History: Owned by Unilever Plc., the parent company of Hindustan Unilever Ltd
Status: Has 18% market share in the bathing soaps category, worth Rs6,000 crore.
Brand story: Lifebuoy landed on Indian shores in 1895, when the country was in the grip of a plague epidemic.
With its positioning as a powerful germicidal and disinfectant, and with a strong carbolic smell, it was what the nation was looking for. But the health advantage waned over time as competitors came out with soaps that promised both health and beauty.
The 1970s were challenging times for the brand, especially in the rural markets, its mainstay. “The biggest challenge was to break the mould and do clutter-breaking advertising,” says Manoj Tapadia, creative director at Lowe India, the ad vertising agency for Lifebuoy.
It was around 2002 that the product moved from being a hard soap to a mild soap that delivered a significantly superior bathing experience. The new soap had a refreshing fragrance and its overall positioning changed, painting its promise of health in softer, more versatile and responsible hues—for the entire family.
The packaging was also changed: The rugged looking packs were soon replaced with a softer pinkish cover. This was followed by a series of ads highlighting the soap’s germfighting benefits.
Lifebuoy had become a family soap with hygiene as its core promise. “For a soap that had been relegated to toilets, Lifebuoy has gathered new adherents in an age where more consumers are getting concerned about germs and cleanliness,” says Arvind Sahay, professor of marketing at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.
“Lifebuoy has 112 years of existence in India and has constantly reinvigorated itself.
In the last five years, it has touched nearly 100 million Indians across 44,000 villages,” says Srikanth Srinivasamadhavan, category head, personal wash, HUL.
Right from the early days, the brand has preferred effective communication to celebrities. An exception is its recent, limited exposure campaign with cricketer Yuvraj Singh.