunch the indigenous cola while a French auto giant is all set to resurrect the once omnipresent automobile trademark. Although I do suspect that contrary to the popular narrative, brands as such enjoy negligible equity in the minds of modern customers, unless aided by a comprehensive Botox overhaul.

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The most obvious reason for the above thinking is naturally the exceptional time gap between their actual tenure and the present day, which means that a large section of the consuming classes are unaware of their relevance or even existence. Campa Cola was the outcome of George Fernandes banishing Coca Cola in 1977 and the dramatic comeback of the same along with the onset of Pepsi effectively led to its obsolescence from the mid 1990’s.

Thus, the bulk of the cola consuming classes were not even born when the franchise died and thus there is no question of any residual legacy, unless sourced from family conversations or textbook learnings. 

For the Ambassador, the story is fairly similar as post the Maruti 800 success in the mid-eighties, which led to the floodgates opening for global giants, the Ambassador ceased to be a genuine B2C vehicle, existing as taxis in various formats. So, while the millennial auto buyers are at least familiar with the brand experience, that actually is a double-edged sword as in terms of styling, performance or reliability, it consistently fell short of its dynamic peers. Thus, as per available surveys, this one-time indispensability hovers between avoidability and indifference, amongst modern vehicle users across age cohorts. 

But then, you may arguably question whether these are sufficient stimuli for Indians to secretly hate outdated brands like Ambassador and Campa Cola? The real reason for such an overwhelming yet understated emotion is actually the consumption culture of the pre-liberalisation era, where limited choice and artificial scarcities dictated our shopping baskets.

When Coca Cola was expelled in 1977, the cola customers of that era detested the decision but there were clearly no social media handles to amplify the disgust over sub-optimal alternatives like 77, Thril and the Campa range. In an era where consuming a soft drink was a considerable indulgence, the default brands became enforced friendships, swiftly dumped when the big guys came to play. 

The frustrations about the Ambassador, as an under-performer, were even more rampant as our hard-earned savings were being looted by third rate engineering and incorrigible waiting periods, and its famed ‘suitability’ for Indian conditions is now busted as pathetic urban legend.

Its easy repairability across the country was an ironic confession of its incompetence, acknowledging a ridiculously high breakdown rate. In fact, the warm fireside family tales about the car reveal a strain of the Stockholm Syndrome, where an entire nation in automotive captivity became attached to the hostage taker from Uttarpara, West Bengal. Maruti was the first to rescue us with a world-class driving experience and the subsequent deluge rapidly removed the Ambassador from middle class cognisance, demoted to a largely B2B product. 

So, to both Reliance and the French automaker, here is my professional submission. It is way more prudent and simpler to build fresh brand credentials for forays in colas and electric vehicles (as per early reports) respectively, as the rules of customer engagement have changed dramatically. In fact, any serious association with such brands can actually damage the potential of the new avatars, in both cases betraying an organic skew towards the dynamic youth, who clearly are not impressed by such black and white cinematic references. Of course, if somebody was considering a limited-edition retro experience, say an Ambassador museum (like the Trabant in Germany), or a 1960’s theme restaurant or even memorabilia, that would possibly work, as a quirky niche proposition. But it is unfeasible to expect scalable mainstream experiences to remotely benefit from such retrograde contexts, in this metaverse age. 

To conclude, there are two kinds of nostalgia brands in the universe, static nostalgia and dynamic nostalgia. Static nostalgia operates in the realm of anecdotal reminiscences, enriching to narrate but not appropriate or desirable to consume in the current age. This includes Dalda, unreserved train journeys, the Indian Airlines monopoly, HMT, Doordarshan, sweaty single screen theatres and naturally, our two subjects.

While dynamic nostalgia operates in the arena of time conquering relevance, attractive as both consumables and stories due to relentless customer centricity. This certainly includes Coca Cola, Horlicks, Britannia, Amul and arguably, Maruti. 

The new brand owners of Campa Cola and Ambassador will be well-advised to invest in state-of-art brand experiences, based on new age insights, and expect nothing positive, except token PR, to emanate from historical associations. Then, to infuse fresh meaning to these trademarks, as if newly minted babies in a deeply competitive consumer economy, born to be loved.  

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and we do not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

ambassador Inexgro Brand Advisory Shivaji Dasgupta Campa Cola