Lux Crystal Shine. That's the latest one in the Lux basket, following the Lux Chocolate Seduction that was launched around the brand's 75th anniversary when the Shah Rukh Khan ad campaign was launched, followed by Lux Uplifting Firm and Lux White Glow, beyond the regular Lux. Why do consumers need so many Luxes? Isn't it confusing?
Such extensions coming from a brand with a long legacy and loud ad decibel association with film stars over decades, as well as an 18 per cent market share (AC Nielesen data), well ahead of competitors in its segment, cannot really be laughed off, but it can raise questions and comments. So why's Lux extending so briskly?
Santosh Desai, CEO and MD of Future Brands, says, "The soap market is becoming dull and Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL), for Lux, is trying to add some excitement. Most of these efforts try to convert the jaded consumer." He also feels that in comparison to Lux, brands such as Lifebuoy and Dettol are more strongly placed owing to a well-defined positioning of providing protection.
So it's about building excitement, and perhaps even clutter-busting, in a segment comprising of maturing and increasingly disinterested-in-soaps consumers being addressed by a clutch of competing brands, all vying for attention. Ashok Venkatramani, VP – skincare, HUL, explains: "Market conditions dictate strategic shifts and as market leaders, our innovations, which caters to shifting consumer needs and not necessarily strategic shifts, are clutter breakers."
He claims that all the campaigns, from Lux-Shah Rukh Khan, to Lux Chocolate Seduction, the Lux coffee table book, Lux Uplifting Firm and Lux White Glow have been successful. "And Lux Crystal Shine marries research technology and women's needs for a glowing skin very well."
Harish Bijoor, CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults, is not very sure of the benefits of Lux innovating at the top end, though. "These initiatives – all niche efforts – have done a great deal for brand image, but precious little for volume and margins. They have put the brand at the cutting edge of innovation in terms of product and positioning stances, but not helped too much on the volume side of the business. The financial energy in the brand is all about basic Lux. Imagery is all about Chocolate Lux."
He adds that being the old mother brand, every new brand just eats into Lux. "That is the disease incumbent biggies suffer from. There is a need to reinvent wildly at the mass end of Lux usage and not at the niche end."
Venkatramani, however, justifies the new launches, saying, "Lux usually creates categories in the cleansing business and is sizeably based on upcoming trends amongst consumers for specialised products." He points out that the brand has added more than two market share points over the last two years – a significant achievement in a tough product category.
His confidence is also supported by HUL's overall performance in soaps, which had started registering a decline a few years ago. "Over the last three years, we have not only arrested the share decline, but have actually reversed the trend and started moving them up. From 53 per cent, our share in soaps is now at 55 per cent."
Perhaps for HUL, the combination of frequent brand extensions combined with high decibel advertising makes sense.
No doubt, that the soaps market is tough. For HUL, the entry of the aggressive ITC with its soap brand Superia (launched in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh) and its promise of a lot more action in consumer products is yet another competitive challenge. Guess we haven't seen the last of Lux extensions, and definitely can look forward to a lot more of advertising.