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Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Delhi Deconstructed


From time immemorial the detergent powder market in India meant Surf, Surf and virtually nobody else. This giant of a brand from Unilever then called Hindusthan Lever was a virtual monopoly in the branded detergent  powder segment to the extent it became generic. Old timers among us would remember that even me-toos and wanna-bes could not break away from the Surf mould let alone compete. Even the colour of the detergent was generic, a pale blue 'Surf" colour. A cushy HLL laughing all the way to the bank in a bubble of its own. All this till the late '80s. And then the inevitable happened. A small town entrepreneur named Karsan Bhai Patel launched his homegrown concoction of a detergent powder with an atrocious packaging named after his daughter. And yellow in colour! Nirma! Backed by a promise of 'doodh si safedi' and a catchy jingle and priced at 1/4th of the Surf, Nirma gobbled Surf's marketshare and went on to become a leader in many a market and big enough to threaten Surf's leadership position. Old timers among us would remember the irony when consumers asked for ' Nirmawala Surf dena!' Replace Surf with BJP and Nirma with AAP and you would possibly understand the voters verdict in the just concluded elections for the Delhi Assembly. Overconfidence almost bordering on arrogance against a fleet footed start up which refused to play by the existing market rules torpedoed the well entrenched leader. BJP's last minutes tactics of bringing in new faces, lewd and negative campaign almost mirrored HLL's tactics of reducing prices, launching a mega negative campaign (Whiteness or burnt hands) etc and which like BJP's campaign failed to find traction with the consumers. Well done Nirma, well done AAP!

Arrogant Market leaders, Beware!

Will Wheel apply the brakes?
It is rumored that there exists a secret book in the Unilever Headquarters in Rotterdam, Netherlands which is an encyclopedia of every marketing skirmish it has faced in every market in the world. The company dug deep into the same and is supposed to have pulled out a strategy to compete versus Nirma. A strategy already applied in markets similar to India facing a similar David vs Goliath war. HLL launched a new brand Wheel in the Nirma segment and priced it just a tad higher than the upstart to kill Nirma's biggest USP, price. Promoted as a 'better detergent at affordable price' to take Nirma head on, Wheel gradually turned the tables on the newbie. While Wheel indulged in the market warfare on the price platform and flanked Surf, the latter was given a complete makeover with new packaging and a 'superior' positioning to regain its primacy by creating the premium segment which was targeted at the upwardly mobile middle class which the then recently liberalized Indian economy threw up. And there in lies the lessons for BJP to bounce back post the pasting it has received in Delhi. Go back to its core promise, the secret book, which made the Indian electorates give it massive majority in the last general election. (Link here Dear Sri Narendra Modi!)

Will Surf 'Excel' again?


One of the greatest marketing fiascos ever indulged in by any company happened in '85 when Coca Cola, hold your breath, changed the recipe of its flagship aerated drink. So uproarious was the reaction and rejection from the consumers that it is said that this led to Pepsi taking leadership position in the North American market for the very first time in the history of the Cola Wars. To cut the story short, Coke quickly went back to its original recipe and post one of the costliest marketing campaigns ever went back to where it always was, leadership. Nothing works with consumers better than a responsive brand. A sincere apology to the electorates for the mistake of the '49 day government' fiasco has indeed worked wonders for brand AAP. Now AAP has the tougher task at hand. Apologising for the mistake was akin to bringing back the original Coke recipe. Delivering the 'always Coca Cola' promise is the task now. It doesn't take the consumer time to switch brands preferences again.

Recipe is back. Will it 'refresh' again?


I had written on the challenges the Congress faces earlier. To cut the story short Suffices if I just replug the same again here!


PS: Over to Bihar now. Will BJP stick to its 'Secret Book' or can the arithmetic of JDU+RJD+INC do a  Nirma? Watch this space!

Glossary :
doodh si safedi : Whiteness like milk
Nirmawala Surf dena : Give me Surf named Nirma


  1. Very Well written... a retail marketing guru's take on politics!

    1. Thanks. But the guru bit is a bit too much I say!

  2. Superb analogy! Well written piece of study which the mainstream media could not do.

  3. Well written. Soap and juicy water are the best products to compare a white wash !
    I understood one thing now, Democracy now, is a product , and it depends on how the political parties and their respective leaders strategise their marketing to
    Impress the gullible electorate !
    My appreciations to you for the way you did your homework to write this interesting piece.