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‘Washing powder Nirma, washing powder Nirma’: A simple jingle that became earworm for millions

Even today, the jingle is so popular that people automatically associate the words 'washing powder' with Nirma. Memes based on it are a staple of the internet.

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New Delhi: Did the jingle start playing in your head the moment you read the headline above? You aren’t the only one — for over four decades, the ‘washing powder Nirma’ jingle has been an earworm for millions who grew up in India and had access to a TV or radio, regardless of their mother tongue.

It’s simplicity is what made the jingle memorable — through various iterations of the advertisement, the phrase ‘washing powder Nirma’, repeated twice, has given it a high recall value.

Boasting about the whiteness of clothes washed in Nirma, the jingle points out who all it leaves happy — ‘Hema, Rekha, Jaya aur Sushma’, meaning basically every homemaker.

“I don’t remember much about it, but we used to sing the jingle all the time in school. It is what made the brand,” said Pallavi Bahl, a marketing associate based in Gurugram. 

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Story behind Nirma

In 1969, Dr Karsanbhai Patel, a chemist and lab technician in Gujarat, began making a homemade detergent product that he distributed to people on his way to work. It was not harsh on clothes and was much less costly than Surf, the dominant detergent in the market. 

As people began liking it, Patel began manufacturing it on a much larger scale. He started the packaging in a 10×10 feet room in his house, and named the detergent powder Nirma, after his daughter Nirupama. The girl in the white dress on the packaging was inspired by his daughter.

Soon after the famous ad was released which started out as a short ad but became longer. The four ladies in the advertisement — Hema, Rekha, Jaya and Sushma — close out merging into the one ‘Nirma girl’, holding the various Nirma detergents.

One early version of the ad featured one of the top actresses of the time, Sangeeta Bijlani, as well. And by 1985, Nirma washing powder was among the most popular detergents in the market.

‘Earworm jingle’

Even today, the jingle is so popular that people automatically associate the words ‘washing powder’ with Nirma.

“My school friends and I would have competitions over who remembered the entire jingle and could sing it in one go,” said Sumira Dhawan, a Delhi-based event planner.

“Vaseline is used for petroleum jelly, Washing powder=Nirma,” tweeted Hemal K Jha.

Memes based on the Nirma ads have also made waves online.

“You can forget your school assembly prayer, but never this song,” reads one meme, while another places the ‘Nirma girl’ in a different context.

A third meme propounds knowledge of the lyrics to the jingle as a yardstick for whether to be friends with someone or not

One of the most popular memes on the Nirma ad, is a spin-off of the song with Hema Malini, Rekha, Sushma Swaraj and Jaya Bachchan with Parliament as the backdrop — they were all MPs simultaneously. 

The jingle has even been recreated and remixed by other artists in other languages. For example, an Assamese song from 2017 had the chorus ‘washing powder Nirma’. A video of a musician singing the Nirma jingle in a restaurant, with other customers joining in the singing, got many hits.

Akriti Rana and Nimish Dubey, both associated with the advertising world, wrote in an earlier article that it is the jingle which carries the ad. 

“The sheer simplicity of the ad is its greatest strength. It did not have any subtle messaging at all, but simply kept reiterating that ‘washing powder Nirma’ was very good for your clothes, did not cost much, and could be used by anybody,” they wrote.

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)

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