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Why product offering is much more critical than adverts: A lesson from Le Sancy

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a video on my Facebook news feed. It said, “Only kids from the 90’s would remember these ads”.

I usually end up clicking on such videos out of curiosity. It is interesting to notice that quite a few of us like to reminisce on experiences in our childhood. So, I checked the video.

Most of them were great ads by strong brands, but one advert just stood out. It was a brand I swore I had never heard of after that period. It just died out. It was the Le Sancy soap ad.

The ad was brilliant. It had all the elements that one would look for in a perfect execution. Everyone of my generation who had seen this advert ever would not find it difficult to recall the line,

"Rahul!!! Paani chala jaayega!!". 

This epic ad stood the test of time, but the product did not. It made me wonder about what went wrong, so instead of the cap of nostalgia that I had on, I decided to watch the ad again and dissect it in marketing terms, on what really did they miss.

Lets look at the ad first.

Spearheaded by Piyush Pandey from Ogilvy Mather, this ad won a lot of accolades. It was perfect execution.

The dancing kid added the initial appeal which would get you hooked to the ad at first. The music is catchy and a first time viewer would not have probably ignored it. You’d wonder what was the kid up to, and wouldn’t mind staying on for a few seconds to hear out the story.

On top of it, it would have resonated humorously with many moms who used to shout at their kids to take bath. Limited water supply was always a cause for constant concern and I myself had suffered my mom’s hollering at me at the top of her voice at times for water while we kids frolicked carelessly. This ad was something all of us could relate to, and I am pretty sure back then it would have resulted in extremely high brand recall for Le Sancy soap and the advert itself.

The ad makers got the targeting also bang on. If you notice the background settings, it was a well off family with a clean bathroom and running water, which, in those days, was considered to be a luxury for Indian families. HUL wanted the soap to appeal to all families with the aspiration of having a better life.

And finally, notice the killer takeaway line at the end:

“Is duniya mein jahan kuch nahi chalta, yaha shukr hai Le Sancy toh hai. Le Sancy: Shaandaar quality jo khoob chale, chalti jaaye.”

Well, it translates to, “In this world where nothing works, thankfully Le Sancy exists. Le Sancy: Superb quality that keeps going on and on”. So true for the general condition back then: nothing was guaranteed to work.

Notice the subtle appeal to the cost-conscious in the form of durability despite extended usage under water. The promise of quality and durability usually works with the Indian population, but this product somehow didn’t make the cut. Can you figure out the reason why?

Well, I don’t know what Hindustan Unilever was thinking when launching this, but probably they got carried away with the insight that Indian mothers back then desired for soaps that would not melt under water, creating a sense of waste and thereby perceptibly reducing their life. HUL would have likely gone to their labs to make a soap that would stay rock solid even under the duress of continued water flow over it.

Great insight, and great initiative. But this was another case of marketing myopia here. They considered what the consumer claimed they wanted, but the researchers forgot what the consumers needed. When all other soap brands were focusing on beauty, cleanliness, hygiene, health and wellness, the positioning of Le Sancy soap was very weak. It promised good quality, but what benefit was it to the consumer? What would using it result to? The offering was not at all appealing.

So, although the ad made a lot of waves, it didn’t eventually lead to the product success. Which brings me to the conclusion that no matter how fancy the packaging be, how cheap the product be, how heavy the advertising investment be, if it doesn’t offer value to the consumer, if it doesn’t meet a need, it is bound to fail.

So, we all recall, “Rahul! Paani chala jaayega!” But we do not want to purchase a product which we have no need for.

One might say, in the hindsight, it is easy to judge what was wrong and what was right. However, the truth remains that it would be worth the while for marketers to keep this example in mind while drafting the next positioning statement, or creating the brief for a new product development.

Have a great weekend!

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