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Home > Business > Special

Why Chaplin's back in Cherry Blossom ads

Amit Ranjan Rai | February 15, 2006

Toothbrush moustache, bowler hat, twirling cane… Charlie Chaplin lives forever. The silent era comedian's appeal remains unchanged almost a century after he first appeared on screen.

It's an even 100 for the brand Chaplin symbolises, too: shoe polish Cherry Blossom was launched in the UK in 1906 by Chiswick Soap Company, a part of Reckitt & Coleman (now Reckitt Benckiser).

Not surprisingly, it's party time at Reckitt Benckiser. The celebrations kicked off with a revamp of the brand's wax and liquids shoe polish range with an "anti-ageing" formula.

According to market research firm ACNielsen, Cherry Blossom drives the category with over 68 per cent market share, while Sara Lee HNDC India Kiwi has a 24 per cent share. Industry estimates place the shoe polish market at about Rs 110 crore (Rs 1.1 billion), giving Cherry Blossom roughly Rs 75 crore (Rs 750 billion).

Says Anne Engerant, regional marketing director (South Asia), Reckitt Benckiser, "There aren't many brands that have been around for 100 years, and remained a market leader all throughout. The new anti-ageing range reassures our commitment to innovations, which are must for a brand to live long."

Two new television campaigns have been developed to celebrate the centenary and the new product line. A series of three, 5- to 10-second black and white spots were launched in December 2005 to announce the 100-year landmark. And last month, Reckitt started airing a product ad on popular cable channels.

This commercial is again based on the Chaplin theme, which proved so intrinsic to Cherry Blossom brand recall that Reckitt brought it back out of hibernation a couple of years ago. But more on that later.

The latest commercial begins with a silent movie-style text cards that say "100 years of making perfect gentlemen..." and "...inspire us to introduce new anti-ageing shoe polish". The "movie" then begins with Chaplin and his arch-rival Fatty buying shoes.

As he turns to go, Chaplin picks up a tin of Cherry Blossom shoe polish from the display on the counter. Six months later: Chaplin returns to the store, buys a pair of shoelaces and tosses a coin to the shop-owner. Fatty's back, too. Only, he grabs the salesman and drags him over the counter to look at his completely worn-out shoes, while Chaplin's are still gleaming.

Chaplin smiles nervously and leaves, and Fatty is befuddled. Fatty peers through a keyhole and sees Chaplin polishing his shoes with Cherry Blossom. Jealous, he throws the door open and rushes towards Chaplin, who moves aside and kicks him through the open window. The ad ends with a simpering Chaplin and product shots.

Says Satbir Singh, creative head, Euro RSCG, the agency behind the campaign, "The message was straightforward - here is a shoe polish that prevents normal ageing symptoms like wrinkling, and makes shoes look new longer.  Mixing this message with the 100-year celebrations, we wanted to portray it as a gift for consumers."

Like the previous Chaplin ads for Cherry Blossom, this one too follows a pattern: Chaplin is faced with a challenging situation; the brand and product are project through subtle humour; and, thanks to Cherry Blossom, Chaplin always emerges the winner.

Says Engerant, "Charlie was brought in to add fun to the act of polishing. The idea was to have someone who enjoys polishing. But the Cherry-Charlie campaigns have moved on to explain the innovativeness and the usefulness of our products as well."

Charlie Chaplin became almost synonymous with Cherry Blossom thanks to ad guru Alyque Padamsee, who helped create the first series of ads in the early 1980s. The focus then was on the "perfect gentleman" and the "perfect shine" on his shoes.

But in 1994, Reckitt dispensed with Chaplin to concentrate on product-driven communication that showcased liquid shoe polish and other innovations. But sales were slipping. And between 2000 and 2003, the company stopped advertising completely to focus on sales promotion activities, instead.

"The competition was aggressive on such spends and we were simply trying to match it," recalls Vishal Gupta, marketing manager, Reckitt Benckiser. The results were disastrous: from over 73 per cent in 1999, Cherry Blossom's share of the polish market dropped to 61 per cent in end -2002.

In the same year, a survey showed that over half the respondents spontaneously linked Cherry Blossom to Chaplin. Asked to create a persona for Chaplin, the overwhelming response was of someone between 25 and 40, a graduate and, if based in Delhi, living in posh Greater Kailash II. That was a close match to Reckitt's target customers: office-going men in the 25- to 50-years group. Clearly, Charlie needed to return.

Euro RSCG was commissioned and with Illusion Films in tow, the first new Chaplin ad was beamed in March 2004. That showed Chaplin winning over Fatty, who was using another brand of shoe polish, to Cherry Blossom.

But Reckitt's focus is now on offering customers newer ways to make their shoes sparkle: product innovations are on a high at the company, and the ads have to reflect that. For the latest ad, for instance, the brief was clear: the ad needed to showcase the benefits of the new formulation, which includes leather oils, the kind used by tanneries to make leather supple.

After exploring various options, the Euro RSCG team finally hit on the "anti-ageing" theme, which dovetails neatly with the 100-year milestone ("still looks new").

Speaking of the brief the company gave the agency, Singh says it was relatively simple. "This is a new product, just announce it in the most interesting and effecting manner. And use Chaplin."

The Chaplin ads do seem to have added a sheen to Cherry Blossom's market share. It's climbed from 62 per cent in 2003 to close to 68 per cent at present (nowhere close to its earlier monopolistic position of 73 per cent, but still decent).

Whether the gloss is retained over the next 100 years, though, remains to be seen.

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