One of the longest running campaigns the world over, Lux, an international venture of Levers Brothers, featured Hollywood stars in most parts of the world. Lux entered India in 1929 and while its early advertisements would feature Hollywood actresses, they would eventually be replaced almost completely by local stars.
The very fact that right from Devika Rani onwards every film star from Indian film industry has been starring in the advertisement , has perhaps made it a “must-do” thing. Every aspiring starlet has been making it her career goal to appear in the Lux ad. In that sense it has become a kind of a benchmark for success and a way of announcing her arrival in the industry.
Devika Rani may have been one of the foremost stars of early talkies cinema but in 1941 the distinction of being the first Lux model went to her contemporary, Leela Chitnis.
Lux can be seen as one of the earliest forms of celebrity endorsements. The vast majority of actresses who appeared in the Lux advertisements were drawn from the Bombay film industry. As a product, however, that reached the entire country, regional advertising was critical to the success of Lux. Thus well known stars of Bengali, Tamil, and Telegu cinema also regularly found place in Lux advertisements in Filmfare.
A Lux appearance would be predicated not just on a lead appearance but on glamorous and iconic performances of different kinds. All the leading "vamps" of the Bombay film industry appeared in the advertisement as well.
In this sense the campaign highlighted and awarded female performance of all kinds. Diverse stars jostled for attention in the world of Lux, featuring known and bankable actresses but also those who appeared in fleeting iconic roles or remained on the margins of success.
The Lux campaign was a product of complex negotiations between advertisers and the industry, between stars, their publicists or agents, secretaries and producers. Its success was predicated on the fact that it was mutually beneficial to all these players.
Stars actively solicited the Lux campaign. At a time when film journalism was not as prolific as it became later, Lux was probably one of the best ways for the stars to get publicity outside of big urban cities and towns. Levers advertised throughout the year and its adverts traveled all over the country, printed not just in magazines but on soap wrappers, boxes, in posters and on billboards. Like autographed postcards, Lux with its signed endorsements could be seen as a form of circulating star portraiture but with a much wider reach.
Moreover the stars looked their best in these pictures as their portraits were taken by skilled photographers. Worked on by equally skilled artists, in later years they involved stylists and makeup artistes to create the glamorous star persona of Lux. Lux campaign was the company acknowledging that the actress had become a star and the star saying thank you.
This prolific campaign was possible because stars did not get paid for an appearance in the initial years. For the film producers, the campaign worked as free publicity for their new productions. By the late fifties the advertisements would feature information about the name, production credits and costume of the current film that the actress endorsed.
By the 1970s Lux seemed to have lost its exclusive edge with competition from various other brands. Photographic advertising would eventually turn other kinds of faces into celebrities, but Lux toilet sap continued to remain faithful to its cinematic subjects.
The cultural life of the soap would however be constantly updated. Finding a space outside the pages of magazines to a presence in cinema trailers and television, Lux had become a key brand sponsoring beauty and fashion contests by the 1990s. One thing has not changed however: The Lux campaign continues to be predicated on the aura of the female star and its one-time attempt to change this using Shahrukh Khan in a bathtub of petals was not very successful.