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  • Writer's pictureKanhaiya Maheshwary

How Paper Boat Drinks built a brand on nostalgia!

The sense of nostalgia that comes from reminiscing the 80s and 90s is simply unmatched. We are transported into a time when life was uncomplicated, and when we would derive joy from the simplest of things such as sneaking into the neighbor's orchard to pluck mangoes, visiting grandparents during the summers, watching re-runs of Malgudi Days on DD. We were content with less, and life felt great! Here's a meme I've created to describe the kids of that era -

Birth of Hector Beverages

It was a realization of the importance of this nostalgia to Neeraj Kakkar, the founder of Hector Beverages, which led to the creation of Paper Boat drinks. Back in 2009 when the energy drinks market had taken off in India, Neeraj and his business partners left Coca Cola to start their own company. After all, they believed they had everything for the makings of a successful startup - MBA degrees from Wharton and what-not, experience at one of the world's largest FMCGs and that too in an industry that they wanted to do a startup in, and a chance to capitalize upon the early acceptance of energy drinks in India. Thus was born Tzinga, which was priced at just 20% of the cost of RedBull. The company eventually diversified by introducing Vitamin Water.

The Big Idea

Neeraj Kakkar would carry the home-made Aam Panna, a traditional Indian cooling drink made out of green mangoes (raw mangoes) and usually enjoyed during summers, to the office. And it would be so good that he and his business partners would fight over it. When one of the 4 business partners, an American called James Nutall, couldn't get enough of it and asked the others where he could buy it from, they realized that it's one of those things that was never commercialized. And thus was born Paper Boat, a drink that would take millions of Indians on a joyride back to the past.

Marketing & Branding

Paper Boat's biggest challenge was getting a robust marketing strategy in place in order to reflect the brand ethos of nostalgia and reminiscing the 90s. Every activity that they would do essentially had to tie-in with each other seamlessly in order to give out the same message, and help amplify it through consistency. Let's take a look at how it achieved in doing that.


The name Paper Boat arose out of a favorite monsoon activity that the kids of 80s and 90s have grown up doing - making paper boats during the rainy season and sailing them in tiny puddles. The brand name conjures up an image of those fun, playful evenings when having your boat travel farther than your friends' would be as thrilling as it could get.


Paper Boat kept it very direct and simple - "Drinks and Memories". The tagline tells you that this drink will take you a trip down memory lane. You don't need more than these 3 words to get the brand message across.

Packaging Design

Besides the product itself, something that set this product apart is its innovative packaging. Until Paper Boat arrived, drinks were mostly available in tetrapak packaging, cans, or glass and plastic bottles. But Paper Boat introduced this space-packaging, which is essentially a type of design that astronauts use to carry liquids into space. It is immediately distinguishable due to its pear-shape. Besides, the use of vibrant colors and imagery is very reminiscent of a fun childhood.

Target Audience & Customer Centricity

Getting the target audience right is one of the most critical decisions of any company, and Hector Beverages got it absolutely spot on for Paper Boat. The brand nailed its target audience by defining them as 25-40 year olds who might be in different stages of their lives right from starting a first job to having young kids. Most likely, they have moved away from their home towns or don't get to visit their grandparents as often, and hence, don't get to enjoy those childhood drinks anymore.

Everything that Paper Boat did was keeping in mind this consumer persona, as you will see below in the various marketing activities.


Paper Boat introduced the drinks in 9 year-round flavors, and some seasonal ones. The year round ones include Aam-Panna, Jamun Kala Khatta, Kokum etc. As you can see, they cater to both the North Indian as well as the South Indian taste palette. The seasonal ones include Thandai and Sharbat-e-Khaas for summers, and Ginger Lemon tea for monsoons among various others. All in all, it covers a range of flavors in order to cater to all the moods and seasons that we have grown up enjoying.


The first piece of communication that you put out is very critical. After all, it builds a customer's first impression about your brand and helps them understand what your brand is all about. Paper Boat got this absolutely right by playing on nostalgia and familiarity. The TV ad had the famous poet-lyricist Gulzar with his grandfather like soothing and baritone voice narrating moments that all of us have lived through. The ad opened with the shot of a kid sailing a Paper Boat in a small canal, and went on to talk about taking sitting on your grandfather's tummy to listen to his folklores, that thrill of getting a new geometry box, and many that invoked memories galore. The ad ended with the oh-so-familiar flute music from the theme of Malgudi Days - A masterstroke, indeed!

Print Ad

Paper Boat's print ads remind you of the childhood comics you have grown up with, such as Tinkle, Chanda Mama, and Champak. Besides the style of illustration, the content features slices of life that we have all experienced and been a part of, right from sitting on the briefcase trunk while waiting for trains at the railway platform to the excitement on the first day of school. Here are a few ads from the series -

1. Plucking mangoes during the summer

2. That rare visit to the school's staff room!

3. Enjoying samosas and adrak-chai on a rainy day

4. Sitting on the briefcase trunk while waiting for the outstation train

Social Media Posts

The social media posts amplified the communication that Paper Boat was giving out in other media. They played on familiarity, and got a lot of engagement:

An Instagram post talking about the days of science fair at schools!

Your entire summer packaged into an image - making swords from old cardboards, building castles in the sand, those temporary tattoos found in the wrapper of chewing gums, and much more!

Paper Boat's Success

It's no surprise that ever since its launch, Paper Boat has been growing steadily. In just the last 3 years, it has grown from posting INR 69 crores (INR 690 Million) in 2017, to INR 118 Crores in 2018, and finally INR 189 Crores in 2019! They aim to cross INR 200 Crores in 2020.

Do you have any favorite childhood memory from the 80s or 90s? Drop them in the comments!

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