Indian advertising had its roots in the bazaar cries of the country’s street vendors, which go back to the most ancient times. It is interesting today to see vintage ads that date back to the early twentieth century, especially of brands in the beauty care and detergent categories. It was Hindustan Unilever, then Lever, that brought in a range of products in the categories and aggressively used interesting marketing and advertising strategies.
Pears was the world’s first translucent soap. According to Unilever records, Pears Soap was the world’s first registered brand and is therefore the world’s oldest continuously existing brand. Launched in India in 1902, Pears exuberates a long heritage of purity. Pears used to be advertised as being appointment by the Emperor and Empress of India. But, then it began to use imagery based on Raja Ravi Verma’s paintings, who was the then most popular artist from South India.
One of the print advertisements released in early 1934 had the visual of a Ravi Verma-like model dressed up like the goddess Saraswati, seated on a lotus in a pond with a little mace in one hand and a baby in the other. The copy beneath this read ‘Pears Soap. Pure as the Lotus. Learn without sorrow, the eternal truth that youth is god-like and beauty is youth’.
Sunlight was the first product to be sold by Lever in India in 1888. It was first introduced in the market in the shape of a laundry cake. Since the shape did not favor the brand much, it was later re-launched in the form of a detergent which sold like hot cakes and gave tough competition to the other detergent brands in the Indian market. By the 1930s, it had like many other western brands, Indianised its communications, using images inspired by Indian mythology.
Starting life as royal disinfectant soap, Lever Brother’s Lifebuoy came to India with British wives. Hygiene education and a preventive approach to disease are part of the story of the familiar red soap. Undoubtedly singing the popular jingle, ‘Lifebuoy hai jahan tandrusti hai wahan’, continues to create an iconic image for Lifebouy even today. The models have changed but not the look, carefully art directed to be a part of the brand’s image.
Unilever in the course of time focused on promoting its beauty soap Lux. It was one the first brand that used the concept of famous women personalities as brand ambassador in its communication strategy. Movie stars have kept company with Lux soap for more than seventy years. In 1941, Leela Chitnis became the first Indian actress for Lux. Since then, Indian stars have endorsed Lux, a sign that they have arrived. In the early 2000s, movie stars gave way to real-life models with the line, ‘Lux brings out the star in you.’
A case in point is a study conducted by Hindustan Lever on the bathing habits of the Indian housewife. The study put focus on a new benefit for toilet soaps – the bathing experience in the early 90s. And Liril, the freshness soap, was born. One could call it the liberation soap because it made the woman feel liberated from the shackles of humdrum daily life. The key element in the Liril success story was the girl in the waterfall. The model in a bikini surprisingly didn’t raise eyebrows but instead gave birth to usage of boldness in advertising.
Pears, Liril, Sunlight, Nirma, Lifebouy and Lux have customised their look over the years but have followed the same brand proposition. This has helped these brands remain a household name even today.
The above insight is from the book Adkatha, The Story of Indian Advertising. Late Bal Mundkur, Founder of Ulka Advertising and Gerson da Cunha, Ex-Chief of Lintas and Communications Advisor to various Central Ministries, got together in late 2010 to put together the best of the best work from Indian advertising which was never seen or heard before. While Mundkur rose the necessary funding, Da Cunha took charge of the content. They roped in Anand Halve and Anita Sarkar to write the book. The result is a beautiful coffee table creation, lavishly illustrated – a mirror of the profession and business through the decades.
Put together by Priyanka Nair