The client was an unheard-of sports shoe brand – Tuff Shoes. They had some export surplus shoes and needed to liquidate them too. Also, a small brand that was trying to counter foreign brands like Reebok and large Indian players like Action.
They approached Ambience for their advertising. Phoenix (the owner of Tuff) wanted to bring out the fashion quotient of Tuff shoes.
Since there were very limited budgets, Ambience decided to go the print route.
Elsie Nanji had been impressed by the photographs that had been shot in black and white by late American photographers Herb Ritts and Robert Mapplethorpe. She and her team had decided on a six ad series in black and white. Prabuddha Dasgupta was mandated to shoot as he was familiar with the style.
Prabuddha and Elsie together chose Madhu Sapre and Milind Soman to model for the campaign. Milind was a national-level swimmer and Madhu was a national-level discus thrower. It also helped that they also happened to be dating at the time. They were chosen for their athletic prowess as much as for their personality as the shoes were sports shoes! In an indirect way, strength and toughness could be communicated.
The campaign included pictures of Milind, posing on a cement pedestal and another where Madhu is posing with a discus as if she were a statue. Some shots were in their swimming costumes and so on.
Elsie was thinking of an Adam and Eve sort of creative in the campaign. Prabuddha, while shooting, was impressed by the shots he had taken of Madhu and Milind. He commented that their bodies looked great, and they looked great together. He asked them whether they would shoot an ad in the buff, to which the models had no issues.
Phoenix was delighted by the campaign and they were happy to do the ads because they had nothing to lose.
And that one ad created all the hullabaloo!
The Tuff campaign delivered a result far beyond imagination. It shocked many and to be fair many supported the ad. Tuff advertising cut through the Reebok and Indian brand dominated market, and made the brand very visible.
It showed Tuff to be a cool, with-it and young brand with a daring attitude (around that time, the effect of reforms had set in and Indian youth were in a hurry). Reebok was selling fitness and Tuff was selling attitude
What Ambience & Tuff did was far ahead of its times and was an aesthetic execution. The creative cannot be faulted. But it did not help the brand.
However, today the campaign would have garnered millions of likes on Instagram.