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Marketing analysis of detergents in the Indian Market.

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                                                                                     Group No: 7

Brand Chosen: SURF EXCEL

Surf Excel, launched in 1959, is one of the oldest detergent powders in India and Pakistan. Initially, the brand was positioned on the clean proposition of “washes whitest”. However, with the emergence of numerous local detergent manufacturers and the entry of other global brands, Surf Excel underwent various changes in its Brand Communication; from 'lalitaji' to 'dhoondte reh jaaoge' to 'jaise bhi daag ho, surf excel hai na', and is today communicated on the platform of 'Dhaag achcha hai'. This is in line with the global communication platform of Dirt Is Good, which is a communication strategy of Unilever for its premium detergent products, sold under various brand names; such as Omo in Brazil and Persil in UK and France. Today, Surf Excel leads the Premium Fabric Wash Category in India. Some of the other major detergent products of Unilever in India are Rin and Wheel. The latest entry into the segment is Comfort, a Fabric Conditioner1




Environmental Analysis

Hindustan Unilever Limited introduced Surf in 1959, introducing the first detergent powder into the country. At the time, housewives used laundry soap bars to wash clothes. Surf was the first brand of detergent to advertise on TV - then a relatively new medium of communication. It introduced the concept of bucket wash to Indian housewives. Through its ads, Surf offered them significantly better clean, with much less effort. The promise of ‘superlative whiteness’ – the articulation of a great clean at the time, connected with consumers and helped to establish the brand. This ad helped to create customer awareness and market incubation for a new product in a new market for a product that was in the introductory phase.

Positioning through advertisement

 Before 1959 soap bars were used to wash clothes.  Surf offered them ‘better clean’ with less effort. The promise of ‘superlative whiteness’- connected with consumers and helped establish the brand. Surf was first national detergent brand on TV. The brand used TV to effectively educate their consumers on how to use detergent powders in a bucket for better wash. The following is a print ad featured during this period:



The concept of detergent powder as a means of washing clothes was new to the Indian house hold at that point in time. So to create market for it, the marketers relied on the propositions of Superlative whiteness and washes whitest. The reduced effort required to handle Surf and the superior output in terms of whiteness must have been the relevant aspects of the brand to the customer.


Environmental Analysis

Nirma was introduced in the year 1970.Nirma was priced at one third of price of Surf price at that time.

Price of Nirma – Rs.7/Kg

Price of Surf – Rs.21/Kg

The HLL was not able to compete with Nirma by reducing the prices. There was actually a committee called C.R.I.S.P. – Cost Reduction in Surf Prices, which analyzed the issue and decided against reducing the prices[i].

From Surf accounting for 70% of the market, the low cost detergents had grown rapidly enough to account for 80% of volumes.

So they decided to position Surf as a quality product.

This was reflected in Lalitaji’s ad, where quality and value of the product are highlighted.

Positioning through advertisment

During 1970’s, Nirma powder was launched and surf had to communicate the idea of a price-value equation to its consumers. The brand introduced ‘Lalitaji’, a no-nonsense, independent, sensible housewife, who understood value and quality, and made the smart choice. The following is a print ad during the period.  Latltaji add released during this period is enclosed with this document.



This period witnessed the emergence of competitors like Nirma that offered low price detergents. To protect its market share, Surf began stressing the price-value equation of its brands. The quality obtained per rupee paid was highlighted rather than the quantity obtained per rupee.


Environmental Analysis

Rapid growth and improvement of telecommunication networks and wide spread of information technology tools and techniques after mid 1990s posed the biggest challenge in handling well-informed customers. This also provided big boost as they could reach to the customers easily.

Emergence of concentrates made the customers aware of the stain removal properties and the products for them. This in turn made Stain removal as the main parameter to judge the effectiveness of detergent powder rather than the whiteness offered. This was understood and the new formulation was created which offered best stain removal.

Daag Dhoondthe reh jaaoge’ campaign was introduced to highlight this property. This ad reached the wide variety of customers and the advertisement was well received.

Positioning through advertisment

Ariel was launched in the mid-price powder segment during this period. Surf Ultra was launched to establish a new standard of washing performance and was introduced with ‘Daag Dhoondhthe reh jooage’ communication. Concentrated on best stain removal positioning. An ad released during this period is enclosed.


This period saw the emergence of the middle class that demanded high quality at medium price. This led to the demand for the mid price powder segment. To maintain its position as a detergent powder producing high quality washing performance, it introduced a mid price detergent powder Surf Ultra and promoted it with focus on its stain removing characteristics.


Environmental Analyis

In India, per capita consumption of detergents in 1994 was 2.8 kg per annum. This is projected to rise to over 4 kg/capita by 2005. In rural areas the use of detergent bars is expected to grow 7-8 per cent annually.

Thus, though the growth expected was huge, there was the emergence of numerous local detergent manufacturers and the entry of other global brands. HLL, stimulated by its emergent rival - Nirma and its changed business model, of catering to various tiers of customer segment registered a 20 percent growth in revenues per year and a 25 percent growth in profits per year between 1995 and 2000. Over the same period various new entrants like Henkel who re-launched Henko Powder as `Henko Stain Champion' in Southern parts of India. White Giant was re-launched in Southern parts of India during July as  White Giant Heavy Duty with the intention of catering to the growing  mid range segment of the detergent powder market. Hence the communication strategy of persuasion adopted to differentiate the positioning of Surf Excel vis a vis its competitors inorder to avoid a market share decline.

Positioning through advertisement

Its positioning during this period concentrated on removal of variety of stains. The brand communication was through the tag line, ‘Jaise bhi daag ho, surf excel hai na’.



This period saw the emergence of many new competitors and the need for differentiating itself in the minds of the customers led to a shift in the marketing strategy of Surf Excel. It focused on the care that it brings to the clothes, besides the cleaning effect. Complete cleaning and care were the offerings to the customer.


Environmental Analysis

Water was realized to be a major issue in the future. Social and Environmental activities were rising to a great extent during this time. HUL realized that it is important for a brand as its functional attributes.

The key objective in Surf product development has been to find new methods for helping consumers and customers to be more environmentally friendly in the way they do their washing and cleaning.

So it focused on new product developments that meet the need for more efficient use of scarce water in the country. In the dry southern states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, washing clothes accounted for almost one-quarter of water consumption. People spend more on water for washing than on the detergents themselves.

A new formulation of Hindustan India's Surf Excel detergent for washing by hand, which was launched first in the two southern states, saves people two buckets of water per day by doing fewer rinses, while obtaining the same level of stain removal.

"Typically people keep rinsing till all the lather has gone, which often takes four rinses or four buckets of water," said a Unilever official. "We knew we could cut the number of rinses by adding one of a number of anti-foam ingredients commonly used in washing-machine detergents. This would make the lather rinse more quickly."

The new Surf Excel has increased its Indian sales by 50% during that time.

Positioning through advertisment

During this period, the positioning changed a little to removing tough stains with less effort and less time, with a low foam formula meaning less scrubbing and rinsng and saving water. The brand tied up with eminent celebrities like Revathi (South) and Shabana Azmi to propagate this. Further, a variant, Surf Excel- Blue was also re-launched with the positioning of removal of tough stains but not fade color. It was communicated with ‘Jayega nahin jayega’ tag line.


The severe shortage of water in many places of country during this period prompted Surf Excel to introduce Quick Wash. Its focus was on less water and less foam. It offered to remove tough stains with less time and effort.

image02.png 2005

Environmental Analysis

This communication to customers  is in line with the global communication platform of Dirt Is Good, which is a communication strategy of Unilever for its premium detergent products, sold under various brand names; such as Omo in Brazil and Persil in UK and France. In 2004,P&G and HLL were not the only major players in the Indian detergent market. Henkel and Nirma were also becoming very aggressive. The Indian fabric wash products market was a highly fragmented one. There was a sizeable unorganized sector. Of the 23 lakh-tonne market, laundry soaps and bars made from vegetable oils accounted for around seven lakh tonnes with synthetic detergents making up the rest. Also stain removers in the premium segment, like Vanish were launched .This made it  all the more imperative to HLL to remind customers of its differentiated positioning in the detergent market, as also to be looked as the detergent of choice for all types of customer needs- plain washing to heavy duty stain removal.

Positioning through advertisement

Although Surf Excel is a premium brand, this advertisement caters to all the income grades and all classes of people, across age groups. The brand and product are positioned as accessible to all people, whoever and however they may be. The philosophy of ‘Dirt is good’ (Daag Ache hain) was adopted. It encouraged mothers to let kids get dirty because it’s all part of the learning necessary to become well rounded, successful individuals. The stains experience was linked to learning of values. The print ad released during this period is as follows:

The ad released during this period is enclosed with this document.



This period saw the introduction of Surf Excel Matic that exclusively served the washing machine users. The surge in the sales of washing machines must have caused this new strategy from the company. Also the need to break the clutter of advertisements has led to the new advertising focus on Stain is good. The ability of the brand to handle any type of stain is being projected to the customer.


  • Surf Excel has differentiated itself as a premium brand which offers a range of solutions that deliver top clean performance. The communication of ‘Dirt is good’ continues.

Value Positioning Over Years:

image04.png                (+)Stain Removal                        



(+)Value for Money                                  (-)            (-)                Superior Washing Experience(+)

image06.png                (+)                                        image02.png


As seen, Surf Excel has changed its positioning over years to keep itself relevant to the external environment and thus maintained its success.

Initially, the positioning was limited to Functional Positioning limiting itself to providing benefits and solving the needs. Then, for some time it went into symbolic positioning with providing social meaningfulness with the concept of save 2 buckets water. Over a period of years, the positioning has changed to experiential positioning, trying an emotional connect with consumers with its new philosophy.


More Price                The same price                Less Price                

More Benefits

More for more


More for the same

More for less

The same benefits

The same for less

Less benefits

Less for much less

Changing Value Proposition of Various brands

The above figure shows the possible value propositions, upon which a company might position its products. “MORE FOR MORE” positioning involves providing upscale products and charges a higher price to cover the costs. Surf Excel claims superior quality, performance, and charges a price to match. This value for money positioning was extensively used by the company during the 1970’s. Due to introduction of competition, the company gave more benefits like stain removal, color preserving quality for the same price, hence the value positioning of the company is “MORE FOR THE SAME”.

The positioning of Surf Excel in comparison with its competitors is as follows:



Surf Excel latest ad justifies the tagline “Daag acche hain”. As usual the latest ad fits compactly in a 60 sec run and yet manages to impress and bring a smile in the end. The presence of kids along with the way they have acted also brings further charm to the commercial. Surf excel gets the background music spot on. The background music slowly gets more joyous as the ad progresses. It is a clear example of emotional marketing used effectively. Each of the ad is filled with a heart touching message for the viewer.

The story board of the ad was:

This ad starts in a background of a school playground. 2 small school going children are ragging another young kid by pulling down his pants. Just when the young boy’s pants are pulled down the head mistress appears. And she asks what’s going on. The young boy, with a big heart, says i was just practicing for sack race which is going to be held in some days.

The boy pulls down his pants and starts sack racing with his pants down.  As happens in surf excel ads, the boy enters the middle of a pool of mud water, rolls and falls in it and finally stands up with clothes all muddy. The head mistress takes a look at all that is happening and finally forgives the naughty boys. These boys than meet up with our young hero, say thanks, and pull down their own pants and start sack racing.


The objective of the communication was to bring out the essence of Forgiveness as a value which teaches the kid to be harmonious with others. And encourage mothers to see the value behind stains. It was how through stains, this child forgives some bullies who troubled him and through stains he teaches them a far bigger lesson in life.


  • The consumer has now come to expect a certain kind of a predictable story from Surf Excel under the 'Daag achche hai' umbrella. In such a scenario, the challenge for communication is to give a refreshing take which surprises the viewer. But the latest ad fails to do so.
  • Also the whole plot can be criticized to some extent. The plot seems a little forced especially the kid jumping into the puddle without any reason or provocation.




  1. Product Life Cycle and market stage have an impact on the positioning of the product – surf excel
  2. During the early stages, i.e. in 1950s, Surf excel was the first ever detergent to be marketed in India and hence the product was in an introductory stage. Accordingly the communication strategy adopted was one of awareness, information – all leading to market incubation
  3. In the growth stages of the 1970s,the communication strategy changed to one of  product differentiation – educating customers of advantages of Surf Excel in terms of its superior quality and value for money, over its newly emerged rival-Nirma
  4. In the maturity phase of the 1990s,the market for detergents started getting fragmented in the organized sector, with the entry of several other players, all vying for India`s growing market. This prompted Surf to come up with a ‘reminder’  strategy of communication- repeated positioning of effective stain removal
  5. The positioning of Surf Excel continues to change, in line with innovative product features and communication themes, each time trying to capture an increased market share.

Present Competitor positioning:



According to Martinez (2003) “Value resides in the satisfaction and fulfilment of customers’ expectations, at the same time, generating wealth for organisations.” The value proposition is defined as “an implicit promise a company makes to its customers to deliver a particular combination of values” (Martinez, 2003). Each proposition searches for a unique value that can be delivered to a chosen market.

Successful companies do not just add value, they re-invent it.


  • Innovator: The product Surf Excel was an innovation from the detergents prevalent in India during the time of its launch. Also, it introduced the concept of Bucket washing. Here, the innovation for the Surf Excel occurs in terms of the changing, innovative value propositions in terms of the benefit-mix offered to its target segment of customers         
  • Brand Manager: Superior control over product style, quality and promotion
  • Over time, the value proposition changed to socialisor, sensitive fulfillment of customer needs supported by reliability and honesty


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surf_Excel
  2. http://www.citeman.com/5429-fmcg-strategies-before-liberalization-some-illustrations/
  3. http://www.indiatogether.org/environment/articles/tlink-1002.htm)

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