#BrandSaga: Lifebuoy- Championing health and hygiene since 1895

Lifebuoy advertising journey
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This week’s Brand Saga traces the advertising journey of Lifebuoy, the brand that championed the cause of hygeine when it was still an allie concept.

‘Lifebuoy hai jahan Tandurusti hai waha…!’ we have all breathed and grown up with this slogan. It established Lifebuoy in a memorable and entertaining way transcending eras. The brand that catered to the men’s world in it’s earlier times has come a long way to be a family brand.

Lifebuoy has been the flagbearer of ‘Tandurusti Ki Raksha’ of every Indian and this week we unearth its decades-long brand journey to get the #ThrowbackThursday feeling right.

Firangi Lifebuoy sets foot in India

Unilever’s UK born Lifebuoy entered India in 1895 at Bombay shores. It’s been 123 years now and it refuses to budge from its age-old brand proposition of ‘Washing away germs to keep you protected and healthy’.

P.S. Lifebuoy is also India’s first bathing soap.

‘Tandurusti Ki Raksha’ karne aaya Lifebuoy

In 1964, Lifebuoy and the creative team at Lowe Lintas devised a pulsating jingle ‘Tandurusti ki raksha karta hai Lifebuoy, Lifebuoy hai jahan tandurusti hai wahan’ (Lifebuoy protects health, wherever there is Lifebuoy, there is health) which promised health and hygiene to consumers and promoted it via print, television as well and radio spots.

Adguru Ambi Parameswaran in his book Nawabs, Nudes, Noodles has also penned down that the advertisement caught the nation’s attention, showed brawny men playing football in mud and then showering with Lifebuoy soap singing, “Tandurusti ki raksha karta hai Lifebuoy…’.

According to superbrands, the communication used sports as the metaphor, a universal symbol of good health. The use of the sporting idiom signifies a robust cleaning experience for consumers who come in contact with dirt and mud. The symbolism of health, at the time, was the huge, sporty, macho man.

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P.S. Google has it that the original Lifebuoy jingle was sung by Gazal exponent Jagjit Singh.

From a men’s brand to the family soap

The times were changing and so were the consumers. Women saw the light of progressive India and were at the helm of everything exceptional. Lifebuoy too thought it to be an emergence of a new era and repositioned itself to keep up with the pace of the running clock.

Lifebuoy started targeting women, especially mothers and focussed on the women’s role in the family in the late 90s. The need of the hour for Lifebuoy as a brand was to become more family-oriented in its approach. A brand image built over 100 years had to be changed. PHDEssay mentions that the task was challenging but the plunge was taken and the brand was repositioned in 2002.

The traditional masculine bar was transformed into a curvy soap filled with aroma colours. The communication was changed from ‘You will be healthy if you use Lifebuoy’ to ‘You will not fall ill if you use Lifebuoy’.

Through the commercials, the brand effectively communicated to the mothers, who need an ally in their quest to do their best for their family. Of many iconic advertisements of these times was the kids getting full attendance because of Lifebuoy. After the re-launch, Lifebuoy’s share in the market rose to 18% .

When DigiChefs’ Co-Founder Deep Mehta looks back at Lifebuoy’s communications in the past 25 years, he sees Lifebuoy as that soap in bright red packaging, talking about killing 99.9 percent germs, on the classic tune of “na na nana na, nana nana na nana” (“Life Buoy hai jahan tandurusti hai wahaan!”) and helps me remember that there are germs on my palms that I just can’t see!”

“Being one of those products that positioned itself away from beauty soap, we all saw it move from promoting better body health (tandurusti) to promoting germ-free hygiene. This specific set of points come from the beautiful ad campaigns, that the brand has been running across our TV screens. ”

For Karthik Nagendra, CEO-ThoughtStarters, memories of lifebuoy are mainly the iconic jingle and a machoman using it. “But with changing demographics and buying decision makers, it moved to a broader theme of hygiene and protection. One thing the brand has kept constant across it’s positioning and campaigns thereby establishing thought leadership was health. It allowed them to tweak the variables accordingly in their campaigns.”

Moving beyond business

In a bid to go beyond its business objectives, according to superbrand, Lifebuoy has also been a pioneer in initiating various consumer benefits activities around the communication around health and hygiene. Hindustan Unilever launched ‘Lifebuoy Swasthya Chetna’ to educate people about health & hygiene in preventing diarrhea that reached more than 110mn rural Indians since its inception in 2002. In 2003-04, the sales of Lifebuoy grew by 20 percent.

Under the campaign, health teams worked with school children and teachers to promote hand washing and bathing with soap, conducted product and glow germ UV demos, competitions, aired interactive AVs and overall hammered in the importance of a simple hand-washing regime.  Ogilvy worked with Lifebuoy to create a direct communication campaign specially designed to raise awareness among India’s largely rural and often illiterate population.

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Rooting for a ‘Healthy Hindustan’

The handwashing campaign was extended to urban areas in August 2003 with ‘Healthy Hindustan”. For this, Hindustan Unilever partnered with McDonald’s Western India to educate children about the benefits of handwashing with soap.

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In 2009, Rediif.com conceptualized ‘Healthy Hoga Hindustan’ for Lifebuoy. This also saw the time when Lifebuoy did it’s debut on the online world to boost consumer interactivity with the brand.

The ‘Little Gandhi’

‘The world can be changed by only those who have no fear’ are the last words in Lifebuoy’s 2006 advert where it takes onto ‘toughness’, featuring kids undertaking cleanliness drive in Tehri society.

Lowe Lintas titled the ad ‘Little Gandhi’ as here the dandi was replaced by a broom and showcased the child’s fight against all odds. The series went to win a Grand Prix at Effies. Ad veteran and filmmaker R Balki helmed this project for the brand and was also the among the first to tie brands to causes. The work also found a place in Limca Book of Records.

Bunty Tera Sabun Slow Hai Kya?

Lifebuoy claimed to be the ‘fastest’ soap now and rolled out ads ft kids to popularise their liquid hand wash. A part of this was the iconic ‘dhote jao, dhota jao‘ ad.

Kajol’s melodrama adds the missing drama in their communication

2012- Global Handwashing Day

Hindustan Unilever marked the 5th annual Global Handwashing Day across the country by launching an initiative of the company’s Lifebuoy brand of soap. The social campaign aimed at sensitizing children towards hygiene and reducing mortality by inculcating a simple habit of washing hands at appropriate times. It was conducted in association with Millennium Villages, an international nonprofit organization aimed at eradicating extreme poverty and PSI, a global health organization dedicated to improving the health of people in the developing world. In a span of two years the campaign managed to reach s reached 48 million people.

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Simultaneously, Lifebuoy launched an initiative to empower young girls in partnership with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS).

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Cannes winner – Roti Reminder at Kumbh

Ogilvy & Mather and Mindshare Fulcrum’s joined hands in 2012 to create ‘Lifebuoy Roti Reminder’ campaign for Hindustan Unilever which also won a Bronze Lion under the Charity and Not for Profit category. Lifebuoy stamped its handwashing message onto millions of ‘rotis’ at Kumbh Mela, the world’s largest religious festival in India.

Lifebuoy also placed soap in the washrooms of each of the eateries and used banners and billboards.

Mehta’s fondest memory with Lifebuoy is the growth hack at Kumbh Mela! “The brand won my heart when they had rotis with a message “Lifebuoy se haath dhoye kya?” at Kumbh Mela back in 2013. Such a brilliant campaign by Ogilvy!”

The iconic – Help a child reach 5

Lifebuoy Help a Child campaign was introduced in 2013 with an ambition to eradicate preventable deaths from infections. The brand set out with a social mission to change the handwashing behaviour of a billion people by 2015. Lifebuoy adopted Thesgora, an Indian village with one of the highest rates of diarrhea to spread the message of hygienic handwashing.

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Gondappa, the digital ad film depicted an overwhelmed father finishing a prayer in a temple for his first child to turn 5. The video was supported by an extensive digital campaign.

Lifebuoy’s official page promoted an application urging users to take a pledge to ‘Help kids reach 5’. On YouTube the film garnered 19.3 million views to date.

2014 marked the launch of yet another film titled’ Tree of Life’ where it weaved the story of a mother’s love, loss and longing after losing her child to a preventable disease such as diarrhea. It was also listed as the – Most Watched Ads in 2014 by Adforum Greatest Hits along with winning APAC Effie Gold and more awards.

After Gondappa and Tree Of Life, it was now time to weave yet another emotional tale to break records with ‘Chamki’. The ad was helmed by filmmaker Anand Gandhi and conceptualised by Lowe Lintas.

Sagar Kapoor, Chief Creative Officer, Lowe Lintas reminices,We were filming the Chamki activation in a remote village in 43 degrees heat. Walking around with a local boy, whom I thought belonged to the production house, I kept chatting. He gave me the keenest insights into handwashing. He also mentioned some of my work and the impact it had on people. I was shocked when I discovered the local boy was also a Handwashing Champion who worked on ground to educate villagers.”

Nagendra commented here, “The digital campaigns that have been highly successful are Kumbh Mela, helpachildreach5, adopt a village. The call to action message is simple and clear thereby helping the brand position themselves as a thought leader around health and protection.”

Lifebuoy was bitten by the digital bug much before many brands in the category did.

As superbrand rightly mentions – by blending product innovation with contemporary advertising, this genuine, nurturing, scientific brand has effectively remained as relevant to current generations as to their parents’ generation – and, indeed, to their parents’.


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