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How Lowe Lintas Brought Surf Excel’s Iconic Daag Acche Hai To Life

The MullenLowe Lintas Group has built some iconic campaigns over the years. The common thread binding them all is their belief that every brand should strive to have a point of view, a belief that it fights for, a stand that it takes to bring about positive change in the society.

This belief system has enabled the agency to create purposeful storytelling for brand, and one of the most memorable ones has been Surf Excel’s ‘Daag Acche Hai’.

Go back to the turn of the century, the early 2000s, and think about the detergent ads you remember from that time. A majority of the ads were all about your clothes being the whitest white possible, and more importantly, being whiter than your neighbours’. More functionally so, the remaining ones were about removing though stains – remember the phrase “ziddi daag”?

So what’s the problem with this?

Brands kept trying to position themselves as better than their rivals on the basis of a functional advantage (or even bereft emotional advantage), but how white can white really get? 

Technical terms like “active ingredients” and “stain magnet” made their way into detergent advertising, but the audience didn’t relate to this unrealistic scientific approach.

All detergent ads pretty much started looking the same, with the same juxtaposition of two shirts right next to each other, one washed with the brand in question and the other with “saadharan sabun”.

The detergent advertising space was getting boring, and someone needed to shake things up.

“Dirt is good” enters the Indian market

Globally, Surf had introduced a wildly successful “Dirt is good” campaign. The clutter breaking thought was embedded in letting kids be kids, and letting them enjoy the outdoors – Surf would take care of the rest. But when this was introduced to the Indian market, it just didn’t work. Culturally, we didn’t associate dirt with playfulness and the outdoors, we associated it with poverty and bad hygiene.

The thought needed to be given an Indian context. What role could dirt play in the parent-child relationship? This is when Lowe Lintas came up with an idea that would change the detergent advertising landscape in India.

The Brand Purpose

The agency found that Indian children were growing academically and intellectually. What parents wanted to add to their upbringing was a strong set of values and build their character.

And voila!

The brand found purpose in helping parents bring up children by seeding the right values in them. The fight against dirt would now just be in the backdrop of a much larger and meaningful conversation, and one of the most memorable taglines in the Indian advertising context was born – Daag Achche Hai.

The brand would now empower children to do the right thing, even if that meant getting their clothes dirty. Over the years, the brand released a series of tales, all reflecting instances of children choosing to do the right thing at the expense of getting their clothes dirty. Here’s the first one from the series:

The brand purpose very seamlessly tied in with the core product benefit as well, which otherwise often ends up being a little too far apart.

Looking Back

If you really think about it, what the agency did brilliantly well was add a deeply-insightful cultural layer on the brand’s global purpose of ‘Dirt is good’ and made it meaningful in the Indian context. This added layer allowed the conversation to move from letting kids be kids to raising kids with the right values.

Results

The resonance and cultural shift that the campaign has created over the years is widely known and acknowledged by everyone. Surf Excel’s Brand Equity scores went up from 63 to 70. The brand turnover grew 5.4 times. The brand was able to widen the gap between themselves and primary rivals. Eventually, Surf Excel became the largest laundry brand in the market and also HUL’s largest brand in the country.

Brands to Stands

The MullenLowe Lintas group is a strong proponent of the Brands to Stands philosophy, and has developed category shaping ideas for brand over the years using this philosophy. This learnings have now been captured in a book, which talks about 25 of India’s leading brands taking a stand and enabling purposeful action.

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