Roll your super white sleeves as we take you through the Nirma Advertising journey in this chapter of Brand Saga.
It took just one jingle, for brand Nirma to hog the limelight for decades. The song is so etched in our brains and hearts that it sparks nostalgia each time we hear the names – Hema, Rekha, Jaya aur Sushma. Nirma advertising journey epitomised entrepreneurial success and is a testimonial to how Indian homemade products can go places if marketed rightly.
Karsanbhai Patel’s small-town Invention
At the age of 21, Karsanbhai Patel began working as a lab technician in the New Cotton Mills, Ahmedabad. In the late 60s, at the age of 24, the quest to invent something of his own triggered and Patel started making an eco- friendly, phosphate-free detergent in the backyard of his house.
Due to lack of resources then, Patel packaged the detergent in a polythene bag and resorted to door-to-door marketing. While cycling to work, he used to sell the detergent packets by visiting households on the way. To everyone’s surprise, his environmentally-friendly innovation became a hit among the masses, especially the middle class. Thus began the Nirma Advertising journey.
Karsanbhai named the detergent, ‘Nirma’ in the memory of his daughter Nirupama who passed away in an accident. He took it upon himself to market the yellow coloured detergent in person and sold a minimum of 20 packets every day.
The lab technician turned entrepreneur priced his product at a minimum of Rs 3/kg and positioned it as a common mass product owing to affordability and quality. He also gave people a money-back guarantee if the product didn't work.
Earlier a woman washing clothes was featured on the packets of Nirma but was later changed to the girl in white dress twirling and has remained constant since. The revised packaging resonated well with the housewives while the girl went onto becoming Nirma’s mascot for years.
Brand Nirma was synonymous with low priced detergent but faced stiff competition. 1969 witnessed a monopoly of HUL’ ‘Surf’ which claimed ‘Daag Ache Hain’. It was priced between Rs 10-15 which was a major concern for the middle-class population of the country. Patel quit his job and put his might to promote the detergent powder and expand his venture beyond the walls of Ahmedabad.
‘Sabki Pasand Nirma’
The 60s and 70s saw an emergence of premium detergent brands primarily by MNCs. To battle, the competition Karsanbhai collaborated with Purnima Advertising Agency in 1982 and weaved a TV commercial that went onto becoming ‘Sabki Pasand’.
The commercial focused on the quality of the Nirma Washing Powder, a tribute of sorts to the budget-conscious Indian housewives and reflected the company's mission to provide, "Better Products, Better Value, Better Living".
It featured actresses like Sangeeta Bijlani who weren’t in the spotlight then but later went onto becoming film stars.
The jingle, was first aired on radio in 1975 and later debuted on television in 1982. As per reports, ‘Sabki Pasand Nirma’ is one of the longest-running jingles of Indian advertising while the TVC has been tweaked time and again keeping pace with the changing times.
Nirma and Gujrat based Purnima Advertising worked together for three long decades where the agency highlighted the ‘value-for-money’ factor in most of Nirma’s ads.
Marketing the ‘Jhaag’
If you closely monitor Nirma’s advertisements of the 80s and 90s, ‘kam keemat’ and ‘Jhaag Dher Saara’ is what caught the ladies' attention. During those times affordability combined with quality mattered and ‘more the foam, the cleaner the clothes’ was followed as the criteria in the category.
There were multiple edits of the ad film – from airing on Doordarshan on the black and white screen to the more modern setups. The brand aimed at celebrating womanhood and was also hailed as an early adopter of femvertising in India.
In 1989, the Nirma Super’s Deepikaji was introduced to counter Surf's Lalitaji.
Sabun Nirma ft.Sonali Bendre
After carving a niche for itself in the lower-end of the detergents and toilet soap market, Nirma looked at launching products to retain the middle class who would graduate to the upper end.
The company roped in Bollywood beauty Sonali Bendre to play the part of the protagonist in the commercials promoting the Nirma Beauty soap.
Helmed by Kailash Surendranath, the TVC featured Bendre and the tune was sung by Hariharan and Kavita Krishnamurthy.
Surendranath holds to his credit over 3,000 films in advertising industry alone and until a few years ago, all of Nirma’s commercials were creatively driven by him.
In 2000, Nirma had a 15% share in the toilet soap segment and more than 30% share in the detergent market.
The Need to Revamp
In the course of time, consumer sentiments changed and newer players entered. To keep up with the pace of the world Nirma gave Hema, Rekha, Jaya, aur Sushma a makeover, in line with the big family Hindi soap operas trending back then.
The one-minute-long commercial directed by Prasoon Pandey of Corcoise Films was scripted like a daily soap and showed the ladies quarreling over food. Here the brand targeted the afternoon slot and daily operas obsessed housewives.
In 2009, Nirma announced Taproot Dentsu, headed by Agnello Dias and Santosh Padhi as its AoR. The result was two ad films namely ‘underwater’ and ‘projector’ for Nirma Detergent and ‘Nirma Super’ respectively.
Underwater showed Russian Ballet dancers giving a modern-day twist to the signature Nirma tune.
Projector took the TVC route and said - Super Nirma Se Miley Super Safedi.
To reposition the brand, Nirma’s briefed the newly appointed agency to create campaigns that fulfilled the aspirational levels of its consumers albeit with a modern twist.
It should also be noted here that within 3 decades Nirma became an INR 17 billion company, giving the Nirma Advertising journey the much-needed results.
The story of ‘Obedient Puddle’
‘Splash’ was conceptualised by ThoughtShop which worked with Nirma on a project basis. The brief shared with the agency was to retain Nirma Detergent’s imagery of a dirt tackling brand and the signature composition of Nirma’a age-old jingle by Vedpal.
Directed by Chrome Pictures’ Amit Sharma, the brand-agency duo did not want to go the mundane route of showing montages and women washing clothes happily but a commanding message.
Hema, Rekha, Jaya, aur Sushma Take the Lead
In 2011, Nirma and Taproot Dentsu brought back ‘Hema, Rekha, Jaya and Sushma’, this time roping in newer faces (Shweta Salve, Shilpa Anand, Anjala Zaveri, and Sonal Sehgal) who ruled the television rooster.
The music of the ad film was revived by R Anand giving it a contemporary touch and showed how today’s housewives are not confined to the walls of their homes but are powerful to take things in their own hands.
Jo Chahiye, Wo Chahiye
In 2015, for the Nirma Advance sub-product, the brand ditched the Nirma ladies and the brand mascot for their campaign, Jo Chahiye Wo Chahiye. The campaign focussed on depicting modern women who aren't afraid of hard work.
Conceptualised by Purnima Advertising, the digital mandate for the campaign was handled by Every Media.
2016 saw another commercial for Nirma Advance, now targetting the stigma the men doing the laundry. This campaign too came from the house of Purnima Advertising.
After a gap, in 2020 the brand took a satirical route for Nirma Advance featuring Akshay Kumar in his Houseful 4, historic avatar.
The video however hurt a few sentiments for allegedly mocking the Maratha warriors and their legacy, leading to #BoycottNirma doing rounds on Twitter. The brand evidently withdrew the ad from their channel.
From the last few years, Nirma Advertising journey hasn't actively pursued its legacy jingles and also distanced itself from the Nirma ladies and their mascot, the Nirma Girl. Report suggests that the decision was a sentimental one as the Nirma Girl was an ode to Karsanbhai's late daughter.
For a brand that took birth in Karsanbhai's home, Nirma has proved to be far more progressive & bold in its choices. This could be observed from simply seeing the evolution of Hema, Lata, Jaya, aur Sushma - the Nirma ladies who evolved and embraced the modern world with every passing year. Nirma was also quick to on-board leading agencies when needed & the Bollywood factor to keep up with the evolving consumers.
Nirma is still very much in the game and seems to keep the Saga going, maybe in a year, we will have more tales to narrate.