The BPL brand has been a pioneer in the electronic
CASE 01: COMING BACK AGAIN
BPL name reminds one of a phenomenal Indian brand in electronics and appliance market space that once topped in ubiquity and esteem. Starting from the south, it went on to become a household name. The group dates back to the ‘sixties, when the founder, TPG Nambiar began manufacturing hermetically sealed precision panels in Kerala. It was then known as British Physical Laboratories. Back then, industrial activity was under tight government control though reservations and licensing. BPL came to the forefront in the ‘eighties when industrial licensing began to give way to a pro-market regime. The group got further impetus in the ‘nineties, when globalization and liberalization became key policy initiatives for achieving economic growth. BPL forged alliances with foreign companies to access technology to improve product quality and innovation, to manufacture electronic products. This way, the company went on to become a powerful brand in televisions and other electronic products.
The BPL brand has been a pioneer in the electronic products industry in the initial years of liberalization. The brand evolved with changing customer and competitive conditions. It offered state-of-the-art products like televisions, refrigerators and audio products backed by an excellent service network. Once, the brand actually topped the list in terms of customer trust and loyalty, at a time when the field was crowded with a host of prominent players like crown, Beltek and Videocon. Till the late ‘nineties, the brand won accolades from various quarters.
The company was voted as the ‘most admired marketing company’ in the electronics and home appliances category in A&M Survey of 1999. The prestigious Far Eastern Economic Review rated the company as the No. 1 company in ‘innovativeness in responding to consumer needs’ in Jan 2000. Young customers also identified with this Indian company in high tech space. Accordingly, BPL was featured in ‘top ten most preferred brands among youth’ in the Brand Equity survey of March 2000, the brand featured as one of the ‘top five coolest brands among youth’. In consumer electronics, resonance with the youth is a very important asset. Young people act as purchase initiators, influencers and ultimate buyers. Connecting with the youth has been instrumental in the brand success.
The brand owes its remarkable success to careful brand management initiatives. The BPL brand has been nurtured and managed by employing strategic brand management tools. The marketing initiatives were controlled in line with the brand identity. This way, the company never allowed marketing efforts to dissipate in different directions without a grand scheme. The brand was among the pioneers to employ identity statement. The brand’s soul described two levels of values. The core set was defined as inherent values. These included trust, solidity, reliability, pride, progressiveness, dignity, quality, and intelligence. The other set of ‘added values’ sought to extend the brand’s soul by values like flair, glamour, style, youthfulness, excitement and cutting edge.
The brand has been so well navigated that it was voted as the ‘Number One durable brand’ in Brand Equity in the year 2002. The brand topped in the Indian homegrown durable brand list.
Brand 2002 2001
Source: Brand Equity, The Economic Times, 14 Aug 2002
The brand’s achievements do not end here. In a survey designed to discover the most trusted brands, the brand again emerged victorious. This survey aimed to identify brands that bond with customers. The survey went beyond the basic brand familiarity paradigm to include a brand’s performance on a number of dimensions. These are brands that consumers believe to provide quality and assurance. The brands are measured on attributes like: quality, value for money, intention to buy, current and future popularity, uniqueness, confidence, price, and special feeling and associations.
The brand emerged as the ‘Most preferred color television brand’ in Consumer Outlook, 2002. On the parameter of brand preference, it was rated as the strongest color television brand, with 37 percent score on ‘intention to buy’. The brand scored better than many multinational brands like LG (12%), Samsung (9%), Onida (9%), Philips (9%), and Videocon (8%). The brand even scored high on the flat television segment in comparison to foreign (Korean) brands like Samsung and LG.
In the last couple of years, the brand has taken a severe beating. The multinational brands from Japan, Korea and the US were initially placed far behind to the brand. The Indian brands BPL, Onida and Videocon stood the ground firmly. They appeared unassailable. Japanese brands like Sony, Sharp, Panasonic and Sansui – along with Korean counterparts like LG and Samsung – did not appear to pose a serious challenge. But in the last five years, the color televisions market has undergone a complete change. The Koreans have overtaken all the other players. The two Korean brands dominate the market, followed by homegrown players Onida and Videocon.
The Brand Equity Survey of the trusted brands for the year 2005 reveals a disappointing result for the brand BPL. The brand appears at the 68 spot on the list. ahead of it are brands like Philips (23), Onida (56), LG (57) and Videocon (61). The market share figures also reveal a disappointing picture for the brand. In the color televisions, LG leads with 25.5 percent market share followed by Samsung with 15.1 percent share. The refrigerator category is also dominated by LG and Whirlpool, with market shares of 27.2 and 21.2 percent share respectively. In washing machines, LG stands strong with 34 per cent hold followed by Whirlpool with 13.8 market share.
The consumer electronics market has undergone a major transformation in the post 2000 period. Multinational brands have gradually cultivated market share by mounting attacks on the homegrown brands. The market, that stood at the take off stage in the ‘nineties, has now moved to the maturity stage. The color television market has fragmented into sub groups. At the top end, brands offer high tech, costly plasma sets. The middle segment is moving towards big-size flat screen televisions. The bottom of the pyramid now is located in rural areas where niche brands like Oscar, Citizen, Weston and Texla compete on price and low functionality.
In this scenario, the BPL brand is making a comeback after receiving transfusion by way of technological vigour from technical collaborator Sanyo. Although the brand enjoys high recognition and recall with customers in the 30-plus age group, the youth seem to be at the loss so far as the brand is concerned. Technology environment is now radically different from the prevailing in the ‘nineties. The issues facing the brand include: with brands like LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Onida, and Videocon firmly entrenched in the market, can BPL leverage its equity? Technology alone does not appear to be sufficient hot button to create brand power in the current scenario. Is it a fact that the brand must hasten to redefine its identity, in order to differentiate and bond with chosen customer?
CASE 02: BRANDING BY SENSING
There is one company that is silently winning branding battles. Slowly and steadily, it has managed to corner over Rs 200 crores turnover in the OTC (over the counter) drug market. The company in question is none other than Paras Pharma. Headquartered in Ahmedabad, the company is owned by three brothers Girish, Darshan and Devendra. Not many know it by its corporate identity. It is held in the background. But its products and brands enjoy not only high awareness in terms of recall and recognition; they also stand out for their category ownership.
The list of brands created by this closely held company is as follows:
What sets these brands apart is that they are the outcome of deep understanding of needs of Indian customers. The value proposition embodied in each one of them offers solutions to customer needs that have been lying dormant for long, but none of the other marketers ventured to uncover them. All these brands entered the cluttered market space and managed to create a unique image for themselves. When cutting across to the customer is really a serious issue even for multinational companies with deep pockets, Paras has managed to carve out a niche for each of its brands. The mantra that perhaps is at work in this company is to be able to see everyday problems faced by the customers and convert them into powerful product ideas and create strong brands in the process.
Many of the products from this nimble player in the OTC drugs space places it in head on competition with the established multinational players. For instance, Moov (launched in 1986) directly assaulted the then leading body pain reliever brand Iodex, from GlaxoSmithKline. It recognized the potential of the rub-efficient category and entered with a national brand. The market was cluttered with both domestic and international players. Instead of focusing on all kinds of pain, the brand narrowed its scope to only the joints pains, including backache. It successfully attacked the leader by attending to a specific need. It narrowed its focus on the backaches of women and appropriated that position. It instead of fighting competition in the sprain and muscle pull, headache balms, and multi-purpose pain reliever segments, it narrowed its appeal to women with frequently occurring backaches and positioned itself as a backache specialist.
Krack, another power brand, was born in 1993 and went on to become category leader. The brand attended to the acute problem of dry skin on the heels, especially among Indian women. Cracks in the heels are caused by winter dryness, prolonged exposure to water, summer dryness, and barefoot walking. Though the need solution came in the form of petroleum jelly, there was no specific brand which addressed this problem. The product was specially created to cure cracks in the heels. Since the time the brand was launched, it grew by leaps and bounds to become an over-35 crores brand. The brand attacked the generic products then existing in the market and offered a unique solution by isolating a specific problem. The skin dryness problem area is viewed as one single mass, but within it, there are specific types of dryness needs that are prevalent. Krack could see one, and create a brand out of it.
Borosoft brand came in the space that was dominated by Himani (Boroplus) and GD Pharmaceuticals (Boroline). Back in 1995, the antiseptic cream market was worth Rs 50 crores of which creams for dry and chopped skin held about half the market share. The ‘Boro’ word segregates the product into the sub-category of inexpensive ‘value for money’ creams meant for dry and chapped skin. The non-Boro creams are perceived to be meant for cuts and wounds. Paras discovered user dissatisfaction with the then existing Boro creams for their stickiness and oiliness. Mounted on this insight, Borosoft was created as a non-sticky cream with moisturizing properties. The brand managed to carve out a niche for itself. Later, Boro Natural brand was launched in the antiseptic market. This way, Boroline was directly attacked.
After the creation of Boro Natural and Boro Soft, the company created Dermi Cool brand. This brand put the company next to the then dominant player Nycil, from Heinz. It offered a solution to the problem of prickly heat caused by prolonged exposure to perspiration. The product category lacked excitement and product innovation. Nycil’s advertising and product formulation remained same. Dermi Cool challenged this inactivity and silence. The brand was positioned with cool sensation platform (‘thanda thanda powder’). Its high decibel and peppy advertising contributed excitement and infused energy into the category.
Paras, as a company, have a unique ability to sense customer problems and convert them into a mega marketing opportunities. Two of its brands, Itch Guard and Ring Guard, are targeted at the skin problems common in hot, moisture-laden weather. Skin areas not exposed to sun and atmosphere typically get affected by this problem. Itch Guard is a specialized product formulated to address a specific problem caused by sweat itch. Ringworm or tinea is problem mostly occurs in the lower socio-economic segment. Humidity, excessive sweating, unhygienic conditions and skin erosion are the root causes. Paras launched its anti-fungal specialist remedy brand Ring Guard in 1998.
The other brands in Paras’ portfolio include cold and headache remedy D’Cold. There are legions of brands aimed at the headache market. Paras narrowed focus and positioned itself as a specific remedy for aches caused by common cold. D’Cold Open Up is a variant targeted against nasal congestion. The brand came in other variations like D’Cold Double and D’Cold Total as a complete package of remedies against heavy-headedness, blocked nose and blocked sinuses.
The unstoppable brand-spinning machine is showing no sign of slowing down. The latest brand additions include Livon, Numis, Setwet, Afterbath and Recova. Livon and Numis brands are first-of-its-kind products. They are aimed to solve tangle in the hair caused by washing. The process of detangling involves heavy combing, which causes hair loss. This is an important problem faced by Indian women who normally wear their hair long. Numis is a hair care product designed to nourish hair and lend shine. Set Wet is a hair styling brand targeted at the young male segment. Afterbath brand follows application time oriented positioning. It is to be applied on body after bath, as the name suggests.
Paras has had its own share of debacles. These include Stopache, Winter Shield and Freshia. These brands were all withdrawn because of poor performance. Paras follow a brand model that lays emphasis of individual brand creation. It takes a lot of effort to create successful brands both in terms of research and development and cultivating brand equity. Serious contemplation now is doing the rounds of the company to develop and concretize brand architecture. Launching brands one after another without a plan may create problems for the company in the long run, as it happened with many MNCs. The issue at hand that needs to be addressed is: what architecture should be followed so that brands’ equity is maximized and leverage to the fullest extent?
CASE 03: STRETCHING DOWN OR DROWNING THE BRAND
Way back in 1888, in Wisconsin, USA, a man named George Safford Parker was overwhelmed with the amount of repairs that were needed to keep fountains pens working. This inspired him to invent his own fountain pen, one that worked better. In 1890, Parker patented his first pen. Later, in 1894, Parker received another patent for something called ‘Lucky Curve’ feed that drew excess ink back into the pen body when the pen was not being used. This technology remained common until the late nineteen twenties. Parker pens retained their position among the top pen in the writing instrument industry. Parker is credited with another landmark in writing technology by creating a quick drying ink (Quink) that eliminated the need for constant blotting. Since then, the company set up by Parker has come a long way. Parker remains a brand with strong heritage connotations and aspirational value.
Parker came to India through the Luxor Writing Instrument Company. Luxor was founded in 1963 and has evolved into a dominant player in the writing instrument market in India. It enjoys about 15 percent market share, and offers products to suit varying needs of different segments. The company’s product line includes brands like Luxor, Pilot, Papermate, Parker and the recently introduced Waterman.
The writing instrument industry is estimated to be worth over Rs 1500 crores. It is a huge opportunity. But a large portion of the market is occupied by players from the unorganized sector. Some put the size of this unorganized market at around Rs 1200 crores. This portion of market offers scope for branded players to consolidate their positions. The pen marketed by the unorganized players lack quality and brand value. However, the biggest barriers to conversion are low involvement and brand loyalty.
At the super premium level operated brands like Mont Blanc, Cartier, Waterman and Dunhill. This niche is high value and low volume. The premium segment is targeted by brands like Cross, Parker and Pierre Cardin. Then comes the popular segment, where the homegrown brands like Flair and Luxor compete. At the bottom of the pyramid is the economy segment or mass segment (sub-Rs 50), which is the target of action between the organized, branded players like Cello, Today, ADD, Rotomac, Stic, Montex and Reynolds. Much of the turnover comes from the lower segment.
A pen to most people is a functional product. And what matters in marketing pens is the availability, price and acceptable quality (‘it should write’). Customers in the mass segment generally try before buying and do not attach importance to brand name. The situation is reversed in the top layers of the pyramid. The higher one climbs up the pyramid, the more the pen becomes a source of symbolic satisfaction. Its writing ability or functionality is taken for granted, but what matters is the name, a pen becomes a device for signaling style, class, power and sophistication. It assumes a psycho-social character. Brands at the top end do precisely this with their unique motifs like Parker’s distinctive clip and Mont Blanc’s flower like tip of the cap.
In keeping with the stature of the brand when Parker came to India, no less a personage than Amitabh Bachchan himself promoted the product. The endorsement worked in sync with the brand’s established heritage and premium image. The Big B, being an icon in the Indian film industry and hailing from a literary family, infused the brand with the right kind of values, making it appealing to a wide spectrum of the market. The brand’s initial campaign promoted the central idea of love of writing with a Parker. Through the association with Big B, the brand has developed an aura of success, elegance, exclusivity and sophistication.
Parker offers pens suited for distinct market segments, with sub brands. But what runs common across these ranges is the class and sophistication. These combine heritage and modernity, high functionality and sign value. Some of these are:
Parker Dufold: brand’s identity is captured in words like opulence, iconography, exceptional character and outstanding workmanship. Generally limited edition and highly priced.
Parker 100: this range signifies understated status and sharp individual style. Combines conventional and avant-garde. Price ranges from Rs 10000 to 15000.
Parker Sonnet: the brand brings together achievement, distinction, balanced style and classic dimensions. Price ranges between Rs 8600 and Rs 4200.
Parker Latitude: embodies original non-conformist individuality, rebels against tradition and convention.
Parker Insignia: the brand is a classic accessory for discerning individuals. Offers authentic quality and effortless style. Price ranges between Rs 850 to Rs 1300.
Parker Rialto: defined as a pen with character, grace and charm, crafted with a veneer of taste and tradition. Price ranges between Rs 2700 and Rs 1500.
Parker 45: this well known brand signifies Parker tradition, originality and nostalgia. It is a high performance, time-tested and trustworthy instrument. Price ranges between Rs 1400 and Rs900.
Parker Frontier: the brand combines functional utility with innovation, conservatism and forward thinking. Price ranges between Rs 1650 and Rs 650.
Parker Diamante: wears a sophisticated look and futuristic design for young, urban, design conscious consumers. Priced around Rs 700.
In its bid to gain volumes, the brand has launched two variants by the name of Vector and Beta. The price of the Vector line varies between one hundred and five hundred. But parker Beta has pushed the brand down below the hundred-rupee threshold. Parker Beta is stated to combine superb technology and modern designs at a highly affordable price. The product is fitted with jotter refill and comes in exciting colors with a comfortable grip. The brand seeks to cash on the trend of increasing brand consciousness among consumers. Beta has brought a highly aspirational brand like Parker within the reach of masses. The Beta range comes in a plastic body and sports the same arrow clip, albeit not as well designed and chiseled as higher ranges have.
With the Beta line, Parker’s range starts from a price level of less than hundred rupees to exceed well over ten thousand. Many believe this downward stretch of a brand like Parker is good for generating volumes. It is an easy path to succeed and make inroads in the lower market segment. Present consumers would be able to possess an aspirational brand that otherwise remained a dream for them. Others believe that this downward stretch would do more harm to the brand in the long run. The massification of the brand may rob it of its exclusivity and premium aura and degrade its image.
CASE 04: PC MAKERS SANDWICHED IN BETWEEN
The Personal Computer industry in India has been a testing ground of marketing acumen for players that play the branding game. The market is broadly divided into three groups. On the one hand is the plethora of players in the unorganized sector. On the other hand are established multinational brands that operate globally in a number of countries. Somewhere in between these two are Indian companies staking a claim with their brands.
The MNC players in the market include HP, Compaq (the two have since merged), Apple, Dell, E-sys, Acer, LG and Lenovo (that bought IBM’s PC business in 2005). The home grown companies in the field include players like HCL, Wipro, Pertec, Zenith and Vintron. All the three sets of players compete on different strategic platforms. The MNC products are priced relatively higher and signal quality image. The Indian players, on the other hand, promise product quality as good as MNC product besides offering some price advantage. Computer company Zenith often advertises their product as ‘MNC’ quality at Indian prices’. The players that constitute the unorganized sector compete on price and customer intimacy.
In this market structure, the branded players have been engaged in a severely fought battle with unbranded players. And so far, they have been losing this battle. The local players beat their branded counterparts on two counts. First of all, their wares are priced significantly lower and secondly, they are widely available. Nowadays, it does not require great technical expertise to assemble a PC. The explosion in the computer market has attracted a lot of entrepreneurs to join the industry as assemblers. There is wide availability of computer assemblers (as well as economically-priced components and sub-assemblies) in the market. The PC computer manufacturers that form the organized sector, on the other hand, bank upon their re-sellers, and they are not so widely located as to make their products easily accessible to prospects. Thus, on the accessibility front, branded players scale poorly.
The market for personal computer is segmented along the lines of price and users. There is the office segment, consisting of large corporate houses, and the small business segment made up of small companies and sole proprietorships. And then there is the home segment. Computer education in schools has opened up this segment in a big way. The school-going children need to have computers at home to pursue studies. These segments also reflect the complexity of configuration suitable for them. For instance, the small office and home (SOHO) segment does not require complicated machines and software. But the business segment certainly requires higher configured computers in a networked environment.
The major factor that works in favour of unbranded computers is the price advantage. The local players pass on the benefit of various levies and taxes to their customers, hence their product costs relatively less. Further, the proximity of the vender with the customer and easy two-way dialogue provides a strong basis for relationship formation. A typical computer buyer in SOHO segment lacks computer literacy. It is this lack of product knowledge that makes him look for ways to reduce uncertainty and risk surrounding the purchase. Under such circumstances, brands typically are called to fill this role of advisor and after-sale provider-an area where they do not pass with distinction. But in the SOHO segment, the search process for computers involves talking with friends who, in turn introduce these prospects to local vendors. The local vendors, through better proximity, direct contact and convincing power are able to convert these prospects into buyers. Due to the same factors, their after-sales response is also better, since they largely rely on networking with customers for business expansion and lucrative annual maintenance contracts.
Unlike other luxury or conspicuous products, computers are not bought or made for symbolic purposes. They are typically bought rationally to solve a problem. The cognitive mode of approaching the purchase creates openness to information as well as utility assessment. It is at this stage that the local computer vendor is able to convince the potential buyer that a computer is nothing but assembly of parts manufactured by established original equipment manufacturers like Samsung, Intel, LG, Seagate and TVS. The assembly of their parts into a machine does not require much skill: it is mostly screwdriver technology. Most branded players do not employ any unique technology in their computer making, therefore the performance outcomes do not vary between the two categories. The local vendors attribute the price premium charged by the branded players to advertising and overhead costs, thus making out a powerful case against the purchase of branded computers.
Recent duty structure changes have worked in favour of the organized segment, and the prices of branded machines have seen a downward trend owing to lower landed costs of products. Besides, the distribution strategies have been reworked. The number of outlets offering branded products has been increased. Simply raising the technical product specification is not viewed as a crucial differentiator. The specifications can be matched point by point by all kinds of players. For instance, HCL has 400 exclusive stores across 200 cities and around 1000 other selling points or smaller formats. Similarly, Acer also works on a two-format framework. There are exclusive Acer malls that stock Acer products exclusively, besides other selling points where its products are sold along with rival brands.
The market for unbranded PCs used to be above 83 percent in 2003, but now it has come down to about 55 percent. The downward trend still continues. The organized sector seems to be eating into the unorganized sector. This growth is, by and large, attributable to duty reduction. In a study of consumer behaviour, it was discovered that computers are intimidating products for buyers who buy them for home use. Children are the major drivers of purchase. The need is often initiated at their level. Computers are used both for educational and entertainment purposes. Further, computers are perceived to be a high tech area, and an average customer finds himself grossly ill-equipped to handle the computer-buying task. The process of equipping themselves to effectively handle the purchase leaves them open to informational influence, i.e., networking friends and colleagues. Computers are undifferentiated products for customers in terms of technical specifications. All they crave is the confidence to make a purchase decision, and will gravitate towards a source of this wherever they are convinced the support is genuine.
As such, one of the major challenges that most branded players face is how to make a dent in the market dominated by the unorganized players. Trapped in between are the Indian players like Shiv Nadar’s HCL, an important player in the desktop segment. Its position at present is firmly established but it can drift into the line of fire from the MNC brands. MNC brands are consolidating their position, having grown at the cost of mostly Indian brands. These brands have been registering robust growth. Caught in between grey market and MNCs are the hapless Indian companies. The lower end is dominated by the players from the unorganized sector who operate on wafer-thin margins. On the top are MNC brands that push image and quality to lure upper layers of the market. Some MNC players have even roped in celebrities like Saif Ali and Shah Rukh Khan in their brand building efforts. Lenovo is banking upon the charm of Saif Ali, and Shah Rukh endorses Compaq.
The net effect is that MNC brands are gradually building market share primarily at the expense of Indian players. The downward trend of prices is eroding the price advantage that many Indian makers so far relied upon to develop their brands. They combined acceptable quality with appreciably lower prices to gain market share. Indian brands are now finding themselves squeezed in between the unorganized players and MNC brands. This is leaving them looking for ways to create meaningful differentiation in their products. The conventional markets like metros and top cities have already become a battle-ground, where fierce battles are raging as saturation points are nearing. In this scenario, even the top players are beginning to explore non-traditional, non-metro markets.
Experts are divided on the issue whether Indian computer makers would be completely wiped off the map. Some feel that Indian makers do not offer differentiated product. The MNC brands, on the one hand, form the top end, while unorganized players at the bottom leave very little scope for differentiation. Indian brands seem to losing ground every year. Some players are shifting their attention to non-metro markets in B and C category cities. But the real issue is: how long the MNC brands be prevented from getting into these markets as well? They have the resources and the image to do this with relative ease. Ultimately, brands have to develop strategies to combat competition. It is not immediately apparent what Indian marketers ought to be doing to carve out a survival niche for themselves.
CASE 05: WHICH DIRECTION SHOULD THE BRAND TAKE?
Liril made a big splash in the toilet soaps category in the late ‘seventies. The market then was not very competitive. The mixed economy model did not yet fulfil the dream of prosperity and affluence. The ‘licence raj’ tightly controlled industrial activity. Like most of the industry sectors, the toilet soap industry was dominated by only a handful of players like Hindustan Lever, Calcutta Chemicals and Tomco. These three players marketed a complete portfolio with brands aimed at different segments and offering different benefits. The other players catered to small niches, as did Johnson & Johnson, which limited its range to infant and kids, with appropriate product offering including mild soap and shampoos. Other local players included the likes of Chandrika, Swastik, Keshnikhar, Mysore Sandal and Medimix, besides a host of small players that operated locally.
This was during the ‘seventies, when marketing as we know it today had not come into its own; it had yet to harden into a serious discipline. Firms still followed traditional practices in conducting business, and marketing personnel could not be said to command high esteem; their job was to hunt out fresh avenues for enhancing sales opportunities. Very few companies differentiated between sales and marketing functions, preferring to club them under a single department, and few indeed were the ones who adopted a seriously technical approach to the activity. Demand still chased supply and, it being a supplier’s market, things were easier to sell, whatever their quality. Advertising did not use sophisticated tools both to explore consumer motivation and create executions. Like many other categories, brands used rational appeals to woo consumers. The problem – solution themes dominated the marketing arena. Soap fragrance, size, colour, name, etc., were seen to be major bait for hooking customers. The brand communication and ingredients as means to influence buying. The markets were still clubbed into the large masses of customers with little express differentiation. The whole economy seemed to have been stuck in a time warp, with a little clamour when it came to grappling with the competition-what there was of it.
Liril arrived on the soap space with the promise to transform bathing from problem coping to providing experience. With its ‘freshness’ platform, the brand sought to add a psychological dimension of feeling good. The brand uniquely communicated and connected with its prospects through a bold advertisement by then prevalent values. In 1975, the brand communications showed a beautiful model in a bikini under a natural waterfall. The excitement and freshness so conveyed by the advertisement struck an emotional connect with the people. The sound track of the TV (then, alas, only black and white) commercial used a ‘La..la..la..’ tune that concretized the delivery promised by the brand. In no time, the brand became hugely successful. The brand headline invited the potential uses as ‘come alive with Liril freshness’. The brand advertising showed floating juicy sliced lemon to back up its freshness claim. It was the first brand that sought to play on inherent freshness associated with lime.
Potential customer: young women
Background: natural high energy waterfall
Theme: young, vivacious, attractive girl having bath
Promised benefit- freshness experience
Promise support: floating juicy slices of lemon
Voice over: Come alive with Liril freshness
Liril cornered 14 percent market share, good enough to give it a slot in first three positions. It established the premium segment in soap category. The brand was a top performer in the toilet soaps category until 1995, when it began to lose market share. During this period, the brand lost big volume- over 35 percent – and its market share slid to below five percent. The excitement and innovation created by the brand could not be sustained. The later brand communication deviated from the original brand positioning. Further, the brand benefits of lime and freshness responsible for its success lost novelty. Many other brands began to focus on lime as ingredient and the claimed benefits of freshness. What was once a unique, pioneering benefit was becoming generic. Further, the brand’s original customers who grew up with it, were aging. Over time, the need structure of this group was shifting from experience and emotional delivery to functionality. This way, the brand began to lose its grip over the market.
The net result of loyal customers migrating to functionality, and the brand’s unique positioning getting cluttered, were typical challenges associated with the life cycle. Lack of differentiation and resonance with the potential customers began to take is toll on the brand. The brand persona, that centred on lime and freshness no longer offered the uniqueness that the brand now required to revitalize itself. The issue facing Liril was how to resurrect the once very strong brand and regain its former glory. Many thought of launching variations and re-doing the brand’s communication in order to make it more attuned with the times, so that young customers could be included in the brand’s fold.
Challenged at the brand was, Lever did make a heroic attempt to inject fresh blood into the brand. The period of change and experimentation began in 1995. The brand first rode on the extension mode. First, the brand saw the launch of a shower gel in 1994, followed by a cologne variant in 1996. Later, in 1999, another variation saw the light of the day by the name of Rainfresh. Then came icy blue Liril. The brand was hooked into a number of variants, all of them trying to play around with the theme of freshness in different contexts.
The brand communication that once created history of sorts – with sexy, bikini-clad Karen Lunel splashing about gleefully under a natural waterfall changed radically. The original Karen Lunel ads ran for twelve years, firmly establishing the brand’s associations with lime freshness. The girl in the waterfall theme was finally abandoned in favour of something called an ‘unusual water experience’. Instead of ‘the girl under the waterfall’ theme, the girl came out to bathe in the open, whether in a car wash or by dancing in front of a fire tanker hose. In a bid to lure youth, a set of commercials were launched on MTV. Then came the pissing boy, the girl in the desert, and the Liril Icy commercial. The brand communication began to take many routes, as if the idea was to shoot off arrows in all direction in the hope that one would hit the target. But that did not seem to happen. The advertising initiatives and line extensions failed to infuse any energy into brand’s performance.
Like the brand communication, even the product looks and forms deviated from its unique green, streaked appearance. Icy blue gave way to a blue variant that contained menthol. With line extensions, the brand sought to deliver bathing experience. The brand’s bold commercial of the green bikini clad model, made way for a model in a green swimsuit. Later, the swimsuit of the Liril model moved on to become a pair of hot pants. The brand faced intense competitive pressures in nineties, from other lime soaps aiming to copy the freshness platform.
Experts feel differently about the fall of Liril from its prima donna status. One expert ascribes the fall of the brand to the confusion between the brand idea and its execution. Many believe that the central brand idea was never really clear. It appeared that the ‘girl in the waterfall’ was the central brand idea and it should not have been touched. But is it this creative expression of the central idea of freshness – or the ideas itself – that was sacrosanct?
Others believe that Liril drew its success from the brand personality created by the first model, Karen Lunel. She epitomised not only youth but also other traits like exuberance, vivacity, innocence and fun. The models that replaced Karen were only, young pretty things. They were lacking across all the other personality aspects of the first model that launched the brand. Lever was never been able to find another Karen Lunel to so uniquely capture and reflect the brand essence.
The managers at the company believed that the brand’s creative expression of ‘girl in the waterfall’ hand become outdated. It had lived its life. But actually, the hangover persists to this very day. To give them credit, they have not altogether deviated from it. Be it Liril calendar or advertisements, the symbols of the waterfall and the girl would always be visible. Beyond communication, the brand has also seemed to have suffered on account of Lever’s inability to come up with the right product line in the case of Liril, as they did for Lux and Lifebuoy. It is suggested that the brand has to discover new, audacious paradigms and reach out to new horizons. It must transcend its current expression, only then is there some hope for revival.
Many believe that he brand failed to progress with time. The raped changes executed in the communications amount to influencing the superficial. The fundamental problems plaguing the brand were never unearthed. The tactics to correct immediate problems began to drive the strategy. New variations and communications made the picture rosy for some time, but once the excitement period passes, the sales tumble to their previous levels.
Alyque Padamsee, who initially created the brand, believes that Liril’s problems lie in the fact that its original bathing experience has been replaced with unusual water experience. The later ads like the pissing boy and the desert ad use the theme of water, but he questions, ‘where is the bathing experience in this? Is it central to the idea of freshness? The brand seems to have withered (and meandered) too far beyond its original core idea. All the commercials are good to view, but they fail to touch the heart. Many industry people believe that bringing back those original commercials may be a good idea.
But how would that help? A majority of the brand’s current customers do not have any idea or recollections of those magical advertisements from the ‘seventies. Over thirty years have passed, and few are the nostalgic that have survived. The customers to today are fundamentally different from those of the past; they have a more actively experiential outlook on life. They seek more active participation in everything. They don’t expect a brand to passively deliver a benefit. Rather, they want to create an experience by active participation. Presently, Liril has three variants: Liril Aloe Vera, Icy Cool and Liril Orange.
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