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Two iconic ads, the Liril Girl and the Onida Devil, quietly went off the market. Kunal Majumder finds the reasons for their success and the change

ONE WAS purely sinful and the other literally satanic: a bikiniclad nymphet bathing under a waterfall with her favourite soap and in the other, the Devil himself tempted you with a colour TV. Both proved very popular — and effective — advertising campaigns. Some even hail them as iconic.

Conceived in 1975 and 1995 respectively, Alyque Padamsee’s Liril Girl and Gopi Kukde’s Onida Devil redefined advertising in the country. Both campaigns created two distinctive brand mascots and ran for years. One had a jingle that few will be able to forget, the other a memorable tagline: Neighbour’s Envy, Owner’s Pride, and the sound of glasspanes breaking from stones thrown by jealous neighbours.

The devil had become a furniture item, something that was taken for granted. It needed a fresh look
Prasoon Joshi, McCann Erickson

Last week, however, both campaigns were shelved by their respective advertising agencies. “It was time to make the shift because the brand perception had changed over the years and the client wanted a new fit,” claims Prasoon Joshi, executive chairman of advertising firm McCann Erickson. “The devil had become like furniture — something taken for granted. There was a need for a fresh look.” Joshi and his team replaced the Devil with a young married couple, Ritu and Siddharth, and are optimistic about its success.

The waterfall has run dry for the Liril Girl. Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) wants a change because of a new thought process that shifts from a single girl frolicking unabashedly to families sharing their intimate moments.

Ad agency Lowe Lintas’ Executive Director R Balkrishnan, popular as Balki, is responsible for creating the replacement for the Liril girl. In fact, he feels that it’s high time to reinterpret freshness for the brand. “For 22 years, we put a person under the waterfall. In the last three to four years, we have been trying new ways to interpret freshness. The change to me and to the client was inevitable.” The new advertising campaign of Liril focusses on families enjoying moments of togetherness. Indian sentiments will work on Indian families, believes Balki. But isn’t that a deviation from the previous freshness? “Not really. Our current concept is a very fresh one and blends very well with the prevailing ethos.”

The change hasn’t come easy. For Joshi, the creation of a new Onida ad concept was difficult due to an emotional attachment with the long-running campaign. “Many have grown up with such advertisements. But we need to catch up with the way society is now,” he says, adding: “People are no longer envious or jealous of their neighbours because of the television brand they possess. Times have changed and the days of a single television in the neighbourhood are over. Televisions and refrigerators have become an essential part of our lives. They are no longer objects of envy but necessities.”

Suresh Amarnani, head of marketing at Onida, agrees. “People are quite comfortable with what they are now. They no longer define themselves through their neighbours. The emotional behaviour of our target customers has changed. So, we had to change our thought process and our campaign too,” he adds.

Prahlad Kakkar
Padamsee stole the concept from an international ad for Fa soap. There was nothing Indian in it
Prahlad Kakkar,  Ad Filmmaker

It is the same equation that is working at the offices of FMCG giant Hindustan Unilever in the heart of Mumbai. Liril has been rebranded as Liril 2000 to address the changing social content. The brand has moved from targeting urban women to families. “The emotional space addressed by Liril in the 1970s is no longer relevant to Liril consumers today. The brand will continue to innovate and renovate to remain relevant to current consumers,” says R Ram, spokesperson, HUL.

But this is exactly the reason advertising veteran Prahlad Kakkar criticises the Liril Girl campaign. In a conversation with TEHELKA, Kakkar claimed that Lever could never figure out why the Liril Girl campaign became a hit and neither could the company understand its ultimate fall. “This is what happens when you blindly copy others. Alyque Padamsee stole the whole concept from an international ad for Fa soap,” he claims. “When the sales started plummeting, they became confused. There was nothing in the campaign that should have appealed to the Indian audiences then. They should have reworked their campaign when their target customer base started shifting from urban to rural centres. Instead, they kept changing the models and the waterfalls. How long can you flog the same concept?” When contacted, Padamsee refused to comment.

However, Balki defends the Liril Girl. “It became an iconic campaign with a strong idea. Indians loved it. Over the years, new models were introduced to refresh the campaign. The signature visual imagery of a girl taking a refreshing shower under a waterfall and the famous Liril jingle were key to the campaign running successfully for over years,” he retorts.

Kakkar, meanwhile, believes that the Onida Devil campaign was successful because it was matched by constant product innovation. “Onida had a very good product that matched the campaign. The company kept in touch with the market and its needs. From a creative point of view, the devil was interpreted in an entirely different way, giving a distinct identity to the brand,” says Kakkar.

The devil, as the avatar of envy, was the first negative character or a villain to have played a prominent role in an Indian ad. “The Onida Devil had become very strong as a symbol. Our survey showed that out of 100 people, 80 could identify an ad with a devil as Onida’s. For competing brands, this (identification) was just 20-25 percent,” claims Amarnani.

Krishnamurthy Sriram, vice-president (marketing, sales and service) at Mirc Electronics Ltd, which owns the Onida brand, estimates that the devil single-handedly boosted Onida’s marketshare in televisions from about 6 percent in 1981 to about 20 percent at the campaign’s peak in 1995.

But can focussed advertising campaigns be sustained for decades in the current market? No, says Nakul Chopra, CEO of Publicis, another major advertising company. In fact, he wants brands to test the market with subtle changes every now and then. “As the emotional content of the brand changes, the role of iconic brand campaigns is limited. We need to continue testing whether the campaign is relevant over months and years.”

But if that is indeed the case, the title of ‘icon’ will become tougher than ever to achieve. Whatever their current status, there’s little doubt that both the Onida Devil and the Liril Girl were able to reach — and retain — that exalted status for an extended period. And that’s no mean achievement.


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