How to manage the marketing communication strategies for a brand that is sold all over the world? I do a session titled ‘Adopt, Adapt, Create’ at B Schools and it stimulates some healthy discussion on how MNC brand advertising should be or should not be handled. I was introduced to this concept two decades or more ago by Zain Raj who was then at FCB managing the global campaigns of SC Johnson, which has brands like Raid, Glade, andMr Muscle.

What is the ‘Adopt-Adapt-Create’ template?

In simple terms if the same campaign can be rolled out with the bare minimum change (language dubbing / language super), then it falls in the ‘Adopt’ bucket . Think of Apple and its outdoor campaign. But if the campaign needs some local talent, and small changes in communication then it falls in the ‘Adapt’ bucket. Finally, if the campaign idea, the consumer insight driving it, is irrelevant to the audience of a country, you may have to go back to the drawing board to ‘Create’ a new campaign based on a fresh consumer insight.

In all my B School sessions one brand always features. Students debate if it is ‘Adopt’ or ‘Adapt’. That is Unilever’s Lux soap.

Lux celebrates its 100th birth anniversary this year and its long running campaign ‘Beauty Secret of Film Stars’ is probably a little less than 100 years old. Lever Bros, or Unilever understood the need to find a powerful insight and then take it across the world with minimum change. The powerful insight: every woman wants to be as beautiful as a film star. The brand connect: the fragrance of the soap, the creaminess of the soap pampers you and makes your skin smooth and beautiful.

Lux has used film stars (and TV stars) for its campaigns that run around the world. But it doesn’t ‘Adopt’. It almost always ‘Adapts’ the campaign to the local taste. In my book ‘Nawabs Nudes Noodles – India through 50 years of advertising’, I have recounted the fact that when Lux entered the Indian market in 1940s, it decided to ‘Adapt’ its global campaign and roped in Leela Chitnis to be its first Indian star model. The campaign for Lux in the US, circa 1927, went ‘Nine out of ten screen stars use Lux toilet soap for their priceless smooth skin’.

Star power: Leela Chitnis, India’s first Lux model

Star power: Leela Chitnis, India’s first Lux model

What Leela Chitnis started was a trend that was followed by almost all the big actresses of India. In the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s it was a sought after assignment. Film stars believed that featuring in the Lux ad was the sign that they had arrived. Remember those were the days before TV and internet. The only exposure a film star got was in the big screen. Seeing their faces plastered over outdoor sites and magazines was a great bonus that Lux offered. HLL [as Hindustan Lever was called those days in India] did not pay its star endorsers big amounts for the modelling contract. But there was no paucity of takers: Waheeda Rehman, Rekha, Hema Malini, Sridevi and more. In the south it had Padmini, Savitri, Sharada, Jayanthi and more. In 2005 , Lux even roped in Shah Rukh Khan to feature in its ad with former and current endorsers, Hema Malini, Sridevi, Juhi Chawla and Kareena Kapoor. In its 100th year, Shah Rukh’s daughter Suhana is the face of the brand.

What was once unique to Lux is today common place for all beauty, skin care and hair care brands. And I don’t think film stars reduce their rates for Lux endorsements anymore. I suppose Lux advertising is no longer as distinctive as it used to be when it was one of the few brands that could use a film star for endorsement.

While Lux stayed true to the ‘Beauty Secret to Film Stars’ promise, the Lux ad films have become bigger and glossier. The films are often produced in exotic locales abroad. The brand attempts to provide escapist entertainment to its consumers by taking them on a vicarious trip around the world. Lux has also expanded into facewash and bodywash, both of which have not done too well. The brand’s attempt at moving up the ladder to more premium offerings like Lux Supreme or Lux International, have not panned out too well. But that said, the brand continues to be one of the top soap brands in India, a brand that has weathered attacks from numerous Indian and International brands like Cinthol, Camay, Nivea and Fa.

Full disclosure: I have worked on the advertising campaigns of Santoor soap for almost two decades and I cheered when Santoor overtook Lux in total sales to become the second largest selling soap brand in India (behind HUL’s Lifebuoy) a few years ago.

(Ambi Parameswaran is a veteran ad man and author of 11 best- selling books on branding and marketing. )