Brand Saga: Lux, the brand that pioneered celebrity endorsements

Lux soap advertising journey

A ‘laundry soap’ then and a ‘beauty soap of the stars’ now, the Lux soap advertising journey in India has aged like fine wine just like its ambassadors.

The latest TV commercial of  Lux soap titled ‘Chand Sa Roshan Chehra’ featuring star couple Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor Khan presented its new proposition on the glow. Shot at the couple’s home, conceptualized by Wunderman Thompson, the plot focused on Kareena’s ‘moonlit glow’. From the days of ‘Nahana toh bahana hai..’ to now the moonlit glow, Lux has had many phases. This Thursday, taking a throwback to the 1920s, we explore how Lux Soap advertising journey panned out in the 90 years of its existence in India.

Lux – The Global Brand

History states that Lux soap started as ‘Sunlight Flake’, laundry soap in 1899 produced by then, Lever Brothers, now known as Unilever. The name was changed from “Sunlight Flakes” to “Lux” in 1900, a Latin word for “light” and suggestive of “luxury.” It was launched in the United States in 1925 and in the United Kingdom in 1928, this is also when it acquired the status of becoming the first mass-market toilet soap in the world.  Subsequently, Lux soap has been marketed in several forms, including handwash, shower gel, and cream bath soap.

Distribution began on a large scale in the US with the tagline ‘Made as fine as French Soap’. The advertisements offered consumers “a beauty soap made with the French method” at an affordable price, with the promise of smooth skin. It highly reflected the product features like made with fine-texture and rich in fragrance.

Initially, Lux campaigns educated users about its credentials as a laundry product. The shift in communication came through when the Lever Brothers conducted a contest and learned: women used Lux as toilet soap.

When Lux traveled to India…

It was in the late 20s that the foreign soap brand stepped its foot in the Indian market and was officially launched in 1929.  Taking forward it’s global brand building strategy between 1928-1940, Lux concentrated on building its association with the increasingly popular world of films, highlighting movie stars and their use of the product.

Initially, it was rolled out in Indian metro cities with a higher price range than its competitor at the time – Lifebuoy. The reason sighted was to recover the initial cost of production while the advertisements were aimed at ‘the early adopters’ i.e., the consumers who were most willing to buy that product.

In 1929, a global campaign featured 26 of the biggest female stars of the day, creating a huge impact among the movie-loving target audience. This was followed by Hollywood directors talking about the importance of smooth and youthful skin. Brand custodians believe that this also pioneered the trend of celebrity product endorsements.

The Lux Saga

An extract from Sabeena Gadihoke’s blog traces the origin of ‘Lux romancing Indian cinema stars’. During the early 40s, the strong presence of a fast-evolving local film industry enabled a different trajectory for Lux in countries like India and China that began to use their own actresses instead of Hollywood stars.  In fact, Lux girls from the Indian film industry also featured in Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka long before globalization in a way that we know it today would make it possible. Some of them traveled through exports of Indian magazines like Filmfare.

Lux soap’s very first photographic advertisement in India featured vintage actress Leela Chitnis as its brand ambassador. In those days, appearing in a Lux advertisement paved one’s way in the glamour industry and was indeed a “must do” thing for a female movie star in India. 

While associating itself with the movie stars, Hindustan Lever (Unilever) sold stardom along with the soap. It made people believe that the Lux soap is the secret behind the beautiful faces of the Hindi film industry and if they start using it, they too can obtain similar beauty standards.

The sepia-toned images transformed into colored audiovisual advertising overtime where the actress appeared as the glamour girl clad in the latest fashion suits with trendy hairstyles. The commercial portraits often reflected the styling that was in tandem with the movie characters and adapted to their personality.

When the soap was first launched in India, the company targeted urban and semi-urban populations keeping the significance of ‘beauty of women’ and positioned itself as the ‘luxury soap affordable for all’ – the primary target audience being upper and middle-class population.

During this era, Lux also launched campaigns featuring interviews up close and personal with stars, where the magazines and newspapers featured beauty secrets of vintage Bollywood heroines like Madhubala, Praveen Babi, Zeenat Aman, and more.  The series of print ads had stars talking about preserving youthful skin.

In order to reinvent itself with time and stay relevant amidst competition from brands like Pears and Nirma, Lux underwent rebranding often by changing its color and packaging. The five principal colors used for Lux in 1958 were pink, white, blue, green, and yellow.

Apart from keeping its pricing and consumer learnings at fore, Lux also introduced variants to offer everything under one roof – ranging from almond, saffron, oil and honey glow, sandalwood, rose, international, chocolate, crystal shine, purple lotus and cream, peach and cream, strawberry and cream. Lux expanded its operations in over 100 countries with a turnover of 1.0 billion euros alone in 2005.

Lux – ‘Beauty Soap of Film stars’

A multitude of stars were featured in the world of Lux advertisements wherein the company bet big on bankable and even small-time actresses to boost the star charisma in its brand purpose. 1950 onwards, the company also lowered its product price value which was an effect of increased market penetration and the advertising budgets were doubled.

Deals were sealed with high-end magazines like Femina, Star, and Style, and leading heroines were cast to model for the brand. It has also been pioneered as one of the first products to be advertised using women as brand ambassadors. That’s when it owned the titled of being a ‘beauty soap of film stars’.

From Meena Kumari, Sharmila Tagore, Hema Malini, Shabana Azmi, SriDevi to Juhi Chawla, Raveena Tandon, Madhuri Dixit, ‘Lux Stars’ were the talk of the town then and so was the brand.

Adopting a smart strategy to place itself as the soap recommended by the influential lot, it paved its way in the common man’s heart by being affordable and readily available, thereby becoming also an ‘a luxury soap that everyone can afford’.

The advertising was so specific that soon Lux became synonymous with the glamorous lifestyle of the film stars. The communication pattern always appeared premium and luxurious, but the price point was always common man-centric, helping the brand popularize among the masses.

Earlier a product known for its domestic utility, Lux has moved on to skincare and beauty products as part of its present brand image.

With taglines like Not Just Soap Its Skin Care; Ab khubsuriti se darr kaisa; Lux sought to bring out the star in you and stood for the promise of beauty and glamour.

There came a time, during the 1990s when every brand looked for celebrity endorsements and roped in known faces. Every other big star was seen promoting an airline, selling soap, biscuits, perfumes, watches, detergents et al. Lux had to rethink its advertising. Star endorsements were becoming passé and the communication needed a distinction to break the clutter.

Also Read: #BrandSaga: Lifebuoy- Championing health and hygiene since 1895

The brand concluded that the storyline had to be twisted from just celebrities vouching for it to a message that can delve into the person behind the stars. That was also the insight that led to their Abhishek-Aishwarya TVC.

The objective was to perceive the brand as more fun and warm portraying the husband-wife romance as an aspiration for Lux consumers.

In early 2000, the focus shifted from specific skin benefits to a stronger emotional space. Lux provided the link between the reel and real-life of models with the campaign, Lux brings out the star in you. The benefit was now more than just beauty itself; it expanded to be about the confidence that comes from beautiful skin.

Although pegged as a luxury, Brand Lux’s communication appealed to women of all ages, transcended class, and broke gender boundaries.

In 2004, Lux rolled out a ‘Lux star bano, Aish karo’ contest where consumers were supposed to buy a promotional pack of Lux and scratch the special scratch card to earn their reward. Prizes varied from living a day in Aishwarya Rai’s life to beauty kits, Neeta Lulla saris, and well… more Lux soaps among a host of other gift vouchers .

Further leveraging the ‘Aishwarya Rai’ phenomenon, in the same year it launched the ‘Mujhme Star Jagaaye’ campaign featuring Rai and Shilpa Anand promoting a Model Hunt as a platform for the new talent to showcase their charisma.

2005 was the year when Lux celebrated 75 years of its stardom and roped in, for the very first time a male celeb, Shah Rukh Khan to feature with 4 leading ladies of Bollywood in a TVC.

Starring alongside Dream Girl Hema Malini, beautiful Juhi Chawla, stylish Kareena Kapoor, and sensuous Sridevi, the Badshah can be seen serenading the Lux beauties saying, “Aaj mein aapko batanewala hoon meri khubsuratein Ka Raaz – Lux. Ab batayein aapka favourite Lux Star kaun hai?” (I am going to reveal my beauty secret – Lux. Now tell me who your favourite Lux star is?) It was known as the ‘Har Star Lucky Star’ offer, where every wrapper guaranteed a gift.

The actresses have all gone on record to say that they owe a big part of their success to being a ‘Lux star’, which is a much sought after honor.

Since then Shah Rukh has been a constant with the brand and the actor can also be seen hosting and being part of the Lux Golden Rose Awards for women achievers.

Thereafter in 2009, Unilever unveiled its latest campaign for Lux Peach and Cream, featuring brand ambassador Priyanka Chopra promoting Lux’s new mantra for women –  ‘Behave Beautifully’. JWT Singapore, Lux’s creative agency, worked on the campaign in tandem with JWT India and Pakistan and was initially created for small-town Indian women.

Throughout the years, keeping the ‘star value’ intact, Lux soap advertising journey changed narratives to put out impactful content weaved in its mass communication agenda. Leveraging the popularity of movie stars and using movie stars as role models, Lux’s strategy to build relevance by looking at beauty through the consumer’s eyes proved tobe a well-tested experiment.

Madhubala, Leela Chitnis (the 50s) Simi Garewal Wahida Rehman, Saira Banu (60s and 70s); Hema Malini, Poonam Dhillon, in the (80s); Juhi Chawla, Madhuri Dixit, Sridevi, Karisma Kapoor (90s); Rani Mukherji, Aishwarya Rai, Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone, and Alia Bhatt at present, the Lux soap advertising journey has featured more than 50 female film stars as the past brand ambassadors of Lux soap.

It will be quite surprising to note that the brand is not that active or frequent on digital media apart from a few campaign posts on Instagram and YouTube. Nonetheless, their absence is more than made up for as the brand’s ads continue to be timeless.  

90 years down the line, cut to 2020, the brand proposition hasn’t changed much, keeping their core offering alive. It kept pushing boundaries and inspiring women to rise above judgments and be confident to express oneself unapologetically. The Lux soap advertising journey has give celebrity endorsement an all new meaning.


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