Paper Boat: a brand that was born distinctive

Post by Prasad Narasimham, brandgym Managing Partner based in Bangalore, India.

Building distinctiveness around a big brand idea to drive penetration is an important theme on the brandgym blog, and in our Grow the Core book. Most brands cultivate distinctiveness over time, often over many years and in an ad-hoc way.

It is, therefore, inspiring to see new brand Paper Boat enter the Indian beverages category and create bold distinctiveness across the mix from day 1. By all accounts (their sales are still not public) they are growing rapidly, and are attracting a whole bunch of enthusiastic investors along the way.

Below, I look at how Paper Boat has baked in distinctiveness to the brand from the start.

Brand Idea

Paper Boat was “born distinctive”. The brand has more than 10 flavours, offering traditional Indian beverages like Jal Jeera, Aam Panna, Kokum, Aamras and Anaar – familiar favorites that have been slowly fading away from public memory.

While this in itself is interesting for consumers, the masterstroke was the simple yet evocative way in which Paper Boat has articulated its Brand Idea: “Drinks & Memories”. By linking the brand to nostalgic & fond memories of childhood, Paper Boat has very quickly caught peoples’ imagination across the country.


The flavors are all authentic & happily reminiscent of old taste memories. By claiming this uncontested product space, Paper Boat has created room for several more variants over time, creating a strong cadence of product innovation. But it is the simple brilliance of the packaging that gives the brand its instant charm.

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The brand has built several properties from day one. Standout paper packaging, a distinctive shape, the childlike simplicity of the graphics, a cute brand icon, nostalgic variant names & authentic tastes; these properties are baked into the product itself.


The team has created some very memorable advertising. Even as it is wonderful to see these simple, charming & evocative ads that reflect the Brand Idea beautifully, it is even more instructive to see how they have leveraged advertising to create even more properties; for example the idyllic music that evokes the nostalgic magic of R.K.Narayan’s Malgudi Days is a “sonic property”.

The brand also uses charmingly simple storytelling, both on its packaging and website that reflect its child-like & innocent identity.

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As a startup, and given India’s vastness & complexity, Paper Boat has understandably focused on reach-driving brand activations. They have seen the world through the brand lens of childlike wonder to create very sticky viral videos that build affinity & preference amongst a whole generation of young Indians.


Paper Boat has of course distributed in modern retail to ensure wide availability & visibility. But their focus has equally been on new & innovative channels. For example, by focusing on in-flight & airport distribution, they have been able to sample the brand and new flavors to their bulls-eye target – upwardly mobile young Indians who still remember these drinks nostalgically from their childhood.


To paraphrase Shakespeare, we could say that “some brands are born distinctive, some achieve distinctiveness, and some have distinctiveness thrust upon them.” Paper Boat has clearly taken the first of these options, choosing to build distinctiveness from the very beginning. And the brand’s continued actions reflect its instinctive understanding of how to continue enhancing this distinctiveness.