Monday, August 29, 2005

Washing maketh woman?

Detergent advertising has reached new highs - or new lows - depending how you look at it. The latest ad for Surf Excel is trying to sell us the idea:"Daag accha hai."

Yeah, right.

This particular ad seems to have been given the following brief: Housewives love cute kids. Find two such specimens and build some story. After all, it worked for Pepsodent ...

So you have a little girl who stains her dress by walking through a puddle. And a little boy 'hitting' the puddle to punish it for spoiling the girl's dress - in the process becoming quite a mess himself. Cho chweet no?

It's the 'daag acccha hai' line at the end that's hard to stomach. It's no fun getting your favourite clothes stained, and never will be!

Are you washsome, tonight?
Of course, it is tough being brand manager of a detergent. You have to produce 30 seconds of brand communication to air in the ad breaks during K serials. Year after year. Even though you have nothing new to communicate...

Everything that could be said about the benefits of cleanliness and daaglessness has been. Husband ka promotion, society mein izzat, bachche ka future - all the demons have already been invoked.

I have a little bit of inside info on the world of detergents, having spent 2 months of my life conducting an elaborate survey on 'wash attributes'. This was part of my MBA summer training at Lintas.

In those days the 'Bombay 1' unit handled all the Lever's business and was regarded simultaneously as the most prestigious and most pakau of assignments. I once spent a day fascinated by an artist making 15 variations of Rin packaging. You had to look very carefully to notice the difference between 'em!

But it was a somewhat interesting time as Ariel had just been launched and Surf had a fight on its hands. Personally, I was an Ariel fan - it had made the washing of clothes in the hostel so much easier than the traditional ragadte raho method.

I have completely forgotten what findings the survey threw up; if any. But I will never forget that there were 17 'wash attributes'. Cleans... Whitens... Keeps clothes bright... Keeps clothes like new... Removes stains easily... Removes tough stains... Gentle on hands... Keeps husband faithful ...

OK, I made that last one up but you never know. Going by the fanatic devotion wives in detergent ads have traditionally had towards whiteness and brightness, I'm thinking there has to be a deeper, primeval reason.

Wonder if Marilyn Monroe's problem might have been not using the right detergent. Maybe gentlemen really prefer whites. With fresh lemony fragrance.


  1. Stupidest thing about washing powders is that they still think people in India hand wash their clothes.
    Wonder if Marilyn Monroe's problem might have been not using the right detergent. Imagine how many more!

  2. The worst part about detergents and toothpastes today is that they have special microscopic Oxocholoroflourocarbohydratoneuroprotono molecules which pass through even the toughest little knots in twined network of the cloth (for toothpastes it is those miniscule caverns between two teeth abut that they manage to penetrate through) and pulverize the dust particles. I don't even understand why they are given sobriquets like Power boosters, White Washers. As far as the chemistry lessons in class X have taught me, detergents can have the simplest chemicals in the right proportion to remove the stains. I wonder which planet these manufacturers drop from. And talking about bristle design on brushes, every other brand has joined the bandwagon claiming a new effective design. I wonder how all the old ones fail as soon as the new ones enter the market.

  3. the basic message remains the same but i think the housewives have got a lot sexier than those homely ones a few years back.

    that chick in the whirlpool ad, i mean shes earning in millions!! i guess she represents the "modern woman" wearing tank tops, and having a "lifestyle". wonder what that means.

    anywho, the ad did manage to stand out and hence ppl are going to resort to such means to stand out

  4. Well..the discussions about the 'detergents n soaps' are incomplete without mentioning the classic "iski saare meri saare se safed kaise..huh". I dont understand how could that commercial make an impact on women, when white saree not a famous choice as it represents something else. "iski saree meri saree se bright kaise" ..yeh hota to baat samajh mein bhi aati kuch ..!!!

  5. Actually this kind of "dirty is good" stuff has been done before - Recall a washing machine ads which celebrated kids getting dirty - and another where assorted people wilfully get dirty - and Sunlight in some countries worked on the premise - "an invitation to get dirty"

  6. Yeah, and the mother of all such ads was the Nirma one that used to come earlier in my schooldays. Kind-o gets on your nerves, right?

  7. the only detergent i ever liked was 'chamko'. ring a bell? ;)

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  9. Actually Persil has a similar ad campaign in England.
    The ad shows kids in the normal 'growing up activites' and generally getting clothes dirty. The catch phrase goes somethign like 'its not dirt'.
    The idea, i believe is just to say that kids will be kids - they WILL get clothes dirty, but a housewive need not worry because Persil will clean them anyways. If you think about it the theme does strike a cord - it talks about how a major worry for housewives need not be a worry anymore.
    The idea is not to say 'dirt is good' but that 'dirt is no longer a problem' - and maybe thats what Surf Excel is trying to communicate.
    A simple google on the theme produces - which is only partly relevent but does explain the concept well enough.

  10. This is what someone seriously into advertising had to say after reading your article: The insight for the latest Surf campaign is completely different. It is part of a global 'Dirt is good' campaign. The whole thought there is that kids love to play and get themselves dirty. That's part of growing up and in this increasingly mechanised world, encouraging kids to play, exercise thier imagination, get dirty and therefore more immune and resistant, is perhaps the best way to help them grow.

  11. yes it is a dirt is good campaign and the insight around is is bloody a strategy planner in advertising myself i can tell you that the omo campaign has been highly regarded...if you guys dont 'get it' then there's a reason..its not targeting youth and its plainly appreciating the joy of being a child and that dirt is a part of childhood so get on with it!!!

  12. Yeah! aap yeh chamak dhamak dekhte raho... aur yeh detergent wale aapki jeb khali kar rahe hei... Do you know, not a Henko 1 Kg costs 108 or more and it only costs not more than Rs. 18 in bulk manufacturing.. Rest of all paise goes to TV chanels and others.. If the advt. is not there they can supply it in and around Rs.48 per kg... kuchch samajh mein aaya...

    Please visit my new site also : and suggest me something ..

  13. I'm in advertising, and I can't help getting a little sentimental about cynical stuff like this.
    People love to hate advertising, and they call it purposeless without realising that they are buying into it!

    Firstly, a business is there to thrive, so "there is nothing new to talk about detergents" is what a consumer would say. Not a marketer / ad-man (and least of all an MBA from IIM-A!) With hypercompetition and so many options you can choose from, there is always a new story to tell and you'd better have one! Guess it works the same way for blogging - bloggers need a new rant / peeve and (just sometimes) a serious point of view so as to remain in readers' radar! (just kidding):) The reason you like Ariel more is because marketing told you that (ease of removing stains as opposed to ragadte raho). And the deep devotion with which packaging is crafted (even of it takes a 100 options with minute hardly noticeable differences) is something to be marvelled at, not scoffed at.

    Coming to daag acchche hain, it was a refreshing departure from the age old cliche "white is good, clean is good" etc. If you need to make a difference and do good things, you need to get your hands dirty, right? So Surf Excel said just that: go ahead, get dirty. It told mothers that getting dirty doesn't mean your kid has been up to no good - he's just living his childhood. It's almost an anti-detergent thought! And who better than a powerful detergent like Surf Excel to give you that confidence to let your kid get dirty! Now isn't that confidence and peace of mind something mothers will want to buy into????

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