Iconic Ads: Surf- Lalitaji

One of the most successful advertising campaigns ever in India. Lalitaji turned around the fortunes of Surf

In the 1970s, the upstart Nirma, with a lower price tag and a catchy television commercial, caught the public attention. Though they had different price points, Nirma began to grow at the expense of Surf.

Because they were being pummeled by Nirma, there was thinking in Levers that perhaps they should pull out detergents from Lintas. It was quite significant for Unilever to be battered by a small brand. And Levers had established brands like Surf and Rin, which had previously ruled the premium market.

Surf had to counter this. Most people wanted to lower the prices of Surf but Shunu Sen, the marketing head of Hindustan Lever, decided to counter Nirma using an arguable weakness of Surf– the price!

Lintas had something up its sleeve. Anita Sarkar & Usha Bhandarkar (who had just joined Lintas ) realized that trust in a product could be only built by a character whom consumers could look up to and identify with

Research had thrown up that a housewife’s sense of thrift had to be appealed to.

“Smart women don’t get taken for a ride”, was the soul of the campaign, billed as one of the most successful in India.

They came up with a character defending Surf’s quality & price, who could drive home that Surf was not only much better than the competition but worth every rupee of its premium pricing.

A smart lady who is in command of her surroundings and keeps a close watch on everything. Lalitaji was a value-conscious woman who had to compete against cheaper competitors. “Men thought her husband would be henpecked, not the women,” Usha says.

Lalitaji was based on Alyque Padamsee’s mother. Alyque noted that his mother used to drive a Mercedes to the market to buy vegetables and then haggle with the vendors. He inquired as to why she had bargained when she could easily afford it. She emphasized the distinction between quality and value to him. Lalitaji was a housewife who would bargain for everything, but not on the price of Surf.

Shunu Sen did not want to run this film but Lintas did not give him any other option
Alyque battled for Lalitaji with Shunu because Shunu felt this was not Lever’s advertising. There was no other campaign to run, either. Levers had purchased spots in media for the 1984 Olympic Games and they were in sense, forced to air the ads featuring Lalitaji because there was nothing else.

In one, Lalitaji was haggling with a veg seller. A voice asks her that if she is so careful about her purchases, why does she purchase Surf? Lalitaji, in an annoyed tone, replies that “there is a difference between buying what is cheap and what is good.” She insists that 1/2 kilo of Surf is equivalent to 1kg of cheaper washing powder.

And then delivers her punch line “Isliye Surf ki khareedari mein hi samajhdari hai”/ That’s why purchasing Surf is a sensible decision

Kavita Chaudhuri was cast as Lalitaji & this became one of the most successful campaigns ever. Actually, the ads were supposed to be tactical but then it ran for many years!

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