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Soap Wars: Indian Capitalism and Advertisements in a Highly

Competitive Business Environment, 1915-1950

Dr. Douglas Haynes

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Date: 20th September, 2006

Venue:Children's Creative Centre, CSMVS

Timing: 6.00 pm


About the Speaker

Dr. Douglas Haynes is an Associate Professor of History at Dartmouth College, Hanover USA. He specialises in the history of South Asia and also has a strong comparative interest in colonialism and anti-colonial struggles. He completed his Ph D from the University of Pennsylvania in 1982 and his dissertaion was entitled "Conflict and Cultural Change in Urban India: The Politics of Surat City, 1850-1924."


He co-edited a volume titled 'Towards the history of consumption with South Asia' with HAruka Yanagisawa, Tirthankar Roy and Abigail McGowan for Oxford University Press, New Delhi. The book was released in the year 2010.


Dr. Haynes has recently edited a book titled 'Consumption and Capitalism in Western India: The purchase and use of everyday things in the Bombay Presidency, 1880-1940'.


Synopsis of the talk

During the period between 1918 and 1950, a large number of soap products - both foreign and Indian, flooded the market in South Asia. The manufacturers of these products not only competed fiercely among themselves, but they also sought to wean consumers, especially those from among the Indian middle classes, from purchasing products with similar uses that were made in the home or by local artisans. By the 1940s, they also began to reach out to the countryside in order to develop markets among Indian farmers and rural labourers. Advertising, a means by which producers and merchants projected the brand name and qualities of their products, became essential to this process.


Prof. Douglas Haynes in his talk examines the evolution of soap advertising during this period. He illustrates how manufacturers in this highly competitive environment became increasingly sophisticated in their methods of attracting customers - for instance, by using trained specialists in drawing and even photography. Advertising then increasingly became "Indianized", that is, it began to stress values and themes carrying strong meanings for Indian consumers (in contrast to early ads, where the themes sometimes were heavily western or culturally neutral in nature).


Additionally, the talk demonstrates how historians can use archival evidence such as advertisements for reconstructing the business history of India. At the same time, Prof. Haynes, through his talk, reveals the limitations of existing archival materials and the need for further archival development by pointing out colossal gaps in our historical knowledge about this time.

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