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September 01, 2013

Lifebuoy – the over Hundred Year brand – Positioning Strategy

 Lifebuoy, the strong-smelling, dull red soap came to life through the energetic  advertisements  in  the cinema halls with the tune of “Tandurusti ki raksha karta hai Lifebuoy …” 

First introduced in India in early 1895 Lifebuoy spans nearly 130 years, Lifebuoy moved from being a men's soap to a family soap. Over the years Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) moved away from the strong carbolic scent, it also modified the aesthetics of the outer packaging. The result is a contemporary-looking and fresher smelling soap which promised ‘continuous protection from germs' for the entire family.  

1. Initial Positioning Strategy (from 1894 to 2002): Since 1894 Lifebuoy had largely remained the ultimate mens' bathing bar.

2. Positioning shift (in 2002): The challenge for Lifebuoy was to effect the change, while retaining the core – its disinfectant properties. So the core positioning strategy was moved from men battling grime and dirt to mothers chasing a healthy soap to ensure their children don't get infected. 

3. Reinvesting positioning strategy (2004):  In 2004, Lifebuoy was re-launched with four variants and all the variants came under one ‘umbrella' look. The variants were Lifebuoy Strong, Lifebuoy Fresh, Lifebuoy Gold and Lifebuoy Naturals

4: Seasonal Positioning strategy (2011): Lifebuoy started being sold on a ‘seasonal' platform with the communication proposition being ‘Protection from 10 infection causing germs'.   The ten germs being are flu, sore throat, respiratory infection, dysentery, diarrhoea, rash, skin infection, sore eyes, pimples and ear infection.

5. Positioning Problem in the urban markets: Although Lifebuoy has stuck to its base proposition over the years; analysts say it has not been able to keep many of its urban audiences interested. Given the category and the competitiveness therein, it's not surprising that Lifebuoy has attempted to refresh itself every few years. Over the years, there are many campaigns from the brand that are fresh in public memory, right from the sweaty players on the football field to the Little Gandhi advertisements. 

Keeping in mind Lifebuoy's heritage and lineage, analysts think that if HUL wants to improve its sales in the urban markets it should position the soap as a retro soap that is a soap that harps on its lineage and its traditional values and try to hook on people who were once very loyal to it rather than trying to be a modern soap and compete with other brands of soap.

Rural Market strategy: Lifebuoy has a pan-India presence and the rural markets make up more than half of its overall sales. There are a lot of challenges that the soap faces in these markets.

In rural markets Lifebuoy has to build a relevance of germs. In the case of urban markets a lot of people understand that germs cause illness. In rural markets Lifebuoy has to explain to people that there are things called germs and if they don’t wash their hands the germs will cause illness.

Although the product quality is the same, the company does have cheaper variants of Lifebuoy in rural areas. Lifebuoy is available in 38-gm stock keeping units that cost Rs 5, in rural areas. This aids easy product penetration. 


  1. This was really shown that how agile the marketing systems of HUL in order to make the brand sustainable by re positioning the brand according to dynamic market conditions. Really it was wonderfully explained sir.

  2. Hi........ nice post.!!
    Thank you for giving us important information of brand positioning & brand strategy.

  3. Lifebuoy's innovative campaign during kumbh mela and it's " help a child reach 5 campaign on Fb" going viral and reaching 1.47 million views shows how active HUL is in the market.

    As opportunities to move up the value chain present themselves Lifebuoy has been quick to capitalise. It's moved into the more expensive clear soaps segment apart from new categories like liquid handwash and sanitisers and has indeed postitoned itself has a strong brand.

  4. Great observation Soumya, keep it going!