Changing shades of the paint industry

By Abhishek Chanda , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | March 02, 2009
The past few years have seen tectonic shifts in the way paint brands and consumers look at colours. An afaqs! report

Colours of India' has been an abiding theme in promoting the country as a tourist destination. When it comes to their homes, however, urban Indians seem to have lost their flair for colour somewhere along the way, settling for walls that are white or some safe shade of pastel. Marketers of paint have been trying to stir these consumers out of their visual apathy.

Is it the changing consumer of paint who has made the marketer sing a new communications tune? Or is it, on the other hand, the marketer who is trying to change the consumer's attitude to colour? It may be a bit of both.

Using various devices - a film star passionately painting a wall, depicting people's penchant for specific colours through body paint or visualising a variegated Taj Mahal - marketers such as Asian Paints, Kansai Nerolac and Lewis Berger are driving as well as capitalising on the trend of Indians permitting colours to enter their homes.

A peculiarity of the paints business is that there is little pleasure in the purchase decision. Painting the home is a messy - and expensive - affair that leads to dislocation for days on end. A whole bunch of strangers invade the home. These 'professionals' who do the job are generally unprofessional and will not keep to deadlines. They will leave a mess behind. No wonder most people put off the decision to paint their houses for as long as they can.

There have been glacial but tectonic shifts in the home owning pattern that underlie the changes that marketers of paints are trying to accelerate. The target consumer is the home owner, not the tenant. Until a couple of decades ago, the home owner was at least middle-aged - and therefore, conservative, certainly in the matter of painting his home. Marketers had no way to tap into the colourful streak of the young. In recent times, though, the buyer of the home has turned progressively younger thanks to home financing options as well as rising salaries - a home owner by the early 30s is now common.

The change in marketing communication is centred around emulsions, washable paints that are easy to apply and come in various finishes. Emulsion paint forms around a third of the pie of the approximately Rs 10,000 crore decorative paints business, is the fastest growing segment and arguably offers the best margins to boot. The other segments of decorative paints are enamels (used mostly on doors and grills), distempers (non-washable paints less expensive than emulsions), primers (used as the initial coat on walls) and putties (dough-like substances used to fill holes and crevices), among a few others.

Says Amit Syngle, vice-president, sales and marketing, Asian Paints, "As consumers, our involvement with our home and its décor is continuously increasing." This is particularly noticeable in the growing tribe of young people who live in homes that they own.

A plethora of new products, coupled with communication driven by fresh insights, has made the paints category "move up from the cold zone to a semi-hot zone", according to Abhijit Roy, senior VP, sales and marketing, Lewis Berger Paints.

Another example of consumers willing to move beyond the bare bones of cost and functionality is the advertising for Royale. For this emulsion brand, Asian Paints kept in mind that a lot of home owners proudly decorate the walls of their rooms with items precious to them. "It could be a special vase picked up on a trip to the Mediterranean or a prized family possession," elaborates Raj Nair, senior vice-president and executive creative director, Contract Advertising, which handles the Royale and Tractor emulsion portfolios for Asian Paints. That explains why in one of the ads developed some years ago, actor Saif Ali Khan happily painted a wall specially to hang his favourite guitar.

A similar appeal of pride and joy echoes in Asian Paints' Har Ghar Kuch Kehta Hai ('Every home has a story') campaign, recalls Abhijit Avasthi, executive creative director, South Asia for O&M, which handles the corporate, exterior and wood enamel portfolios for the company.

Another key message from paint brands is that consumers can express their personality through colours. For instance, a businessman, a socialite, teenagers and a young married couple would have their bodies painted as they go about their life. This is exactly what McCann Erickson, the agency that handles the Kansai Nerolac portfolio, portrayed in one of the TV commercials for the Nerolac brand.

Explaining the idea, Ryan Menezes, executive creative director, McCann Erickson, says, "I thought, everybody has a favourite colour, which reflects their personality. Therefore, colour = personality. What if everyone's personality (colour) was visible? What if the colour you put on your walls was actually on you, on your skin?"

Another recent interesting commercial is the one for Lewis Berger's 'Taj Mahal', in which the white monument is imaginatively shown as being painted and repainted in multiple hues. Says Roy, "The Taj Mahal is a symbol of pristine whiteness that represents a larger-than-life dimension in the lives of people. The creative idea used this wonder of the world and turned it into a canvas for the imagination." JWT is the creative agency that has conceived the ad.

Current paint advertising encourages individuality in colours. But the fact is that choice is generally a joint decision involving the entire family. How do marketers cope with this dichotomy? Says C Venugopal, general manager, marketing, Kansai Nerolac, "Our research shows that the consumer wants to experiment but is being restrained because of the (rest of the) family." That is why Nerolac chose the tagline, 'Show your true colours', to provoke consumers to do their thing.

"Paint decision-making largely engages the entire family, and most of the decisions are arrived at collectively," agrees Syngle. "So, the communication target is the whole family, and Asian Paints' advertising mirrors this."

For Lewis Berger, the idea is to go for the consumer's mental attitude. Says Roy, "Our target group is 'young and urbane'; we feel that age is a function of mental attitude."

Are marketers and their agencies going over the top in encouraging this individualism? Is it entirely removed from reality? In Royale Play (a sub-brand under Royale), for example, in "turning the wall into even more of a hero than before" (in the words of Contract's Nair), Saif wields the paintbrush with much vigour to the backdrop of jazz music. But doesn't the TVC move beyond aspiration into the region of unreality, considering that few in India would even dream of painting their own house? After all, physical labour is looked down upon in India.

Roy of Berger points out that Indians won't easily lift a finger to help themselves in certain areas. "We Indians, apart from mending the odd fuse, expect somebody else to solve our problems. I doubt the very existence of the do-it-yourself culture, especially for a cumbersome activity like painting your house."

Recognising the pain that is painting, marketers are trying to make things easy for consumers. For instance, Kansai Nerolac has introduced 'Style Zones' stores, where the consumer can get a first look and feel of things through 3-D graphic models. Asian Paints provides a 'Foresite' service, in which consumers can see the digitally done up pictures of their homes in the colour schemes of their choice. Similar measures have been introduced by Lewis Berger as well.

These value-adds are in addition to the already prevalent sampling and dial-in services. Some paint brands also offer the services of paint specialists.

So, what's next for paints? A focus area is children - and since the affluent have fewer, they indulge them more, even in doing up their rooms. Lewis Berger, for one, has introduced Galaxy glowing- the-dark paint for the ceiling, and Glitter and Glow, a paint that glitters during the day and glows in the night. Asian Paints, too, has introduced its own variant for children, called Kids World.

Needless to say, all this will amount to a fresh round of colourful splashes on the walls. And with advertising to match.

© 2009 afaqs!