06 Mar 2021 11:30 IST

The Santoor glow up

Unique advertising and expanding the brand without changing it has helped the soap company to sustain

Nurturing Indian women’s aspiration of having glowing, youthful skin, Santoor has risen to the top. It is the first and the only Indian soap brand to be among the ₹2,000 crore+ consumer brands in India and recently attained the second rank in terms of soap sales.

Said to be the flagship brand of Wipro Consumer Care and Lighting, it was launched in 1986 and has had a chequered career. During its initial years, the soap’s natural ingredients sandal and turmeric were highlighted. By 1989, the need for a relaunch was felt and the focus was shifted to the end result — the soft, smooth and youthful skin that resulted from the use of Santoor soap.

This shift from ingredient-based to benefit-based positioning was not without its risks but the soap managed to retain its consumer base as the former premise of ‘natural ingredients’ was built into the result. However, as sales did not rise as anticipated and revenue in 1994 was just about ₹60 crore, another relaunch was planned.

Re-framing focus

This was more ambitious and was rolled out in 1995, with a new, contemporary shape for the soap and new packaging. The aim was to reach people across India and boost sales. Unfortunately, though the brand crossed the ₹100 crore mark in 1998, the initiative failed as Santoor was not able to break into the top three category — occupied by Rexona, Lux and Hamam — and the Santoor team was back to the drawing board.

Research showed that the soap was doing well in four states — Andhra, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Taking a courageous decision, the management dumped its pan-India-spread ambition and focussed all energy upon pushing Santoor in South and West India. Reasoning that even a regional brand can grow in size and scale, yet another relaunch was executed in 2004 with vibrant new packaging.

This was accompanied by aggressive advertising across print and television, along with campaigns that turned whole cities orange — the colour of Santoor soap. Anticipating competitive backlash, the Santoor brand campaigns were conducted only in smaller cities and rural areas, effectively slipping under the radar of the bigger soap brands and quietly making an impact.

The results were not immediate but long-lasting. As demand in rural areas surged, and the brand was extended to cover deodorants and handwash, it crossed ₹1,000 crore in 2012. It first overtook Rexona and Hamam, and by 2015, it had become the third most used soap brand in India. It recently pipped Lux to second spot. Lifebuoy is at the top.

Clear positioning

The Santoor product range now covers Beauty soaps (Sandal &Turmeric, Almond Soft, Aloe Fresh, Gold, PureGlo and RoseGlo, with the last-mentioned launched recently on an e-commerce platform), hand wash, body lotion, deodorants, talcs, and baby care.






Advertising — then and now — has been Santoor’s strongest point. It is one of the top FMCG advertisers on TV. It is probably one of the few brands to have continued with the same storyline successfully for more than three decades: the ‘mistaken identity’ formula, with the ‘Umar ka pata hi nahi chalta’ tagline, where a young, attractive woman is suddenly revealed as a mother, the secret for her youthful appeal being Santoor soap.

The brand recognised a long time ago that for a woman’s product to be successful, the buyer, user and influencer should all be the same person and typically this was the young woman who wished to remain forever youthful-looking. Santoor’s USP is that it makes the skin look younger, and it is on this premise that first-time users have been buying it for many years now. The fact that the natural ingredients make for a good soap and have anti-ageing properties keeps the user loyal to the brand despite age catching up sooner or later.

From a traditional Indian woman wholly occupied by her household duties, the Santoor woman has evolved in the advertisements to become fun-loving, achievement-oriented, and socially conscious, in that order.

In 2011, in a first, Santoor added celebrities who were not there to sell the brand but act as second leads gawking at the users. This was a masterstroke where the target audience retained centre stage without the celebrity–a-region-specific popular figure like Saif Ali Khan, R Madhavan, Mahesh Babu, Varun Dhawan and Karthi — taking away all the attention.








Contributions to society

As expected, the ‘mistaken identity’ ads have also come in for some criticism: the ads prey on women’s vulnerability amid the fears of lost youth immediately after motherhood has wrought irrevocable physical changes; and the Santoor mother is irresponsible, impossibly young and despite her progress over the years, still appreciated only for her beauty and youthfulness, reinforcing gender stereotypes.

The brand is not bothered. But possibly in an effort to woo a larger audience, the latest ads are departures from this formula as they focus on germ care and fighting pollution. Recent social media campaigns like #SantoorCares have emphasised family, safety, and protection.

Reaching out to society, the Santoor Women’s Scholarship was launched by Wipro Consumer Care and Wipro Cares in 2016 and every year, enables 900 underprivileged girls in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka to pursue higher education.

The company uses solar energy wherever possible and is working to achieve a zero landfill initiative. It has invested in bio-diversity parks and rainwater harvesting. Apart from this, it has eliminated wasteful packaging.