The marketing powerhouse that is Sudhir Sitapati: A look at his best works at HUL

From 'Swad Apnepan Ka' for Brooke Bond to 'Daag Ache Hai' for Surf Excel, we list out renowned ads from Sitapati’s 22-year stint with HUL

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Published: May 11, 2021 8:47 AM  | 5 min read
Sudhir Sitapati

Sudhir Sitapati has decided to move on from HUL as Executive Director, Foods and Refreshment, the company. It's a fact well-known that Sitapati has been the brainchild behind many noteworthy ads by the brand, particularly Surf Excel. On the sidelines of Sitapati’s exit, we look at iconic ads that were brought to life owing to memorable advertising briefs by him during his stint at HUL.

Daag Acche Hain 

Surf Excel’s Daag Acche Hain came at a time when advertising in the detergent category was limited to its functional aspects of cleaning and adding fragrance to your clothes. Surf Excel, in association with Lowe Lintas, thought of moving away from this functional proposition in 2005. Surf Excel’s first ‘Daag Acche Hain’ ad featured two siblings. The little sister steps into a puddle and starts to sob. Seeing her little sister upset, the big brother does what any desi parent would do if an inanimate object hurt their kids. Hit it. He also apologises on behalf of the puddle and this innocence, we are certain, does not fail to bring a smile to your faces even today. The ad concludes with a voice over, “Daag lagne se agar kuch accha hota hai, toh daag acche hai na? (If something good comes out of staining, stains are good).”

“Back then, we didn’t call this piece of work purposeful advertising but what we did notice is that two weeks after we aired the ad, our proven ad recall had shot up and six weeks later our sales shot up,” shared Sitapati when he was a speaker at the e4m Conclave 2019. According to Sitapati, if you do a highly famous piece of work, sales are driven. “Not many things drive sales by the way, but fame does,” he stated.

Swad Apnepan Ka

Adopting a new proposition Swaad Apnepan ka (Taste of Togetherness) Hindustan Unilever owned tea brand- Brooke Bond Red Label started creating campaigns that highlighted tea and its ability to diffuse tension and awkward situations to bring people closer. The idea was to encourage people to be more inclusive and accepting, irrespective of culture, gender, and other differences.

Brooke Bond Red Label’s socially inclusive advertising journey started with the Neighbour ad in 2014 which touched upon an oft-repeated yet sensitive theme—the Hindu-Muslim divide in India. The spot featured how a reluctant Hindu couple locked out of their house is invited by their Muslim neighbour for a cup of tea which acts as an ice breaker. The second campaign Surprise Visit talked about a rather socially awkward topic of a live-in relationship featuring actor Himani Shivpuri playing a doting and open-minded mother who accepts her son’s girlfriend living with him.

However, the biggest gamble as well as an equally rewarding decision by the brand was creating a campaign on the transgender community. Its Six Pack Band video on India’s first transgender band, not only stood out for its theme of inclusivity but also managed to bag the highest creative recognition in the ad world, the Cannes Grand Prix in 2016.

“Hospitality melts hostility,” Sitapati revealed was his brief to the brand’s agency Ogilvy which resulted in the brand’s first breakthrough ad on the lines of ‘Swaad apnepan ka’. “Lots of people create content but the sharpness in thought is of the essence,” he shared. (from e4m Conclave 2019). 

The Dogboy ad

After the initial success of the Puddle War film in 2005 and a few of its successors, the brand thought that it was ready to move away from the Daag Acche Hain idea in 2008 but a brilliant piece of consumer research gave them a new set of fresh insights in the area of 'what values do mums look for in kids'. The next film, which we call Dogboy, where a young boy empathises with a teacher who has just lost her dog is still recalled by consumers a decade later. The film opens on a noisy classroom set-up, with children having fun. A student asks another about the absence of Rosy Miss, the teacher. The friend explains that the teacher's dog has passed away. On his way after school, the lively child visits the teacher's home, only to find her sitting lonely and sad at her doorstep.

When he sees the leash of the dog beside her, he suddenly understands what she's going through. Putting the leash around his own neck, the child starts behaving like a dog – fetching a ball, rolling and playing in the mud, and even peeing and scratching like one. He is able to achieve what he had come for – to make her smile. The commercial ends with the customary line: Agar daag lagne se kuchch achcha hota hai, toh daag achche hai (If the stains are for good, then stains are good), followed by the tagline – Surf Excel, Daag achche hain – and the logo. 

Sitapati joined the organisation as a Management Trainee in 1999 and successfully managed roles across Sales and Marketing. As Executive Director, Foods and Refreshment, he led the transformation of Tea into a purpose-led category that regained market leadership and gained shares for the last three years.

During his tenure, Sitapati led the merger of Adityaa Milk, and more recently, GSK Consumer Healthcare business into HUL, bringing iconic brands like Horlicks and Boost into the Unilever family. The Unilever Food Solutions business, under his leadership, was rewired and transformed into a growth engine for the Company.

Sundaram joined HUL as a Management Trainee in 1999 and over the last 22 years, has had a strong track record in both Customer Development and Marketing. 

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