Brand Lux has always been the beauty soap of film stars, well, heroines to be specific, as far back as anyone can remember.
So it does raise quite a few eyebrows when Bollywood sensation Shahrukh Khan (SRK) is seen frolicking in a bath tub with the brand's four leading ladies of yesteryear.
And as if that were not enough, all the chocoholics have another surprise in the form of Kareena Kapoor all smudged in chocolate, promoting an uncharacteristic variant in Lux Chocolate Seduction. Is Hindustan Lever's Rs 720-crore odd brand, indulging in sensationalism to push its sales in the Rs 4,800-crore soaps category?
After all, in the Rs 48,000-crore fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) market, soaps is perhaps the most promiscuous category, with consumers shifting brands with impunity.
And after all, Lux's value market share has been stagnating at around 15% for over two years now, so clearly it was in need of rejuvenation. Read SRK-in-the-bath tub and Kareena in chocolate, not as a sign of desperation, but of a market leader asserting itself, claims HLL.
“As a leader in the market, the brand has to do things ahead of others. It has to be a trend-setter, much like the leading film stars that endorse it,” says Ashok Venkatramani, VP Skin Care, HLL.
The company claims that ever since the SRK initiative, the brand is picking up a share of 0.5%, month-on-month. “The brand completes 75 years, and we wanted to do something big. And SRK is big. Moreover, our research told us that SRK was big with the brand's core consumers, women,” adds Mr Venkatramani.
But what explains Kareena and chocolate? “As part of the celebration, we did not want to do just one-off things. In fact, these kind of trend-breaking initiatives are lined up for the whole year,” adds Mr Venkatramani.
With the soap market full of me-too brands, with identical propositions, an old heritage brand like Lux has to continuously keep differentiating itself. “The brand is trying to explore new expressions of beauty.
The 75-year anniversary gives them a tactical window to do something new with the brand, without actually harming the core brand,” says Shripad Nadkarni, marketing consultant.
To be sure, the three new out-of-the-box brand variants in chocolate seduction, aromatic glow and Lux white spa bodywash are just a limited-period celebration range.
The company has just launched a new regular variant in Festive Glow (taking on the traditional Uptan with turmeric and sandalwood) in the South India market. “We're trying out new things with the brand to keep differentiating it in the market,” adds Mr Venkatramani.
But what about the bigger question of what sometimes looks like pure attention-seeking ad gimmicks? “In all these campaigns, we did not court sensationalism. It was more a reflection of changing consumer sensibilities and we believe consumers are ready to receive such messages from brands like Lux, says Tarun Rai of JWT India, the agency behind Lux's ad campaigns.
But after all, everything said and done, SRK and chocolate is not a Lux-thing after all. “The brand is trying to infuse new meaning and excitement through all this, though it needs to guard against the trap of defining itself only through one excitement after another,” says Santosh Desai, president, McCann Erickson.
“If consumers expect excitement on a continuous basis, it is a good thing for any brand. I know that the innovation funnel is robust enough to deliver it,” defends JWT's Rai.
For HLL, and the country's, second-largest soap brand, after Lifebuoy, one hopes life continues as usual, even when this celebration curtain comes down later this year.