Are Bathrooms Really that Sensual?

By Sohini Sen , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | November 11, 2014
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We explore what makes sexuality such an oft-visited subject in the sanitary-ware segment.

Your hands are the most beautiful part of your body - one that helps you to share food, express love and show joy. Then, why do we use it for the, uhm, nasty business - asks Kohler in a new campaign - Hands are made for Love. Designed by Ogilvy & Mather, it questions the Indian habit of using hands for cleaning in the washroom.

Ajay Gahlaut

Salil Sadanandan

Sushil Matey

Ramesh Kaushik

Vijay Asrani

Sushil Luniya

"It was a tricky brief. Usually people do not wish to talk about it. So, the challenge was not just to talk, but talk nicely about something people do not wish to acknowledge. We needed a higher order emotional appeal to tell people not to use their hands for things which do not reflect your feelings," says Ajay Gahlaut, ECD, Ogilvy North India.

Kohler plays in an area of hygiene that is not pleasant. Add to that the fact that television is usually watched around dinner time when the family is together. Keeping all this in mind, Kohler had to come up with something that talks about the functionality and yet not make it gross.

"In India, water is not just a rational thing. It is meant for purification. Therefore, saying that using water and hands is wrong would not work. We needed a positive angle to the story and decided to show what the same hands can express and do," reflects Salil Sadanandan, managing director, Kohler India.

But sensual?

Kohler's ad stands in stark contrast to other recent examples, which show bathrooms as stylish, and even sensual, places. The common notion is that it is important to play up sensuality to give the space a premium imagery. The segment in which Kohler, or brands like Roca, Artize (from the house of Jaquar) play are in the premium segment. Of the total market size of 28-30 million pieces, 55 per cent is unorganised. Of the organised market, only 18 per cent is the life-style (or premium) market. Though this pie is small, it is growing at twice the speed of standard segments.

A regular Indian will remodel his house maybe once in 10 years. Therefore, the brand must speak to the consumer in the moment he is about to make the decision and stimulate the experience in a way that other shorter term products cannot do (such as paints which are changed every two to five years).

According to Sushil Matey, chief operating officer, H&R Johnson, bathrooms are also the most intimate of spaces. "We clear our minds in this space. Many strategic and mundane issues are solved by us in the bathroom."

But most importantly, the middle class is expanding at a very rapid pace. With higher disposable incomes it is possible to afford luxuries which could not be thought of before. Increasing exposure to foreign lifestyles, rising disposable incomes and pride in their house has made the bathroom segment grow as much as the living room or kitchen has.

"The people we target are usually the well-travelled Indians. They are used to a certain level of class and luxury when they travel, and they are now slowly trying to demand the same in their own homes. Every bathroom in this case is a new statement," explains Ramesh Kaushik, marketing head, Grohe India.

Kaushik feels that bathrooms have evolved from one of the most neglected to the most aspired category in India. Grohe has taken this opportunity to speak to the upper middle class (and upwards). But understanding the joint family system in India is imperative for the brand and, therefore, they make their campaigns around the whole family. However many of the campaigns around the bath fittings segment show only a nuclear couple - maybe to add to the sensual factor.

But are these stylish bath fittings affordable? The entry level products from Parryware comes at Rs 100 while the premium segment by sister brand, Roca is priced at Rs 180. The core target for Parryware is the family, but for Roca is the nuclear couple.

The other target

Whether it is the family or the nuclear couple living by themselves, customers are most likely to invest in bath fittings that their developer or interior decorator suggests. So while a consumer will love an ad that she sees on TV, the developer's choice will be final.

In some cases, like Roca, brands invest more in the retail market. "We bring out campaigns that appeal to both the developer and consumer. This is especially helpful because a chunk of our client is from the hospitality industry, where the brand's name is of high value to the clients," explains Vijay Asrani, marketing head, Roca. The company's revenue is split 70-30 in favour of retail sellers as against institutional sellers.

On the other hand, Kohler's advertising is divided equally between the retail consumers and institutional buyers. A separate team looks after the 'decision-making' markets - consisting of developers, architects and designers.

Taking it a step further is HSIL, which makes sanitary-ware under the brand name Hindware. The company has developed a DVD app - Bathroom Planner - which makes the Hindware product range available to any user. The user can manage up to five projects at a time, can create five bathroom drawings for each project and compare a maximum of four designs for each bathroom product required.

"Today micro-targeting and content marketing is gradually setting the trend in the marketing sphere. This calls for customisation and personalisation of strategies to reach a niche set of consumers. In this case, we are talking of interior designers and architects," explains Sushil Luniya, president (marketing & sales), building products division, HSIL.

Much water under the bridge

With already a handful of players in the market, will the bathroom category show any new surprises? According to Kohler's Sadanandan, only 42 per cent Indian citizens have access to water-based sanitation. He sees the bottom end growing quickly adding more volume to the industry, while the top end will grow as more and more people move into a luxurious urban lifestyle.

Saji Abraham

Jagdeep Kapoor

According to Saji Abraham, executive vice president, planning, Lowe Lintas, India is emerging from the functional middle class existence it has had all this while. More and more people are seeking luxury and masstige has become a popular segment. That is a reason why there will always be a case for luxury even in bathrooms.

"You may not end up owning Jaguar's top of the line bathroom fittings, but imagine your joy, next time you have to change a tap there is a nifty Jag tap available albeit a bit more expensive. You would want a piece of that utopian bathroom wouldn't you?" asks Abraham.

Jagdeep Kapoor, chairman and managing director, Samsika Marketing Consultants however feels there should be a balance in functionality and aesthetics. While showing a shower working takes the functionality part, sensuality looks at the aesthetics. "Moreover, these advertisements have two purposes - to excite the end user and to excite the influencer. If the consumer brings in the pull factor, the influencer works as the push factor," he says.

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