Iconic Ads: Royal Stag – Make It Large

The interesting background on Royal Stag’s ‘Make it Large’ tagline and campaign and how it all started

Royal Stag has been one of the most interesting stories of my career in advertising. It was the early 2000s, and I was working at Ogilvy’s Delhi office. My art partner at that time was Sudip Bandyopadhyay, and he and I worked on Blenders Pride, a whiskey brand from Seagram, among a few other accounts.

Blenders Pride was a brand that was struggling against the onslaught of the then market leader at that price point, Royal Challenge. The brand’s tagline was ‘Taste that speaks for itself’. We were given the task of reinterpreting the positioning while retaining the line. We came up with a fashion-based campaign that seemed to resonate with consumers and turned the brand’s fortunes around.

At around the same time, other teams from Ogilvy Delhi were also working on Royal Stag. The brand had stopped growing and that was a cause for huge concern to the management at the client’s side. Given the criticality of Royal Stag in the fortunes of Seagram as a company, they decided to put it up for a pitch.

Obviously, senior staff at Ogilvy went into damage control mode and asked Seagram for one last crack at the campaign. Sumeet Lamba, the Head of Marketing at Seagram (Now Pernod Ricard), agreed on the condition that, given our recent success with Blenders Pride, Sudip and I worked on the campaign.

Senior management at Ogilvy was naturally dismayed at this demand since in those enlightened times clients did not dictate the internal processes of their agencies.
However, Lamba, an uncompromising, sharp and extremely demanding client refused to back down and said it was the two of us or nothing. Of course, the agency relented.
Lamba called myself and Sudip to his cabin and briefed us.

As I recollect it the brief was simple enough. The consumer was a whiskey drinker. And therefore in a stage of life where he aspired to progress and the bigger things in life. ‘Find a simple articulation for that,’ said Sumeet. ‘You have to crack it,’ he added with an impish grin, ‘because your bosses are very upset with me for asking for you two.

Always a man to nudge, needle and challenge his agency partners to perform at their best he said, ‘so shall we meet the day after tomorrow with the campaign?!’

It was unthinkable for a brand campaign to be turned around in less than 2-3 weeks those days. But flush with the success of Blenders Pride and the rashness of youth I said, ‘Why wait until the day after Sumeet, we’ll be back tomorrow.’ Sumeet raised his eyebrows and said ‘I like that. Look forward to seeing the new campaign.’ I remember walking out feeling very nervous and regretting my rash promise to Sumeet. When I expressed my worries, Sudip, ever confident and positive, said in full Sholay style, ‘‘Ab bol hi diya hai partner toh dekh lenge!’

I wish I could relate stories about the immense internal struggle and gargantuan mental efforts that were made to crack the campaign. The solution was perhaps the most effortless that I have experienced in my whole career. Our cab drove out of the client’s office which those days was in the Global Business Park in Gurgaon and even before we reached the Delhi border check post, a distance of 200 metres, I had the line ‘Make It Large’ spring, fully formed and glorious, to mind.

Excitedly I shared it with Sudip and Sohini Pani who was the account management person on the job. Consummate professionals that the two of them were, they instantly warmed up to it. All three of us instinctively knew that THIS was the line, and we needed to look no further.

We reached the office and discussed the campaign threadbare. In a flurry of feverish activity, Sudip created a look for the campaign. We came up with a few films and by evening we were ready for the presentation on the morrow.

I called Sumeet and told him we had cracked the campaign and that the brand was set to take off into the stratosphere. Lamba chuckled and said, ‘I’ll be the judge of that, but I love your excitement.’

Needless to say, Sumeet Lamba and his entire team (including the flamboyant Bikram Basu who was to take over Lamba’s role a couple of years later) loved the campaign and helped us push it through with his boss Param Oberoi. To be fair Param was a brilliant man and understood the value of the campaign so it didn’t need much pushing. The only thing Sumeet said to us before presenting it to Param was ‘Do not belabour the point that the word ‘large’ fits both the consumer’s aspirations and the whiskey (as in large peg). Param is a CEO. He’s intelligent enough to get it!

We shot a couple of films with Saif Ali Khan and an upcoming, new model called Katrina Kaif. Since the line was just being launched those films were simple and literal magnifications of the word ‘Large’.

Featured here is a TVC from 2007

With time, and as the brand evolved and grew, the interpretation of the word ‘large’ metamorphosed into an adjective describing the consumer’s aspirations and hopes. Gradually evolving from the physical to the metaphorical.

It has been nearly twenty years since that day when Sudip, Sohini and I clapped and hooted like maniacs and gave each other high fives in excitement at having stumbled upon a diamond-like ‘Make it Large’.

Much water and Royal Stag, has flown under the bridge since then. I have learned that an advertising tagline is not just a bunch of words. It is a magical incantation that can, genie-like, transform the fortunes of a brand and create an un-dreamt of value for brands and their holding companies. Every time I see someone drinking Royal Stag, I smile to myself and wonder what role I might have played in his choice of whiskey.

Sudip & I drank Royal Stag for years, eschewing fancier whiskies even though we could afford them. It was a badge of honour for us to enjoy the brand we had helped build.

Now that I’m older I can no longer Make it Large.
So I make it lager.

As recollected by Ajay Gahlaut – thanks so much Ajay

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