A tweet by Patanjali's Baba Ramdev went viral on social media a couple of days back. Written, perhaps, in anticipation of the launch of Colgate's new all-herbal and indigenous toothpaste 'Colgate Cibaca Vedshakti', it read: "Colgate used to warn against Indian traditional ways of using salt and coal on teeth. But now, it actively endorses it".
Substantiating his tweet was a collage of an old Colgate toothpaste ad (1985) carrying the above 'warning' against salt and coal, as well as new ones in which model and actor Lara Dutta can be seen endorsing Colgate's Active Salt and Colgate Total Charcoal Deep Clean toothpaste brands.
Colgate used to warn against Indian traditional ways of using salt & coal on teeth. But now they actively endorse it pic.twitter.com/eYywXQpK4P— Swami Ramdev (@yogrishiramdev) August 20, 2016
While Patanjali Ayurved's annual revenues of Rs 2,000 (FY '15) crore and Rs 5,000 crore (FY '16) are numbers that need to be put in perspective for a layman, the success of its toothpaste brand Dantkanti can be gauged by the fact that an established brand such as Colgate, the market leader in the toothpaste segment with over 50 per cent share, has stepped up its game, and is in for an image overhaul.
It appears as though Colgate Palmolive India is feeling the heat of the 'natural' revolution ushered in by Patanjali Ayurved. The personal and oral care giant has launched a new all-herbal and indigenous toothpaste under the Cibaca brand, arguably to fend off competition by Patanjali Dantkanti. With clove, basil, lemon, camphor, Eucalyptus and Thymol, the product not only has a formulation very Indian, but also quite an Indian name -- 'Colgate Cibaca Vedshakti'.
The new product is priced at Rs 50 for a 175 gm pack, almost 30 per cent cheaper than Patanjali Dantkanti (Regular), which is available in 100 gm packs of Rs 40, and Rs 75 for the 200 gm pack -- a clear reason for Patanjali to be perturbed.
Although such flip-flop in strategy on the part of multinational companies trying to model their offerings based on the preferences and cultural sensibilities of different markets is not a novel phenomenon, Patanjali's passionate 'no-fee brand ambassador' Baba Ramdev seems to be quite unhappy about it. In fact, he is not only calling out 'bluff' on a personal medium such as Twitter, but the brand is also running an ad campaign for Dantkanti Advanced on television.
The TVC, created by Patanjali's agency Vermillion Communications accuses "toothpaste selling multinational corporations" of once perpetrating fear about natural products by dubbing their use as harmful and an uncivilised practice. The ad appeals to consumers to not fall for their gimmicks and "emotional blackmailing" in the name of salt, tulsi, and charcoal variants, but instead, choose Dantkanti Advanced.
Well, this is not the first time Colgate has been accused of such gimmicks. The brand also drew flak on social media when it launched Colgate Total Charcoal Deep Clean last year with brand ambassador (Lara) Dutta. People cited an old Colgate TVC in which the brand had claimed that charcoal and similar abrasive products can damage tooth enamel.
It was to fend off this competition in the natural segment that Colgate introduced Colgate Sensitive Clove and Colgate Cibaca Vedshakti, the latter being targetted at the masses.
Cibaca, the Indian oral hygiene brand, was originally owned by Ciba Geigy. It was bought by Colgate in 1994, and re-launched as the All New Cibaca Top in 2000. The brand is strong in rural India.
As per the report by ICICI Securities, the rural population accounts for approximately 35 per cent toothpaste revenue for Colgate Palmolive India. However, there is still huge opportunity for brands in rural markets where overall toothpaste penetration stood at just 74.1 per cent in 2014, as opposed to 92.3 per cent the same year in urban India.
Further, various reports peg Patanjali's market share at 4.5-5 per cent and Colgate's share in the natural segment, where it is present with Colgate Active Salt, Active Salt Neem, and Active Salt Healthy White Toothpaste, at 7 per cent. The competition is pretty close.
Patanjali's Dantkanti claims to have generated business worth Rs 450 crore in the last fiscal (FY '15-'16). Currently, four variants, namely, Dantkanti Regular (13 herbs), Dantkanti Advanced (26 herbs), Patanjali Medicated Gel, and Patanjali Junior are available in the market in three lakh outlets, informs S K Gupta Tijarawala, Patanjali spokesperson and CEO, Combine Advertising.
Experts believe that given its strong brand equity and a formidable distribution network covering over five million outlets, Colgate will have an edge over Patanjali. With Cibaca Vedshakti, it may even win the price war.
Sharma believes that Baba Ramdev has brought a credible and popular voice of authority to the ayurvedic segment for the first time, thus fuelling its growth.
But, while commenting on the brand's strategy, he points, "The MNC bashing that Patanjali has indulged in, is good for a few market share points, but this merely scratches the surface of what it can be. Sooner than later, Patanjali will realise that for the larger market, there is a bigger issue as far as the consumer is concerned. It is the wall of scepticism that traditional or ayurvedic dental products have to scale to be a truly dominant force."
According to Sharma, as a brand that has momentum on its side and a long-term interest in the growth of Ayurveda, it's time Patanjali found a higher ground.