Tradition of Great Advertising

Liril “girl in the waterfall” ad

Exhibit 12.1   Original (early 1970s) version of the Liril “girl in the waterfall” ad featuring Karen Lunel.

Several years ago, in the course of being interviewed, I was captivated by my interviewer, a short, rotund man, his large head perpetually tilted to one side. Siddharth (Shunu) Sen possessed an extraordinary talent for captivating and enchanting people, leaving us spellbound with his potent blend of wisdom, intellect, and warmth. He was the centre of a gravitational pull, with talented individuals from within and outside of Hindustan Lever revolving around him like planets around the sun, an impression reinforced by the constant sight of associates gathered outside his office waiting for meetings that were scheduled hours earlier. Shunu’s weakness lay in time management. Invariably, he became so engrossed that he lost track of time.

Shunu’s wickedly mischievous wit shone through in his oft-quoted retort: “Don’t call me a guru. Gurus are not interested in sex.” Despite his dislike for the title, Shunu is widely regarded as India’s marketing guru.

As the head of marketing at Hindustan Lever (now Hindustan Unilever), Shunu had an eye for great content, and a deep appreciation for talent. Gifted associates from the best advertising agencies rewarded him with unforgettable work, including legendary campaigns for brands such as Surf (Lalitaji), Liril (“girl in the waterfall”), Rin (with the memorable tagline “zara sa Rin” [just a little Rin]) and Surf Ultra (“daag dhoonte reh jaaoge” [you’ll keep searching for the stain]).

Alyque Padamsee, who is as highly regarded in advertising as Shunu is in marketing, had this to say about the Liril TV commercial (print version shown in Exhibit 12.1): “It not only offers you freshness but offers you a sense of freedom. It is not just an ordinary bath. The ‘girl in the waterfall’ symbolizes that the bathing experience can be bindaas (‘carefree’ in Hindi). For the average Indian woman who is surrounded by chaos, in-laws, husband, children, the ten minutes in the shower are her own, where she can daydream. Now that was so compelling that the Liril ad remained unchanged for 25 years.” Liril’s sales skyrocketed when the ad was first aired, and the model, Karen Lunel, became an overnight celebrity.

Exhibit 12.2  The 2021 version of the Liril ad.

More than 50 years since the original ad, the Liril Girl continues to frolic under the waterfall (Exhibit 12.2), its lasting impact a testament to the brilliance of Padamsee and his team at Lintas and Shunu’s marketing acumen, as well as the power of great advertising to capture the imagination of the masses.

Over an era spanning three decades, Shunu played a pivotal role in the transformation of consumer marketing in India. He was the driving force behind the highly talented Indian advertising community of the 1980s and 1990s, shaping the industry in numerous ways. Indian commercials are often clever, sometimes thought-provoking, and mostly entertaining. There is undoubtedly some truth in the claim that at a time when a government channel monopolized the small screen, Indian children were drawn to TV by the allure of entertaining advertisements.

While I have referred to examples from my experiences at Hindustan Lever and highlighted Shunu’s and Padamsee’s immense contributions to marketing and advertising, it’s important to acknowledge that there are countless other individuals past and present, scattered around the world of marketing and advertising, who have contributed to the tradition of great advertising. Their ground-breaking work, creativity, and dedication have helped shape the industry and continue to inspire new generations of marketers and advertisers.


When evaluating advertisements, it is important to view them through the lens of the target audience, taking into account their tastes, preferences, cultural norms, and social context.

Featuring a scantily clad Liril girl on national TV was a daring move at the time, as most Indians’ dress sense was very conservative. The gamble paid off, partly because the ad became a talking point, cutting through the clutter and generating positive vibes from the segment of the population that the brand was targeting.

Great advertising is defined by its ability to produce excellent results, such as the memorable and effective campaigns for Surf, Rin, and Liril mentioned above, which demonstrated a deep understanding of the target audience.

This chapter aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the workings of advertisements like these, including the mechanisms and core themes that underpin their effectiveness.

The following section examines advertising through the ages, the key developments, and their impact on communication and advertising. This is followed by a discussion on advertising mechanisms, and an explanation of the six key themes — salience, persuasion, likeability, symbolism, relationship, emotion — that form the basis for many of the theories on advertising.

From a learning standpoint, the chapter aims to impart an understanding of the elements that make advertising effective and impactful, within the context of diverse communication objectives.


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