‘Hema, Rekha, Jaya aur Sushma’ get calorie conscious

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FMCG company Nirma, the brand synonymous with detergent cakes and powders, recently launched global artificial sweetener brand Nutrasweet in the Indian market via its healthcare arm Nirlife. Yes, we all heard it right! Nirma has a healthcare division and in fact the company had forayed into the pharmaceuticals business way back in 2006. Not known to many, the pharmaceutical business of Nirma, has been producing medical products related to the critical care industry, it is now that the company is focusing on a more consumer centric approach with the launch of Nutrasweet. The company also launched a TV campaign, created by Ignite Mudra, to drive home the point that Nirma indeed has a stake beyond detergents.

According to Ravinder Siwach, Executive Creative Director, DDB Mudra the brief given by Nirma for the ad campaign was to launch Nutrasweet in a market that is dominated by Sugarfree. “Sugarfree has almost been synonymous to artificial sweeteners and the remaining few others have failed to make any dent. Thus, we had an insight and a fact. ‘Insight’ was that even if people were not overtly health conscious they like to do what they can for their health. And the ‘fact’ is that Nutrasweet is quite close to real sugar in its taste. Hence the idea of people hesitating in eating everything sweet and Nutrasweet urges them to indulge without a care. Hence the coinage and the refrain ab sweet ban gaya nutrasweet,” adds Siwach. Thus, towards the end of the TVC, the campaign clearly states the parentage of Nirma as the brand that has launched the global brand in the Indian market.

Ravinder Siwach, Executive Creative Director, DDB Mudra Group

Ravinder Siwach, Executive Creative Director, DDB Mudra Group

So, will Nutrasweet be able to make a dent in the market for artificial sweetners where brands like Sugar Free and Equal have a higher brand recall? Moreover, will the global brand be able to leverage the brand equity of Nirma?

Unrelated TG
According to Sharda Agarwal, Director, MarketGate Consulting, “Although Nirma has fabulous brand equity, it still has that very middle class and mass appeal and on the other hand a category like artificial sweeteners caters to a different kind of TG, which is primarily the upper income household and is a premium OTC product. Thus, the brand connect here may not seem too appropriate.”

Sharda Agarwal, Director, MarketGate Consulting

Sharda Agarwal, Director, MarketGate Consulting

However, she points out that from the perspective of trade it could be a smart move to convince distributors to sell a product that comes from a trusted label like Nirma. Sharad Sarin, Professor- Marekting, XLRI, too feels that if the brand is using the distributional network of Nirma, it could have a wider reach but as far as acceptance by consumers is concerned, he is skeptical.

Siwach makes another point when it comes to Nirma being a trusted name. “People don’t accept health care products without the assurance of a reliable name behind them. The ad does the talking and then the brand name Nirma comes at the very end, just to bring that reassurance that the product is from a reliable corporate house,” he adds. But, Ramanujam Sridhar, Chief Executive Officer Integrated Brand-Comm, is unsure if the Nirma branding will add or take away the credibility of the artificial sweetener brand since the latter is a generic product and just one more product coming to the market.

Abraham Koshy, Professor of Marketing, Indian Institute of Management- Ahmedabad

Abraham Koshy, Professor of Marketing, Indian Institute of Management- Ahmedabad

To Professor Sarin, consumers will actually overlook the link between the two brands. He feels that it depends on the product alone to create its own space in the market although there could be some kind of positive rub off on Nutrasweet of Nirma’s parentage.

Even though the company is focusing on a rather universal TG that includes anybody and everybody who consumes sweet foods experts feel that the TG for artificial sweeteners is more or less defined. According to Sridhar it caters to those in their middle age having a serious sugar problem or conscious of what they intake. He feels that health is a high involvement category but Nirma is associated as a great value for money product and not so much with great quality. Hence, one may feel deterred of trying a lesser known brand. “Artificial sweeteners are consumed by very niche TG and they will either try the product if it is recommended by a doctor, or the price differentiation should be so significant there may be a chance for consumption among new set of consumers. But because it is a generic category, nobody will take a chance, even if the product tastes better than the more popular brand,” he explains.

Sweet Beginnings?
In fact, Nutrasweet is being pitted against Sugar Free on the taste platform. Mudra’s Siwach shares, “Sugarfree is treated more like a bitter pill by its users. If people wanted to avoid calories, then they had to bear with the not so great taste of Sugarfree. Our communication has a bolder claim – ‘you can replace ‘sweet’ with ‘nutrasweet’. We believed the taste of our product will work in our advantage, once people try the product.” He also says that the campaign’s objective is, thus, to make people consider replacing natural sugar with Nutrasweet and the message is ‘indulge without a worry’ since Nutrasweet is as tasty as natural sugar and has no calories.

Thus, according to Shekhar Pandey, Associate VP, DDB Mudra, the campaign tries to break the clutter, which does not get into dry calories counting and steers away from the low-in-calorie health plank. It is more approachable and consumer –centric. However, Professor Sarin feels that this is not an unusual move and in fact a ‘me too’ guilt-free approach that has been taken by many other players like Sugar Free in this industry. But, Abraham Koshy, Professor of Marketing, IIM-A, sees no harm in the communication. He says that since it is a relatively new and small industry, it makes sense for a new entrant to showcase the functional aspects. Much of a product differentiation is not critical as the category needs to expand; however, according to him price may play an important role in purchasing decisions.

Washed out?
Nirma as a brand, as many experts point out, has not been able to diversify its business beyond detergents. The link between a company that is largely associated with fabric wash and a category completely unrelated to its core mass appeal seems to be a bit of a misfit. In fact it has been finding it tad too difficult to pull out of the detergents tag.

Sharad Sarin, Prof - Marketing, XLRI

Sharad Sarin, Prof – Marketing, XLRI

Sridhar points out that for almost two and a half decades of Nirma’s existence, the brand is largely thought of as a single brand company and all its success has been build around detergents. In addition, it is a success more because of its pricing and distribution rather than great product quality. People have always perceived it as an indigenous brand and would have even tried it at some point of time. “The brand gave Levers a run for their money when Nirma broke all records with a product priced as low as Rs 8 as against Surf, which was priced at Rs 20. The brand building efforts like the famous Nirma jingle helped the brand grow successfully,” Sridhar adds.

Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder CEO, brand-comm

Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder CEO, Integrated Brand-Comm

But if one takes a look at Nirma’s other extensions like the premium bathing soaps and other personal care categories, its record has been dismal. Both Sarin and Sridhar feel that Nirma has been facing this problem of establishing its name beyond detergents. “If I conduct a brand association test most people will recall Nirma as a detergents brand. Even I am not familiar with this healthcare business of Nirma,” says Sridhar. However, Mudra’s Pandey is quick to disagree. He says that in a short span of five to six years of its foray into pharmaceuticals business, Nirma’s Nirlife brand has gained 30-40 per cent market share in critical care products with brands like Oneuse and Dispovan. The philosophy of Nirlife is ‘health is happiness’, anything that falls into this they will look at. Nutrasweet is thus a heathcare brand of Nirlife. “The trust associated with the brand name Nirma is what is most crucial at this juncture.”

IIM-A’s Professor Koshy, also feels that it is an appropriate move on part of Nirma to get into a category, which is getting attention. He feels that the product will be competitively priced looking at the value-for-money quality of Nirma, plus the brand name will add to the trust among consumers for a new entrant like Nutrasweet. “For a short time consumers may think over the brand connect with Nirma  but slowly they will accept that Nirma is a diversified brand. Once that association becomes larger, consumer perception also broadens. At best if it doesn’t connect with consumers, they will reject the connection but that won’t create any negative brand equity for Nirma.” Hence he thinks it is a good move for Nirma to walk out of its category specialist role and foray into something larger. For the time being the new launch will definitely stimulate growth in the artificial sweeteners industry.

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