Brand Saga: Cinthol – The opera of India’s first deodorant and complexion soap brand

Cinthol advertising journey

Did you know that Cinthol soap, which took birth on Independence day of 1952, derived its name by tweaking the ‘S’ of synthetic to ‘C’ and extracting ‘nol’ from Phenol’? We take a look at the Cinthol advertising journey which is as interesting as its birth tale.

‘Vinod’s body confidence soap. Cinthol’ – a unique deodorant formulation that prevents body odour to give you the body confidence – read the advert of the 80s and then we saw late yesteryear actor Vinod Khanna in a playful mood skipping waves at the sea, racing against a saddle free stallion in a typical slow-motion- making it all things filmy. The commercial ran throughout the Doordarshan era and constantly reminded men that they need a Cinthol to keep the body odor at bay. The saga intends to corroborate the finesse that the Cinthol advertising journey beholds.

The Beginning

Cinthol- India’s only deodorant soap- was a result of a Ph.D. study by Burjor Godrej wherein he tried to create soaps out of fatty acids. During his centenary birthday celebrations in 2015, while Godrej was up for his doctorate in Berlin and World War II erupted during 1939, he decided to move on and left Germany a few days before that by taking the last train from Cologne to Paris.

It was in 1949 that Godrej returned to complete his Ph.D. in military-occupied Berlin. During the 10 year-long hiatus, he put his thesis to practice, using fatty acids to make soap which paved the way to build a strong legacy of soap brands in India for the Godrej Group- founded by Pirojsha Godrej- headquartered in the bylanes of Mumbai’s Vikroli area.

At the same time, scientists were disappointed that while germ-killing ingredients were effective in antiseptics, they were not meant to be utilized in making soaps which led to the inception of hexachlorophene, which proved as a suitable element for manufacturing soaps. Simultaneously, Burjor Godrej also realized that germicidal soaps also made good deodorant soaps. That is how Cinthol took birth on August 15, 1952-  a combination of synthetic and Phenol, embodying a unique Fougere perfume.

While experimenting with his product line up in Berlin, Godrej was also keen to create diversified soap ranges which he realized after meeting Jesse Owens, an American athlete who won 4 gold medals in Berlin Olympics (1936). 

Cinthol has many firsts to its credit and has come a long way to create its extensive range of soaps, talcum powder, shower gels, deodorants, and men’s grooming products.

From ‘I Use Cinthol. Do you?’ to ‘Alive is Awesome’- Cinthol advertising journey

Iconic, flourishing, inspiring, fascinating, and the line of adjectives gets built up as soon as one reminisces about the age-old saga of India’s first deodorant and complexion soap- which stands true to the Cinthol advertising journey. The odyssey of building a brand of soap that boosts body confidence among the male population while India had just attained freedom came with its set of challenges and restrictions.

A handful of local, rural, national, and international brands were already vying to be the frontrunner in the soap category. In this fiercely populated market, Cinthol chose to target men with its perfumed, occluded with cologne soap and was touted to be the best brand for ‘protection from body odour’. The positioning was kept intact and communicated in the form of radio jingles, TV spots, newspapers, and magazines which further glorified the newly found people’s favorite – Cinthol.

The bright red packaging and the ideal solid-rectangle-shaped bar soon filled the aisles of bathroom shelves of the middle-class Indians when they got hooked to their TV screens watching sportsman Imran Khan and the evergreen charming actor Vinod Khanna advertising the soap.

Selling ‘Machismo’ with the celebs

It seemed like the only bet for ‘getting rid of body odour’ wasn’t enough and that the brand had to evolve with the changing times. In the year 1986, with a vision to create a modernized soap for its consumers, Cinthol revamped the product imagery and took the ‘celeb marketing’ route to pave the way for more attention in the category, which was already flooded with low-cost variants of bathing soap like Nirma and Breeze.

Along with marginalizing its pricing and expanding the distribution for its target audience and key markets, Cinthol became one of the few first brands to invest big in roping celeb endorsers to promote the new positioning of ‘Cinthol for body confidence’.

It brought on board cricket legend Imran Khan and later the Hindi film industry’s popular actor Vinod Khanna, which were both at the peak of their career during the time, to become the new faces for the soap. Very strategically, it tapped on the two platforms- Cricket and Cinema- that Indians have obsessed over for years.  

Focused on building a brand for the alpha male, Cinthol aimed at evoking confidence and freshness in its consumers and become the epitome of machismo, which was very well captured by the advertising campaigns featuring Vinod Khanna calling Cinthol as his Body Confidence Soap and said ‘I Use Cinthol. Do You?’.

The TVC, shot was shot by National Film award winner Mahesh Aney and produced by ad filmmaker Shantanu Sheorey. It became an instant hit among Indian households. Launched initially as a unisex deodorant soap brand, Cinthol skewed its take towards masculinity after seeing a positive response to the campaign which was filmed in the presence of Khanna’s dear friend, the late Parmeshwar Godrej, who also shares the credit for conceptual singing the ad.

Also Read: Brand Saga: How Savlon healed ‘Bharat’ and drove the ‘Swasth India’ mission

Moving on, realizing that the ‘lemons’ had caught the consumer’s eyes, whether it be the sultry ‘sherbet’ or its beauty benefits. Many brands experimented with the lime soap variant, and Cinthol jumped the bandwagon with the launch of Cinthol Lime in 1989. The results were quite impressive when the brand was able to grab an 8% market share within a span of 6 months.

Later making strides in the fragrance-filled bars, the brand rolled out Cinthol cologne as the variant extension into a more contemporary world where men and women both desired for more- beauty and facial glow became an apple of everyone’s eye, and brands were going head-on to meet those demands.

Confidence, strong and taazgi (refresh attitude) became the focal point for the Cinthol advertising journey and the application of the keywords in their practical form remained untouched even though the brand underwent several revamps in an attempt to walk the talk.

The TV commercials and outdoor promotion ran across the South market with a particular focus on the language-specific content strategy where a few entailed music by iconic singer A R Rahman and featured the popular South film stars.

Then came the 90s era when the brand felt a need to undergo a complete positioning overhaul and roped in the heartthrob of the Hindi film industry- Shah Rukh Khan- as the new brand ambassador. The ads featuring SRK came with a tagline- ‘Susti mitaaye, Chusti laaye’ meaning a refreshed take on doing things wherein the man took everything sportingly even after day-long tiredness.

Madison World who handled the mandate for Cinthol was tasked with establishing a soap brand relative to HUL’s power brand Lux albeit in a low budget cap. Madison’s Sam Balsara was quoted sharing that it was that that point that the agency thought of not positioning it as a men’s soap but feature male celebrities to make it distinctive and stand out.

In 1995, as SRK and his wife Gauri continued to appear in various commercials with his charming panache, Cinthol Fresh was introduced in the market marking the brand’s entry as the first popular segment of lime soap. It was further refurbished as a family soap with the famous ‘Tan taaza, man taaza’ campaign in 2000.

Continuing with its slew of new launches, Cinthol Deo Soap got launched in 2004, with the baseline ‘Get Ready Get Close’ wherein the communication addressed the need for effective body odor removal through the unique proposition of deodorant in a soap.

Cinthol was far ahead of its time and established a strong identity for male grooming even before it became a thing of the beauty regimen. In the last two decades, with the shifting market dynamics, Cinthol too upgraded its soap formulation, product mix, and packaging design to suit the needs of the new generation consumers.

2008 witnessed the entry of Hrithik Roshan as the new brand icon for Cinthol bringing on the table his Greek God’ imagery and the macho looks that got everyone to drool. The brand had launched the new Deo range of soaps, talc, and deodorant sprays in multiple fragrances and offered a new positioning ‘Don’t Stop’.

The TVC conceptualized by Orchard Advertising and helmed by Abhinay Deo, had Roshan running, flying (bungee jumping), horse riding, rafting, and jumping off a cliff exuding confidence and an undying spirit to keep moving.  

The energy and confidence exuded through the ad films – from Imran Khan playing it up with his flirtatious looks splashing water while using the international Cinthol soap to Vinod Khanna’s exuberant performance on the screen to Hrithik’s unstoppable charisma- were all reflected and connected with the soap’s properties that also rode Cinthol up on the desirability quotient.

Cinthol, in 2012, embodied yet another revamp introducing the ‘Alive is Awesome’ brand positioning with an objective to diversify the brand beyond soaps and have a youthful appeal. We will take a look at the relaunch tale in the second part as we seek to relive some more gems from the Cinthol advertising journey next week. Stay Tuned!


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