The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sudsy image sinks in Surf makeover

New Delhi, May 18: The froth bubble has literally burst for the Rs 300-crore turnover Surf Excel, which is attempting to re-invent itself.

Hindustan Lever’s super brand, which became one of the hottest-selling detergents with the now famous Lalitaji’s message on TV “Yeh Jhaagwala hain na (is this foamy')”, is now dropping its sudsy image. It now wants consumers to switch to a “jhaag-less” version of the detergent it claims will help spur sales.

For years, the FMCG giant has sold the message to audiences across the country that it is the dollops of extra jhaag (foam) in Surf or its variant Surf Excel, that does the trick in the Rs 5,000-crore detergent market. It now wants audiences to switch to believing that frothless detergents are better.

“What we are now trying to tell consumers is that with changing time, foam is not equivalent to good cleaning. Our product developed after two years of research, has less foam but is more effective and is a speedier wash,” said Nitin Paranjpe, category head, fabric wash, Hindustan Lever Limited.

But re-inventing Surf powder detergent, whose magical success since 1959 when it was launched and of its 7-year-old upmarket concentrate version Surf Excel will be a tough proposition.

Business schools around the country have showcased HLL’s marketing communication message for Surf as a role model for selling success. The message itself was simple and direct — if you want cleaner clothes go in for the detergent with the maximum foam power.

A message which other successful detergent brands like Nirma replicated with variants (add lemon to the jhaag for better results). Generations of housewives have believed in this as have detergent salesmen. Surf's Lalitaji and her “Jhaagwala” message is today an advertising icon.

Paranjpe has planned a multi-media, high spending campaign (cost Rs 2 crore a month and over Rs 20 crore in year one) to try sell the New Surf Excel.

To sell the foamless message, Hindustan Lever now says while foam was good, it also has some side effects like damaging clothes from too much scrubbing and requiring too much water for a clean up. The new foamless version will guard against both.

“What we are trying to do will take a lot of consumer education. We are going to spend about Rs 2 crore a month for some time now to propagate this idea through advertisements on television, outdoors, print and advertorials,” the official said. Lalitaji will not be roped in to sell this one, he added.

Surf Excel already controls two-thirds of the up-market Rs 500 crore detergent concentrate market (which itself is about 10 per cent of the total detergent market) and it expects the new version will help push sales into double digit.

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