In the year 1879, an individual named Thomas Alva Edison was to rewrite the history of the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) business as we know it today. During his first public demonstration of his invention, the incandescent electric bulb, Edison had apparently said, “We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.”
That remark probably sent a strong warning to Procter and Gamble, which was then a leading candle and soap maker. The electric bulb invention had the power to take the wind out of one half of P&G’s business. That probably led P&G to sharpen its focus on soaps and detergents, and the rest is marketing folklore. Also, everyone knows the impact of the electric bulb on our daily lives.
Circa 2016: It’s been a while since 45-year-old Amit K has used detergent on his favourite shirts. It’s not that Amit believes in wearing dirty denims to make a style statement. Instead, it’s his formal shirts that we are talking about. Ever since the mid-level executive started buying the Van Heusen Easy Wash range of shirts, his daily chore of washing has eased up. That’s because the range makes the bold claim of having “zero detergent technology”, threatening to put the ‘ Daag acche hain’ or ‘dirt is good’ claim by detergent makers out of contention.
Launched in the Autumn-Winter season of 2015, this line of ready-to-wear apparel is apparently flying off the shelves, if company representatives at the Aditya Birla Group’s apparel franchise are to be believed.
Two weeks ago, another product campaign highlighted the promise of shampooing your hair without using a drop of water. Called ‘My Dirty Little Secret’, the digital advertising campaign highlights the B Blunt range of dry shampoos. The product comes in a spray can and consumers just need to spray it on their scalp and wipe it off with a towel. Your hair has been shampooed in no time, and without water.
The Kodak moment Unlike the 19th century, there is very little reaction time in today’s world. The oft repeated examples such as Kodak and Nokia were once dominant forces in cameras and mobile phones, respectively. But they were late to evolve as the consumers and their categories moved ahead. Will that scene repeat itself in India’s FMCG business as well? The major global FMCG companies that operate in India, namely Hindustan Unilever (Unilever’s local operation) and P&G, did not comment for this report. In response to queries on how they were future-proofing their respective businesses, HUL responded saying that the company had “no comments to offer”. P&G did not respond either.
Sure, not offering a comment does not mean that the companies are not working on a counter-strategy, but the fact that they, who create a lot of media buzz over much smaller innovations, chose to remain silent over what is a potential game-changer does raise a few eyebrows.
In both the above India-specific innovations, the company behind the potentially breakthrough product has been an outsider, who has no major stake in either detergents or shampoos. The Easy Wash shirts have been launched by the Aditya Birla Group’s Van Heusen brand, while the B Blunt dry shampoos come from the brand that has a popular chain of salons, where Godrej owns a stake.
Sunil Kataria, business head, India and SAARC, Godrej Consumer Products Ltd, which markets the B Blunt range of dry shampoos, says that in the 15-20 day period after the campaign broke, there has been a three-fold jump in sales. That’s despite the fact that the dry shampoo comes at a steep price of ₹550 and a smaller travel pack sells for ₹250. Similarly, the Van Heusen Easy Wash range is priced from ₹2,899 to ₹3,199.
Kataria says the consumer has matured and there is a distinct need for this segment as consumers are short on time but unwilling to compromise on the quality of the experience. Will the dry variant replace the shampoo as we know it? Kataria responds saying that it’s early days and the initial target for the brand is to get into the overall basket of hair cleansing.
Of course, the key to these products gaining mass acceptance is the pricing. To paraphrase Edison, will these companies make shirts and dry shampoos so cheap that only the rich will continue to wash their hair and clothes with water? That’s a question that could be answered a decade from now, if not earlier.