Brand Saga: This one’s to Dharampal Gulati’s – the man, the legend, the brand

MDH Masala advertising journey

Spicing up our lives for almost ten decades, MDH Masala has stood the test of time just like its owner Late Mahashay Dharampal Gulati. We divulge into secrets to the success of MDH Masala advertising journey.

This morning another shocker made headlines pan India. The 97-year-old owner of iconic spices brand, MDH Masala breathed his last. Lovingly called as ‘Dadaji’, late Mahashay Dharampal Gulati was all things supreme, intelligent with great business acumen and a brand in himself. Serving as the company’s mascot since its inception, MDH Masala was equipped with a strong marketing strategy with Gulati at the helm. Revisiting the MDH Masala advertising journey this week, we commemorate the passion and devotion of Dharampal Gulati for making the brand reach great heights of success.

It should also be noted that at the age of 94, Dharam Pal was the highest-paid FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) CEO in India in 2017. Dharampal Gulati of MDH took home over INR 21 crores as salary last fiscal. The man was honored by Padma Bhushan for his incredible contribution to the world of Trade in March 2019.

MDH Masala – The Humble Beginnings

The story dates back to when the borders of India and Pakistan weren’t separated to form different nations.  In 1919, when the British Raj was in full swing, in the town of Sialkot, India (currently located in the Punjab province of Pakistan since 1947), Mahashay Chunni Lal Gulati set up the masala company sensing the immense fondness of Indians for spices.

After the partition, Chunni Lal’s family migrated from Pakistan to India and spent some time at a refugee camp in Amritsar. His son Dharampal, along with his brother-in-law, then moved to Delhi where he bought a ‘Tonga’ with the money his father lent him. Since the horse-drawn carriage business was “not moving fast”, Dharampal sold the carriage and in a quest to expand his father’s business, opened a shop in a shack in the capital city.

Courtesy: MDH

During 1953, as a business for ground spices grew, Dharampal rented another shop in Chandni Chowk (first modern spice store in Delhi)—an inspiration Gulati took from visiting Bombay to get an idea about the interiors. He later also purchased a plot in Kirti Nagar (1959) to start his own factory, which ultimately led to the inception of Mahashian Di Hatti Limited (MDH) (literally translated as the respected man’s shop) popularly known as ‘Deggi Mirch Wale‘ people.


Since then there was no looking back. Investing a considerable amount of his time and funds in the business, Dharmpal Gulati ensured that the company becomes one of the leading spices manufacturers in India. Today MDH spices and blends are popular not just in India but also around the world and the products are being exported to the United States of America, Canada, United Kingdom, Europe, South East Asia, Japan, U.A.E., and Saudi Arabia. The company has its own offices in London (U.K.) and a state of art manufacturing unit in Sharjah (U.A.E.).

One of the prime factors for his successful stint at building a legacy of INR 2000 crore spice empire, according to Gulati, was that the company stayed true to its values and delivered the promise for serving quality with quantity. In an interview with The Economic Times he has stated, “My motivation to work is being sincere in product quality sold at affordable prices. And nearly 90% of my salary goes to a charity in my personal capacity.”

MDH claims to take special care in selecting the raw material for the ground single spices category. This provides the consumer with spices made from the choicest raw material maintaining the highest processing standards.

At present, MDH is home to a range of 62 products including Meat Masala, Kasoori Methi, Garam Masala, Rajma Masala, Shahi Paneer Masala, Dal Makhani Masala, Sabzi Masala,  available in more than 150 packages, designed to cater to the varied needs of consumers all over the world.


MDH Masala Advertising Journey

Spices have a long and ancient history, especially in India, where they are a part of life and heritage. In every home & in every province across the country, different spices and blends are used to create different and distinctive tastes in dishes. Several decades ago, housewives used to grind their spices manually at home and make their own blends for use in their cooking. To make this process easier for the housewife, ’MAHASHIAN DI HATTI’ (MDH) visualized the concept of ready-to-use ground spices.

Starting with manually ground spices, MDH soon switched over to automatic machines to meet the fast-growing demand for MDH Spices. So much so today spices worth crores of rupees are manufactured and packed by modern machines and sold throughout India and abroad through a network of over 1000 Stockists and over 4 Lacs retail dealers.

The owner was quick to adopt a well-planned penetrative pricing strategy along with a keen eye on its competitor’s footsteps which helped the company garner larger sales volumes and brought in significant revenue. MDH faced stiff competition from one of the category leaders’ Everest followed by Badshaah Masala, Catch, Priya Masala, Ramdev, Mothers Recipe, and Nilon’s.

The primary objective of MDH Masala advertising journey was making the brand known for its quality, distinct flavors, and traditions. Dharampal and his team strategized a plan to penetrate even in the hinterlands of India and targeted each household for building a  strong distribution channel. Thus kick-started the rich and spicy MDH Masala advertising journey which was way ahead of its time.

The magic of ‘Dharampal Gulati’ aka ‘Dadaji’

Call him the ‘Great King of Spices’, an inspiring entrepreneur, a lively soul, a legend but above all, late Dharampal Gulati was a man embodying remarkable marketing spells that worked wonders for MDH Masala advertising journey.

In the 1950s, when its competitors were selling spices in loose, MDH sold it in ready-to-use packets and boxes making it one of the key differentiators in the cluttered spices category. The challenge was to create a niche in the largely unorganized spices market. The company used cardboard packaging with the words ‘Hygienic, Full of Flavour & Tasty’ inked on them highlighting the brand message across out and clear.  

Later in 1959, Dharampal started printing his face on the brand packaging to build a high recall value and win consumers’ hearts. The impact was so that years later he became one of the most recognized personal brand faces in India. The product packaging to date remains the same with albeit minor changes.

With every print ad, magazine cover, and television commercial featuring the old lad as ‘Dadaji’, his presence became an inevitable phenomenon since the 90s. In an age where marketers looked for a trendy and a hotshot celeb endorser, Dharampal Gulati made himself the brand mascot and has since appeared in every advertisement advocating the brand ethos and its credibility to the Indians in the most traditional and relatable manner.

Leveraging the traditional mediums of advertising like print, television and radio along with outdoor advertising, MDH was much at the front foot for a visually appealing communication with an aim to become a familiar brand to a vast swathe of the population.

It was among the firsts in the ancient history of advertising, Gulati, like a shrewd businessman, eyed vernacular media like the ‘Pratap’, an Urdu newspaper well known among Punjabi refugees, to advertise his products and brand as the real spice and believed that is it necessary for the people to know ‘MDH’ for it to be popular and also the reason why they should put their hands on the brand’s products.

One of the facts hailed by many brand custodians to date is that Gulati never hired an advertising agency for spinning a high profile communication strategy but instead rolled out the packaging ideas right from designing to creative work in-house.

Right from striking a regal pose alongside a tonga to a married couple seeking the old man’s blessings to dancing to the tunes of traditional folklore, Dharampal a.k.a ‘Dadaji’ has been omnipresent. When asked during an interview why MDH stayed away from bringing on board someone popular like Shah Rukh Khan or Amitabh Bachchan as the face of the brand, Gulati had said, “People ask me why I don’t get Shah Rukh Khan or Amitabh Bachchan to promote my masalas. Why should I ride on their success to promote my brand? I am the man behind the success of my product, so shouldn’t I be promoting it?”

‘Dadaji’, as he is fondly remembered, drew a very aggressive but simple advertising formula for the brand to flourish its business and achieve the set goals. He sold his spices by the brand name ‘Pal di Mirch’ (chilly powder) & ‘Pal di Haldi’ (turmeric powder) and soon got himself recognized as Sialkot’s Deggi Mirch wale.

MDH’s brand of grounded chili-powder (degi mirch) was popular in pre-partition Punjab. Hence the company re-launched it as MDH in Delhi. In coming years, Gulati and his younger brother Sat Pal earned a name for their attractive local ads by breaking the age-old norm that masalas can only be pure if made at home at a time when the world is in the hasty mode.

A face to many memories, the old grandpa also became a part of the meme-mania in the year 2017. A parody page titled MDH (which no longer seems to be active) created memes featuring ‘Dadaji’ in increasingly outrageous situations. The displays included him jamming with Justin Beiber, chilling with Rajnikanth, and somewhat disturbingly, also in the Avataar Universe. t the end of each interaction, he offers them some of his famed MDH masala.

With a character so popular, it is often difficult to disappear into oblivion and hide from the hawk eyes of the netizens and the trends. Dharampal Gulati was no different and is often featured in various memes, thanks to MDH’s long-running TV ads, accompanied by the catchy jingle, making him no less than an internet sensation.

Gulati always believed that the three aspects crucial for a fruitful business are – sincere work, quality products, and affordable prices. The owner of around 80 percent stake in the company, he routinely visited his factory, mostly on Sundays, and the market to ensure smooth functioning.

True to his brand image, he kept his personality intact as a mustached, bespectacled man in a red turban, white sherwani, and three strings of pearls spanning decades. He identified the pulse of the nation early on and before embarking on a spicy journey as a support system to his father, the man has seen the strides of struggle and hardships in and witnessed the miseries of a partition. From selling mirrors, soaps, and clothes to ferrying travelers to carving the path for a multi-crore business empire, Gulati’s story from rags to riches has been an inspiration for many. Under his leadership, MDH had posted a net profit of Rs 213 crore while its total revenues were Rs 924 crore in 2017.

Also a philanthropist by his deeds, Gulati has a charitable trust named after his father, which runs a 250-bed hospital for slum dwellers and runs four other schools for the less privileged.

Most recently as a contribution to support the fight against the novel COVID virus-induced pandemic, Gulati donated PPE kits and an undisclosed amount to the Delhi CM relief fund. 

 ‘Asli Masale Sach Sach’ – Real Spice of India

With an appetite to work tirelessly, Gulati strived to build his small family business into a legacy and that promised— a perfect blend of fragrant Indian spices in a powdered form and positioned it as the ‘real spice of India. After making the masses aware of its vast range of garam masalas and Deggi Mirch, the communication tagline went – ‘MDH ki Deggi Mirch- Deggi Mirch ka tadka, ang ang bhadka’ .

MDH launched its first TVC in 1984 featuring Dharampal Gulati. The ad also featured veteran actors Shafi Inamdar and Neena Gupta where Gulati acted as the chief guest.

Shahi Paneer ya ho jaljeera masala, Kasuri Methi ya Deggi  Mirch, Asli Masale Sach Sach, MDH…MDH,”-I would be wrong if I assumed you did not hum the line with me. The jingle is so iconic that it can easily make even a teenager of today sing the exact tune with a picture of Gulati surfacing in his/her head.

The Nature Jaisi Shudhta ad promoted the natural ingredients used for making the spices and depicted their purity and the processing through fresh and purified raw materials.

Thereafter various ad films were conceived in a humorous, familiar, and presentable manner and amidst a family setup in a traditional avatar to depict MDH Spices as the ‘real spice of India’ built on trust and core values of affordability and quality.

A few spoke about the delectable taste of the spices when topped onto a range of dishes while others focused on how MDH masala adds an aura to the dish by their exquisite aroma, texture with a perfect combination of spices complemented by the catchy jingle through the years.

Also Read: Brand Saga: Celebrating India’s tryst with Everest Spices

While the jingle tune remained constant, the lyrics and the words were replaced time and again to promote its vast range of products for instance, ‘Kitchen King ho ya Garama Masala, Pav Bhaji ya Chunky Chat ka Masala, Asli Masale Sach Sach, MDH…MDH”.

The 2017 ad film on ‘Mahashay Dharam Pal Gulati Journey’ focused on the saga of the owner and how he has been associated with all the processes of the company that has reached such great heights.

Yet another fan-made film, MDH Masala Story – Entrepreneurial Journey of Mahashay DharamPal, explained the story and the journey of the owner of this spice company and how has he been so successful in India and globally.

The ad jingle has been a prominent part of our childhood and became an earworm due to its highly effective tune and the constant play in commercials and on the radio.

Gulati’s charisma and undying spirit to be as involved in the company’s operations and engagement activities across mediums have won him and the brand may laurels. Along with advertising on mainstream channels, the company also had a good offline marketing strategy by advertising in local magazines, women-centric magazines, food magazines, and hoardings.

The brand carrying the prestigious spice heritage in India as a legacy has always trusted their in-house skills for its packaging design. But this time it was a special occasion where the prestigious brand completed its glorious 100 years and approached DesignerPeople with the idea of initiating a fresh and innovative icon celebrating their century.

For the agency, taking the brand identity to another level with revised packaging was the creative challenge without hindering its positioning statement. The brief included targeting metro cities, and also focus on the audience of tier 2 cities. The brand should communicate heritage oriented values.

To depict the 100 years journey, DesignerPeople designed a meaningful icon of infinity which reflected the continuity of the brand story along with the completion of the century. To display it with more clarity, we created a visionary tagline saying “years of affinity till infinity”. To retain its brand image, they did not disturb its existing color of upper-end packaging and image of Gulati.

More than half of the packaging area is shifted to white color, as it helps to highlight the product images, which are rendering with solid tones. The illustrations of the product in powdered form display the reflection of the real and authentic emotion. The background images of the organic farm are nurturing the product image and exploring the brand story.

According to the agency, the strategy behind this concept will help to gain a competitive advantage and increase brand recall in modern trade chains and online platforms.

From the grand wedding film to the ‘Train of Taste’ depicting the supremacy of MDH spices in Indian food to portraying the asli taste of India, the TVCs have aptly shaped the MDH masala advertising journey and continue to so.

The Spicy Digital Play

The flavourful MDH Masala advertising journey is painted vividly on the brand’s social media pages using colorful themes dominated with the hues of yellow.

Not that active on Youtube, the brand has amassed around 8k followers on Instagram followed by a significant chunk on Twitter and Facebook. Mostly observed cross-posting creatives and videos on these platforms, the brand’s digital presence includes weaving different and lip-smacking recipes like kadhi paneer, biryani, and pav bhaji using the masalas offered by the brand itself.

Apart from that, the brand’s social media team is active in extending festive wishes, churning out topical creatives, also with a strong focus on promoting specifics about an individual range of products.  

From a small shop to owning a 2000 crore business empire, the unconventional saga of Mahashay Dharampal Gulati and MDH is intertwined and make us salute the indomitable spirit of the duo in its truest sense.  Withstanding extreme competition, adapting to changing times, reinventing itself- MDH advertising journey is a journey through time. The desi brand continues to dominate our kitchen shelves while we pay homage to the writ and courage of our beloved late ‘Dadaji’.