Shreyas Kulkarni

Surf Excel's first quarantine era ad tells us that 'Daag' will stay at home

The brand's iconic catchphrase has been tweaked to reflect the times we're living in, but with a dash of hope for the future.

Daag Acche Hai.

It's an iconic catchphrase. One that has redefined Surf Excel's fortunes and turned it into one of India's leading detergent brands. It is what marketers will call a superb example of brand recall.

So, it was surprising to see the Unilever detergent brand tweak its catchphrase in a new ad. Created by Lowe Lintas, #DaagGharPeRahenge, meaning the stains will stay at home, is about how all the things we are used to outside will wait for us, while we're indoors...

Over the past three weeks, various ads are being shot and edited at home because shoots can't take place outside, at studios or sets.

Punjab Police's campaign 'Gawacha Gurbaksh' spread awareness about Coronavirus, due to the large foreign return influx. From the creatives to voice-overs to editing, everything was made at home.

Dettol's new ad on soap efficacy was shot and edited entirely at home, using a mobile phone.

Vodafone Idea used stock footage of its iconic mascot, the pug, to emphasise the need to 'Stay at home'.

Surf Excel neither used handheld devices nor stock footage to shoot the ad. Instead, it used still shots to capture the theme of staying (inside) at home.

The theme is all about the future and how "Surf Excel believes that these tough times will pass…" Throughout the ad, one can see an empty swing and a garden, a cricket bat and stumps, but no players, a cycle in the park, small toys in a muddy play area, and a school uniform hanging off a rack.

All throughout, we hear a voice (seven-year-old Grishma Mohan) talk about these things – staying where they are, waiting for us, while we, and all the stains we bring, will remain at home, albeit temporarily.

It's a feel-good ad that'd rather look at the future with optimism.

At the end of the ad, we hear a voice saying that even 'daag' will stay at home, but for a few days. It's the voice of Richa Nigam, one of the most sought-after voice-over artists in the business. Her portfolio includes brands such as Tata Sky, Domino's, Coca-Cola, Brooke Bond and, of course, Surf Excel.

Lloyd Mathias
Lloyd Mathias

Lloyd Mathias, an angel investor and business strategist, and former Asia-Pacific marketing head of HP Inc., says that Surf Excel’s 'Daag Acche Hai' was a brilliant campaign that helped the brand cement its leadership as the ultimate dirt buster.

About the new ad, he says, "This clever extension to the campaign is a nice way to keep the brand relevant among the target group, even while nicely telling kids that this is the time to stay indoors. Offering parents options of things to do to engage kids is also a deft touch."

"So, Surf Excel has ensured relevant and contextual presence through this lockdown – when TV viewership is peaking – with a smart campaign with hues of public service. Great move," he added.

Mathias, at the end, noted that this campaign does offer options for parents to keep their children busy, with the closing line: To learn smart activities to do with kids, visit Surf Excel on Instagram.

Chraneeta Mann
Chraneeta Mann

Chraneeta Mann, co-founder of The Mob, a creative agency, says, "'Daag Acche Hain', or 'Dirt is Good', was a really iconic positioning that cut across in relevance globally. It actually started out from amplifying the increasingly sedentary lifestyle of kids and encouraging parents to, in turn, encourage kids to get out there, get messy, yet active. From that point of view, it really shook up moms to rethink the way they were parenting."

However, she pointed out, "It would not really be correct to compare 'Daag Ghar Pe Rahenge' with that positioning as this one is more topical and, hence, a more transitory extension. It is equally clear that the ad is worked on with certain constraints that are natural to a lockdown, so the production values really can't be the focus here and, perhaps, can't be expected to be."

On the lockdown and what brands like Surf Excel can do next, Mann says, "All brands are shifting their share of voice gradually on to the digital medium at this time as that is becoming increasingly relevant as a touchpoint. In digital, we do know that conversations need to be constantly refreshed. Ideation needs to be responsive to the trend at that time and execution needs to be quick."

She added, "The only cautionary note in lockdown conversations would be that it becomes more important than ever to focus on the strength of the idea to create that differentiated impact and recall, if one does not want to get lost in the chatter of various brands saying quite the same thing."

Most brands wouldn't tweak their catchphrase, especially ones that are so popular. But, Surf Excel not only tweaked it, but also removed the '... Acche Hai' part of it and turned it into 'Daag Ghar Pe Rahenge'.

An interesting point to note here is that 'Daag Acche Hai' is, in fact, a literal translation of Unilever's global campaign tagline 'Dirt is Good'. It was coined by advertising agency MullenLowe in 2003 for the Presil/Omo washing detergent brand. In India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Surf is marketed as Omo's counterpart.

In Septemeber 2014, MullenLowe said on its website, "‘Dirt is Good’ is one of the most awarded global campaigns for advertising’s oldest and traditionally most functional category clocking over 10 effectiveness awards including Gold in the Best Sustained Success in the APAC Effie Awards and 9 Cannes Lions in the last 3 years."

The 'Daag Acche Hai' campaign was launched in 2005 in India and hasn't looked back since. The earliest and most popular ad under this campaign #PuddleWar can be seen on Surf Excel's YouTube channel.

In it, a boy is seen picking a fight with a puddle of dirty water to bring a smile on his sister's face after she tripped over it and stained her school uniform. The ad was, and still is, a smash hit.

The campaign worked in India because it spoke about the enemy 'daag', which means stains as being good because Surf Excel can easily get rid of them. When you're confident of defeating your enemy, it doesn't seem as intimidating as it did at the start. Other brands, meanwhile, spoke about cleanliness and 'safedi' (whiteness).

As the years went by and the catchphrase became a household name, Surf Excel released ads around Ramazan and Diwali - two emotionally resonant festive periods for Pakistan and India, respectively.

In 2016, it released a Ramazan ad #madadekibadat, which showed a young boy who ends up staining his new kurta as he was helping an old hawker sell 'samosas' – helping someone is also an act of faith.

Similarly, its Diwali ad in the same year showed kids get together to celebrate the festival with a dry cleaner by staining their clothes, which forms (turns into) a rangoli.

Then there was the campaign #HaarKoHarao. When a cricket coach gives up after his team loses again, the kids get all dirty and try, in their own sweet way, to convince him that they can win in the future, and that the match they had lost wasn't the last one.

Surf Excel took itself to greater heights with its Holi ad spots. In 2019, it released an ad #RangLaayeSang, which struck an emotional chord. It showed how colours can be an equaliser in our society. The ad was a success, but also had its share of negative press.

The detergent brand followed up with another Holi-themed ad in 2020, which showed how colours can help repair broken relationships in a family. Unfortunately, it fell flat, unlike its predecessor.

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