Behind the brand: why Lifebuoy’s the world’s No.1-selling germ-protection soap
Since 1894, Lifebuoy has reached more than 1 billion people with hand hygiene education, helped redefine how millions of children learn the alphabet, and sold soap all over the world. Find out how this heritage brand continues to grow.
How it started
In 1894, Lever Brothers – which later became Unilever – launched Lifebuoy as a cholera pandemic raged across the globe. The soap bar was designed to be an affordable, accessible way for communities to help protect themselves from illness, and Lifebuoy shared the message that washing hands with soap could help to prevent germs from spreading.
In doing so, it became not just one of the world’s first consumer brands, but also an agent of social change.
Lifebuoy soap was delivered to soldiers during World War I, and when World War II broke out in 1939, the brand sent vans equipped with soap and hot showers to some of the worst-hit areas of the UK, so residents who no longer had access to basic amenities could wash.
Over the decades that followed, Lifebuoy expanded to reach markets around the world but its mission remained as relevant as ever: helping to make hand hygiene a simple part of everyday routines.
How it’s going
Lifebuoy is now the world’s fourth most chosen FMCG brand, according to rankings. It’s also the world’s best-selling germ protection soap. The brand’s hand hygiene mission has grown too, with Lifebuoy reaching 1 billion people across 30 countries with educational campaigns between 2010 and 2019.
Lifebuoy is sold in 100 countries, and is particularly strong in emerging markets, which account for half of its sales. It’s also growing fast among rural consumers in Asia, and tapping into the expansive reach of Unilever International – a division of Unilever dedicated to launching brands into new markets and new channels at speed.
You’ll also find Lifebuoy in Uber taxis, hotel rooms, sports arenas, transport hubs, and supermarket trolleys around the world, helping people maintain hand hygiene wherever they shop, play, work or stay.
There’s no doubt that Lifebuoy’s purpose helped power its growth trajectory. As Global Brand Lead Khim-Yin Poh explains: “Lifebuoy’s handwashing campaigns continue to raise awareness and have contributed to a large increase in brand power – a measure of brand attractiveness. This has certainly helped Lifebuoy achieve its Kantar rankings.”
The purpose that powers it
Lifebuoy’s purpose is part of its DNA. The brand has been rooted in protection from germs for more than 125 years and has decades of research, experience, and heritage in supporting personal health and hygiene for consumers around the world.
Lifebuoy aims to drive and change handwashing behaviours in times of need, making handwashing messages engaging and memorable. Inspiring good hand hygiene practices underpins the brand’s strategy and its business model across all markets it operates within.
Lifebuoy has reached more than 60 million through in-school educational campaigns which teach children the importance of handwashing with soap. The brand even redefined the alphabet in 2020, launching its H for Handwashing campaign which teaches kids that H should not only stand for Hippo or Horse but also for Handwashing. Partnerships with governments in South Africa and India saw schools change their curriculums to introduce Lifebuoy’s alphabet books and put handwashing on the agenda in every classroom.
Brand new ideas
Healthcare in the palm of your hand
Recognising that consumers are increasingly seeking to take preventative steps to protect their health, Lifebuoy is democratising access to healthcare. The brand is partnering with telehealth providers which allow people to seek advice from health professionals via phone, helping millions to take control of their health before it becomes an issue.
Across India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, Lifebuoy has worked with telehealth service providers to give the opportunity of free digital healthcare to millions – especially in areas where physical healthcare centres are scarce.
Those in need of attention can call a number or scan a QR code found on Lifebuoy product packaging and commercials. In Vietnam, this has meant around 10 million people being reached by the ‘Doctor Anywhere’ scheme, and in Bangladesh, more than 10,000 people have had full consultations with doctors when they most needed it.
Concentrates to combat germs
Lifebuoy’s newest launch combines product efficacy, purpose, affordability and sustainability.
R&D teams developed a powder version of the brand, which is sold in India for Rs 10 (€0.13). By decanting this into a bottle and adding water, consumers can create liquid hand soap, which lasts longer than a soap bar and delivers on changing consumer preferences.
“We wanted to bring a product to market that would deliver value to consumers and to Unilever while further developing the liquid handwash market – a market we’ve seen grow exponentially since Covid-19,” says Khim-Yin Poh.
“This is India’s most affordable liquid handwash, and it fights 99.9% of viruses and bacteria. It comes with sustainability benefits too. It gives consumers the option to reuse their own bottles, and uses less storage energy compared to larger products. We hope it will have a lasting impact.”
From hand care to home care
In 2021, the brand expanded from personal care to home care with the launch of Lifebuoy BotaniTech, a new range of multi-surface disinfectants, which contain naturally derived cleaning agents.
The pH-neutral products include a spray and eco-refill, a general cleaner, antibacterial wipes and an aerosol – all capable of delivering 24-hour anti-bacterial protection.
It might surprise you to learn…
To celebrate this year’s Global Handwashing Day on 15 October, Lifebuoy is announcing plans to recruit a group of Chief Education Officers (CEOs).
The new H for Handwashing CEOs will be children aged between six and 12 with a passion for making a positive impact in their local community – and they’ll be spreading the hand hygiene message to other kids and advocating at the highest levels to help include hygiene into school curriculums.
Since its launch two years ago, H for Handwashing has reached 12 million schoolchildren across 35 countries.