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  • Writer's pictureKanhaiya Maheshwary

7 Classic Marketing Tropes from the 1990s - Marketing Nostalgia

You must have noticed that I like to take a trip down the memory lane ever so often. This is because I truly believe that Indian advertising and marketing industry came of age in the 1990s. The strategies and tactics employed back then were highly effective in driving sales and creating a whole another level of stickiness. These days, despite all the technology for analyzing customer behavior and predicting returns to the last cent or rupee, somehow marketing doesn't quite resonate with me. But the sales promotion activities back in the 90s seemed so unique and interesting that we would invariably find ourselves being drawn to the stores to buy those products again and again.

Let's take a look at some classic marketing tropes from the 1990s:


We were simple people back then living in simpler times, enjoying easy-going existence, and being overjoyed at the prospect of collectibles. These came in various different types -


Temporary tattoos were one of the greatest ploys by chewing gum companies to get us to consume much more than we'd care for. I remember having made up reasons like "it helps cleanse the teeth" but of course, while I thought I was being smart, my parents always knew better just like everyone else's parents. Still, they always let us buy Fusen Gum and Boomer! I never really liked Boomer, honestly. I thought that was how rubber tasted like, but I anyways brought it for the tattoos, because Fusen Gum cost 2.5X more!


Who can forget those discs that we'd play with and collect hordes of in order to make our friends and siblings jealous! The success of these small discs, about twice the size of a currency coin, was so much that it single handedly increased the consumption of Cheetos and Ruffles Lays (back then it was still owned by Ruffles) surged massively. This concept was introduced by a Mexican by the name of Pedro Padierna, the then VP of a Mexican snacks company known as Sabritas. Perdo was reminiscing collecting cards as a kid with one of his colleagues Fabian de la Paz when this idea of putting something as addictive inside the packet of chips struck him.

I remember my brother had collected enough of these Space Jam tazos and send it back to the Lays company. They sent back all the tazos with a tazo album holder where we could arrange and store the tazos neatly.

Badminton Racquets

I don't have any hard statistics on this but if I take the sample size for this experiment as my immediate neighborhood, I can safely say that these freebie racquets that came with the purchase of malted milk powders like Bournvita, Horlicks, and Boost were responsible for many kids taking up this game actively.

Cartoon Toys

McDonald's was a pioneer when it came to giving away toys as goodies. It's said that the idea came from one of their advertising executives Bob Bernstein. The first happy meal was served in the US in 1979. McDonald's came to India in 1996, but I remember it having Happy Meals right since the beginning. McDonald's had set a pretty high standard which frankly no one else was able to emulate. And McDonald's kept it going by getting the best of co-branded toys right from Star Wars to Disney characters.

Puzzles / Cards

Even our beloved 'sweet' cigarettes came with a free game inside each pack. It either used to be a puzzle, or a card featuring the image of an Indian actor / actress along with some fun horoscope.

Scratch and Win

Scratch and Win was a very popular marketing gimmick wherein you would have to purchase a product in order to either find something inside the wrapper, under the crown in case of beverages, or receive a scratch booklet. To be honest, while most of these simply said "Try Again", even we kept doing so in the hope that some day we will be lucky. And at least 1 in 10 time, we would be lucky to get another free product, or Rs. 5 or 10 off on the next purchase! The gossip mill would be ripe with stories of a "friend of friend" who won a motorcycle or a car, but we'd never know who this person was. I have a good reason to believe these rumors were also a part of the marketing gimmick, planted by these FMCG companies via our local storekeepers!

Booklets / Coupons

This one is from the famous Britannia Khao World Cup Jao campaign, on which I've written my first blog of this entire series!

Collect all - Under the Crown / On Ice Cream Sticks

These schemes would urge you to 'build' an entire product such as a motorbike or car by collecting various soft drink crowns or ice cream sticks which had designs drawn on them. However, rumor had it that one region (say western India, or central India) would never be supplied with all the crowns or sticks sufficient to complete the required puzzle. Most often than not, you would be greeted with the usual 'try again'.

With marketers having all pervasive ways to reach their customers today, I only wish they could come up with some strategies that could emotionally bind us and get us invested in the sales promotion. We are getting too hung up on data and analytics, and it is at the cost of thinking about ways to directly touch the customers' souls.

Can you remember anything that I might have missed out on? Feel free to add in the comments section.

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