Brand Saga: Reliving Santoor’s 35 years of defining ageless beauty

Santoor advertising journey

Rising from the regional markets harping on the power of Sandalwood and turmeric, Santoor advertising journey is all things timeless.

“Haldi aur chandan ke gun samaye santoor…twacha kuch aur nikhare santoor santoor....” who doesn’t remember humming to this jingle every time it played on our TV or radio. I still recite the song along, although the frequency for it to be heard has lessened. This week we relive the Santoor advertising journey to celebrate its vision of honing beauty.

Santoor Advertising Journey – The Beginning

In the year 1945, when India was still reeling under the British Raj and protests echoed across country, Mohamed Premji, the father of Aziz Premji launched Western India Vegetable Products Limited which was later abbreviated to Wipro. Further advancements led to the origin of Wipro Consumer Care, the FMCG arm of IT services giant, under which Santoor Soap took birth in 1986.

Touted as India’s first branded soap with a unique combination of sandalwood and turmeric, Santoor claims to have grown from a traditional South Indian soap to a modern beauty variant contemporizing itself with the changing times. Since the beginning, Santoor catered to women who defined beauty with their ageless skin.

Though the company witnessed a dawdling growth in the initial years, it is reported that the helmers were ambitious enough to not lose hope and get the work going to expand its footprint across India.  

The Silent Advertising – Of ‘Younger Looking Skin’

When the face cream and soap market was in its early days of growth, people resorted to nature for healing and sealing their beauty. Harping on this phenomenon and identifying the need, Wipro Consumer Care made an amalgamation of ‘Chandan and Haldi’ in the form of soap and targeted the women of the house whose beauty knew no age.

In the late 80s, Santoor advertising journey focused on the efficiency of its two product components – sandal and turmeric, conveying their skin benefits to ladies to establish the brand salience. Later it got shifted to highlighting the functional benefits of the soap- glowing skin and how it is good for getting softer and smoother skin.

The early 90s saw the brand portraying a traditional married woman whose duties were restricted to those within the house and how amidst all the work she had Santoor taking care of her skin.

In 1995, Wipro decided to relaunch Santoor with a distinct brand identity and new packaging to suit the demands of changing consumers. A more region focused approach was adopted where the company targeted markets in the South to set up a permanent base. However, the re-branding did not do much good for the brand.

Adding to it was an overtly competitive category where players like Rexona, owned by Goliath Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), Rexona, Lux, and Hamam were topping the charts across India and captured attention in individual markets of North and South. Meanwhile, with a limited budget at hand, Santoor invested aggressively in Western Indian regions and down South.

Post-1995, India witnessed the company talking about the now confident women who could multitask and her role was no more confined within the walls of her house.

The ideology of an evolving woman was reflected in yet another Santoor Soap rebrand during 2004 wherein the product donned a more modern outlook. In the year 2006, Santoor became the third largest selling soap in India and steadily became synonymous with younger-looking skin.

Also Read: Brand Saga: From Italy to India, Bisleri – a journey through time

The Mistaken Identity- Not so ‘Mommy’

Soon after the relaunch activity, the TVCs imbibed a common narrative that of a mother who is a young vibrant woman. The communication depicted a protagonist who is a married woman but often mistaken for a college girl until her daughter comes calling ‘Mommy’ and leaves everyone surprised.

The almost 30-year-old advertising narrative- the ‘mummy’ formula’-  has stayed intact within the brand’s communication to date and continues to spread the same magic.  It’s noted that the key insight behind Santoor Soap’s marketing strategy is that women want to feel and look younger with time and age. While the brand positioning and target audience remained constant, Santoor has time and again reinvented itself to suit the changing consumer demands and evolve as a category.

With this strong insight, the ad commercials celebrated the achievement of a woman who was now shouldering the men’s world equally through her talent and enhancing her skills for becoming a pilot, fashion designer, architect, doctor, engineer, and more so ever- a mother.  

The ‘mistaken identity’ and ‘younger looking skin’ combines with functional benefits of the soap have been the constant ingredient of communication for the brand spanning three and a half decades.

Not to forget the popular jingle which won millions of hearts and continues to ring the same tunes in everyone’s minds – ‘Santoor Santoor-  was composed by composed by legendary Ashok Patki who is also the brain behind over 5000 jingles including ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’ and ‘Jhandu Baam’.

The advertisements during 2014- 15 showed the Santoor women being socially conscious and participating in small causes like street art among others.

The Celeb Factor

Though the owners were not very keen on making high-end celebrities the face of the brand, over a period of time the brand decided to peg them as the second lead appreciating the protagonist – Santoor women, for her achievements and ageless beauty – only to realize later that she is also a mother.

Santoor advertising journey saw an interesting turn. The brand claimed to be the first brand in the personal care category to use a celebrity in a supporting role in the TVCs. 2011 onwards, a range of celebs like Saif Ali Khan, R Madhavan were roped in to admire the beauty of Santoor women.

The TVC featuring Madhavan carried forward the thought of ‘mistaken identity’ and was set in an urban landscape to address the urban middle-class woman.

In a press statement then, Draft FCB +Ulka’s (Now FCB Ulka) creative director Indira Das had stated that the challenge was to hit the sweet spot of appealing to a newer audience without alienating brand loyalists. FCB Ulka was the creative agency of the brand since 1988 until the account was moved to ADK Fortune in 2017.

In 2014, the Santoor women were seeing wooing the likes of Saif Ali Khan and South star Mahesh Babu, where the actors are seen mistaking the photographer for a model and doing a double-take when they realize she’s a mother to boot.

Commenting on the thoughts behind the campaign, Anil Chugh, senior vice president, Wipro Consumer Care was quoted saying, “In the ’90s, the Santoor woman was just stepping out of home, then she became a working woman. Now, keeping with the times, she is pursuing professions once considered male bastions.”

The second film of the campaign was an anthem ad that shows how Santoor has touched the lives of women from various walks of life. “Research showed that rural women widely used Santoor. Through this ad, we wanted to increase the aspiration value of the brand,” stated Dharmesh Shah, creative director, DraftFCB + Ulka.

In 2019, joining hands with ADK Fortune, Santoor launched a mega-brand campaign bringing on board three different celebrities for different parts of the country. Varun Dhawan was to be the face for West and North markets, Mahesh Babu was yet again to capture attention from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, and Tamil star Karthi for Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The objective was simple and straight – to expand the horizon and make weak bases strong again by going hyperlocal.

The TVCs communicated nothing different – the ‘mistaken identity’ formula wasn’t changed rather looked refreshed with new faces on the block. The mummy was still the lead and the star of the campaign amidst the presence of a celebrity.

In a world full of transformations and new age formulas, the storyline for Santoor remained constant over three and a half decades. Santoor Advertising journey that started to market the ‘Chandan-Haldi’ induced traditional soap, has time and again defined the evolving women. The Santoor women changed with time.

Brand consultant Ambi M G Parameswaran, who worked on Santoor during his stint at FCB in initial days, has quoted late AG Krishnamurthy, founder of Mudra, in his book  ‘Nawabs, Nudes, Noodles: India through 50 Years of Advertising,’ mentioning, “When I do come across advertising like the Santoor campaign, I think it deserves a round of applause. It is a very simple thought. It appeals to every human’s desire to keep looking young… it is special because, with every new release, they manage to add freshness and newness to the same old thought. I am sure that this courage to stay on the same course must be a collaborative effort of both client and agency.”

The year 2019 saw Santoor slowly shifting the communication towards portraying ‘career-oriented’ women while marketing Santoor Gold and how it can be effective towards fighting pollution. The TVC featured a young tour guide and carried no reference of a mother.

Looking at the current times, where protection and prevention go hand in hand, Santoor too ditched its age-old ‘mistaken identity’ formula to preach safety and wellness in its latest communication.

The Digital Saga

While the brand shares videos of its archived ads combined with the latest ones on its YouTube channel, Santoor‘s Instagram boasts of a mixture of various aspects of its narrative revolving around ‘Moms’.

From rolling out social media contests like #MamaKnowsBest and #MomStories, Santoor has been actively promoting softer, glowing skin by roping in influencers to amplify the message and expressing gratitude through giveaways.

Leveraging celeb presence of stars like Varun Dhawan, Santoor is also garnering attention by sharing messages from them around social distancing and taking necessary precautions in these unprecedented times.

Apart from the above, with #SantoorCares, the brand at present is aggressively advocating safety while urging people to stay home and spend quality time with la Familia. The same is cross-posted to the brand’s Facebook page.

Santoor advertising journey can be seen as a case study of a brand that evolved with its consumers & social-economic climate of the country. A brand that grew with the change, Santoor still has many good campaigns up its sleeve.


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