Rahul Sachitanand
Nov 23, 2020

For Unilever, pandemic provides new purpose for brand Lifebuoy

Over 126 years after William Lever founded the soap brand to aid Cholera-ravaged England, Lifebuoy is returning to its roots as it becomes a billion-Euro brand and mounts a global expansion.

For Unilever, pandemic provides new purpose for brand Lifebuoy

Lifebuoy, a brand that was founded 126 years ago by Unilever founder William Lever in order to halt the virulent spread of Cholera in England, has found fresh purpose during the current pandemic thanks to its longtime association with the cause of handwashing. While the brand is well-recgonised in markets such as India and Southeast Asia (where it is among the top two soap brands), Covid-19 has seen the brand reshaped to take on a virus that has taken nearly 57 million people ill and caused at least 1.3 million deaths. 

From being a brand that is strong in some markets, Lifebuoy's mission to help keep the world's population healthy and hygenic has seen its products launched in over 50 new markets in the past 100 days. While the brand has re-launched in the US in Walmart, it has also been launched on ecommerce platforms in China, is finding growing acceptance in the UK and has also been promoted in markets such as Egypt and Bangladesh. 

"During a pandemic, we are marketing Lifebuoy in a way that is culturally relevant in these markets," Kartik Chandrasekhar, global brand vice president for Lifebuoy, told Campaign Asia-Pacific. "We want to ensure that we get the brand purpose of Lifebuoy to as many people as possible."

This quarter is a pivotal one for the brand. "Lifebuoy is new in 55 countries, is growing share in 93% of its markets and as of September it became our latest €1 billion brand," the company's CFO, Graham Pitkethly, told analysts in a post-results call. "Lifebuoy delivered growth of 67% in the year to date, and has a compound annual growth rate of around 13% across the last decade."  

Cultural relevance in messaging comes through in different ways for Lifebuoy. "Recognising that sport is a passion for billions of people around the world  ... Lifebuoy has connected with cricket to reach vast audiences with the critical message of handwashing with soap during the pandemic," Chandrasekhar said. For example, Lifebuoy has partnered with the Bangladesh Cricket Board and Pakistan Cricket to further drive the importance of handwashing. Lifebuoy's brand team and agencies have also created work tied to the Indian Premier League cricket tournament, and the brand inked a deal to support Formula 1. 

Meanwhile, in India, a rap-based song called ‘Lifebuoy Karo Na’, which roughly translates as ‘Do The Lifebuoy’, accompanied by dance steps, made prevention through handwashing a part of popular culture. The song garnered over a billion impressions on TikTok. Similarly in Indonesia, Vietnam and Singapore, the brand used popular local music to engage with its audience. 

In Britain, where the brand originated, its 'Bish bash bosh' campaign is a nod to the use of slang to denote the simplicity of handwashing and the destruction of germs. In Pakistan, Lifebuoy has delivered its ‘Hathon ki hifazat’ program, while in Singapore Lifebuoy has encouraged people to be a 'hygiene hero' and play their part in protecting their communities from the spread of Covid-19. Beyond that, the latest campaign, 'H for Handwashing' is encouraging children to learn good hand-hygiene habits from an early age, Chandrasekhar says. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, Lifebuoy responded early with public service announcements to ensure people used soap—any soap—to protect themselves. Following this, Lifebuoy used an assortment of different tools, influencer partnerships and campaigns across the world.

"All of these are ways to get the messaging of handwashing and the purpose of preventing illness [out] in a way that will lead to behaviour change," he said. The brand customises its campaigns to get consumers, families and young people across the world involved to help detect and prevent the spread of infections, he added.

As hygiene became sacrosanct for consumers, the Lifebuoy message rang out clearly, partly because it named rivals (such as Lux, Dettol, Santoor and Godrej No 1 in India) as it sought to promote handwashing, rather than only seeking to profit from the pandemic. "In three days and across 17 countries, we managed to put out a PSA that H is for handwashing," Chandrasekhar said. The H for Handwashing campaign was viewed 20 million times in 24 hours of its launch, the company said. 

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