Lifebuoy. Back to the future.

The return of Lifebuoy to the UK in the midst of a pandemic looks like a case of the right brand at the right time. Introduced in 1894 its mission and early advertising still makes some sense today.

Today’s challenge is establishing Lifebuoy as a major hand hygiene brand in a growing but crowded category. Given the product range appears to lack any advantages it looks like Unilever is banking on energetic brand building for success. Indeed, given current circumstances, Unilever may well have concluded that delivering the biggest positive impact on UK hand hygiene behaviour is the only meaningful brand advantage to create. Certainly the communication suggests that louder, single-minded and more purposeful are seen as critical to winning.

Unilever has invested decisively in educational advertising that promotes better hand hygiene behaviour and Lifebuoy’s position as the ‘world’s number 1 hygiene soap brand’ adds some instant stature. Given category growth and UK leader Carex’s more constrained finances it looks a compelling purpose-driven approach.

The education focused ‘Bish Bash Bosh’ brand communication looks loud and effective. Accessible to a wide audience it looks like it can be comfortably adapted for school-based activities or guidance materials for foodservice partners. Bish Bash Bosh… it does a behaviour change job.

Beyond the name, Lifebuoy today has no visible connection to the brand of 1894. That’s a shame, but in terms of a commitment to changing hygiene behaviour it is perhaps a different story…


Header image credit: Wellcome Collection. Press advertising credit: Guardian Newspaper (where you will find a gallery of advertising during the Spanish flue outbreak).

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