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Surf Excel: Dirt is good for impunity

By Anushree Bhattacharyya , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | January 10, 2011
In its new campaign, Surf Excel, the detergent brand from HUL, continues on the track of 'Dirt is good' and teaches kids to be forgiving and harmonious.

Launched in 1959, Surf Excel, from the stable of Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL), is one of the oldest detergent powder brands. Initially, the brand was positioned as the washing powder which 'washes whitest'. However, over the years, the brand has reinvented itself by bringing new propositions every time. Currently, in line with the global communication of HUL, Surf Excel promotes the proposition of dirt is good - 'Daag achche hai'.

The latest TV commercial in the series attempts to promote the values of forgiveness and harmony using the 'Daag achche hai' proposition. Created by Lowe Lintas, the new TVC begins with a child walking down a path. As the boy walks, he continuously pulls his trousers, which appear to be loose and keep slipping off. On his way, he meets three boys from his school, who laugh at him and as part of a prank, pull down his trousers. They make fun him of him by calling him 'chaddiwale'.

Suddenly, a teacher from the boys' school appears and inquires what's going on. To this, the young boy replies that that they were practicing for the forthcoming sack race. He holds his trousers like a sack and jumps into a pool of mud and dirt. The other boys feel ashamed and as the teacher leaves, apologise to the kid. All three boys then pull down their pants and jump into the mud. The TVC ends with the voiceover saying, "Daag achche hai."

According to Sudhanshu Vats, vice-president, home care, HUL, the new TVC takes forward the value of forgiveness, along with the brand proposition of Daag achche hai.

Speaking on the concept, Arun Iyer, national creative director, Lowe Lintas, says, "Through the years, we, along with HUL, have been promoting the concept of dirt being good and disappearing easily with Surf Excel. In every new campaign, we have also talked about moral values. While the last one was about 'Sympathy', the new TVC talks about forgiveness and shows that when the boy could have easily taken advantage and could have got his school mates scolded, he decided to forgive them."

The creative team at Lowe Lintas for the TVC includes R Balki, chief creative officer; Arun Iyer; Ramkrishna Gopi, unit creative director; AP Zeth, creative director; Sushanth Joshi, creative and Ankit Pandya, creative. The planning team includes Devika Sharma, strategy director and Abhishek Hariharan, brand planning director. The servicing team has Virat Tandon, executive vice-president; Satish Ramanathan, associate vice-president and Suchana Sarkar, brand services manager.

The idea clicks?

While Surf Excel has been projecting the idea of dirt is good for a while with some great commercials, the new film seems to have elicited a lukewarm response from industry insiders.

Rohit Malkani, executive creative director, Grey, says that the new TVC is another sweet film from Surf Excel. He adds, "Certainly not as nice as some of its predecessors, but nevertheless well cast with a simple, endearing execution. The crucial mistake the film makes is in becoming just that little bit 'addy'. Overacting from the teacher, exaggerated representation of 'daag' on the boys' uniform (just in case we don't get the point that Surf can clean any mess) - and why must the little boy look at the sack race at a distance and then get an idea? It just gives it away too early. However, overall, a charming film."

According to Jitender Dabas, executive planning director and vice-president, JWT India, 'Dirt is good' is a great platform with some great communication in the past and the expectations from any campaign under 'Dirt is good' would be high. He adds, "But I am a bit underwhelmed with what I saw. The consumer has now come to expect a certain kind of a predictable story from Surf Excel under the 'Daag achche hai' umbrella. In such a scenario, the challenge for communication is to give a refreshing take which surprises me as a viewer. Also, by using the same set up, you are almost forcing the viewer to compare it with your own past communication."

"The potential of 'Dirt is good' to show value behind stains using kids is immense. Also, forgiveness is a good value to propagate. However, the plot seems a little forced in this TVC - especially the kid jumping into the puddle without any reason or provocation. So, my response is what the consumer is likely to say - the earlier ones were more likeable."

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