Here is a lovely woman — a clever woman too — she knows that surface smartness is not enough. True glamour means the Lux look — immaculate loveliness throughout. She runs no risk of having her dainty underwear ruined by rough handling and harsh soaps, but gives them the regular Lux care herself.

These lines from a wordy ad for Lux could well place the ad and context firmly in the mid-20th Century. But the Lux brand itself has stayed contemporary and re-imagined itself. Today, it is sold as a bath soap, shower gels, and other variants, and is not a fabric wash soap, as the ad indicates. The Lux ad, released by Lever Brothers in The Hindu dated January 21, 1947, several months before India got Independence, extols Lux as the beauty bar for intimate clothes.

Scrolling through the pages of The Hindu of the late 1940s, one can see several ads for Lux, both as a fabric wash soap as well as a bathing bar. A Lux ad from January 26, 1947, features actor Olivia de Havilland, with the ad blaring: ‘Now, famous screen star shows you how to give your skin Hollywood beauty care.’

Surviving longevity test

Like Lux, many of the brands enmeshed in our lives today were pretty much entrenched when India got its Independence and continue to thrive, nurtured by the brand owners. Some have taken new avatars and many brands, the ads of which one can see in the hoary pages of The Hindu in the late 1940s, have fallen by the wayside but 75 years on, many have survived the longevity test.

A homegrown brand, which is 154 years old, is, of course, the Tata brand, and growing from strength to strength. Some Tata consumer brands which existed at the time of Independence and which are still around today include Tata Steel, Taj (Taj Mahal Palace Hotel) and, of course, Air India (which was a Tata brand in 1947 and is now back to being a Tata brand in 2022).

Says Harish Bhat, Brand Custodian, Tata Sons, “There are two reasons why brand Tata has grown consistently and flourished for so long. First, Tata products and services have offered excellent quality and value to millions of Indian consumers across generations, which is fundamental to earning and retaining trust. Second, Tata has constantly reshaped its portfolio by pioneering products and services which are relevant to the present and the future. These compelling reasons lie at the heart of the Tata brand’s sustained success.”

Many of the Hindustan Unilever brands (HUL) were very much around even before Independence and continue to flourish today. As a HUL spokesperson says, the journey of HUL in India started over 100 years ago with the arrival of a few crates of Sunlight at the Kolkata harbour in 1888. Subsequently, many more brands were launched that became household names — such as Lifebuoy in 1895, followed by Pears in 1902, Lux flakes in 1905, and Vim scouring powder in 1913. Manufacturing in India started in 1925 with the acquisition of a factory at Garden Reach, Kolkata, and a few years later at Sewri in Mumbai in 1933. “The iconic brands of HUL are loved and used by more than 9 out of 10 Indian households,” says the spokesperson.

HUL brands’ longevity, the spokesperson explains, is due to the product superiority; the value the brands offered to consumers; the innovation to meet consumer needs; consistent communication and in later years, brand purpose. “Today, almost all of our brands have a purpose that goes beyond simply delivering superior product benefit,” adds the spokesperson.

Test of time

There are several others that have survived the test of time: Colgate, Bournvita, Hamam, Pond’s, Dettol, Amrutanjan, Britannia, Philips, Bata, Brooke Bond, Godrej shaving rounds and sticks (creams were considered expensive and were rare anyway), Glycodin cough syrup, Lipton, Dalda and Horlicks (now in the HUL stable). Many of these brands feature in ads in the pages of The Hindu of the late 1940s.

As a senior marketer points out, consumer brands such as Lux, Horlicks, Vim, Hamam and Britannia have existed and flourished for so many years because they offer simple and compelling solutions to consumer needs which have remained intact over this long period of time. “Each of these iconic brands is based on a clear idea which has remained remarkably consistent, even though the expression of the brand idea may have evolved and become more contemporary. In my view, that’s why they have continued to remain popular over such a long time,” he explains.

Branding expert Harish Bijoor says, the secret sauce of everlasting consumer franchise is consistency. “Be just that one thing. Don't be everything to everybody. If you are, then you are nothing to any one body! These brands have all decided to be just that one thing. And they repeat doing it every day and always,” he says.

Several of the ads during pre-Independence used line drawings or caricature to depict characters; very few used photographs and those that did were some of the bigger brands such as a Colgate or a Pond’s. The advent of colour printing in The Hindu in the 1940s saw a profusion of ads for movies under various banners. The August 15 issue in particular saw several brands heralding Independence and the ‘dominion of India’.

“When I look at the old creatives, I cannot but help say that these are forever statements that will live on and on. These look basic, but are really what I call "universal brand statements,” says Bijoor.

Cigarette and tobacco ads were plentiful but have disappeared, by law, from today’s advertising. Sample this from the August 15, 1947, edition: “Now, there’s a man’s tobacco: Garden Coolie Cut Plug Tobacco,” with a picture of a smoking pipe. Or, Will’s Scissors, which make “for such a soothing smoke.”

The prime medium in those days was print, which reached only the literate, which meant advertising was meant for the haves who could read. Many of the brands around I-Day were probably luxury products for an elite before they went mass in later years.