'Bhaiya, ek Bisleri dena' - you've probably said this yourself or heard someone else say it when asking for packaged drinking water. If you are a consumer from a metropolitan city and can clearly read the packaging then you won't be fooled with any counterfeit product but what about a person who can't read English?
Recently, mineral water brand - Bisleri, in an attempt to connect with local consumers, mainly those who are not comfortable with reading in English, announced that their bottled water will soon be available with labels in regional languages. Phase one will see regional labels being rolled out in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, parts of Maharashtra and UP. Within the month, the brand will have presence all over India in its new avatar.
Is it something to do with the fact that not every Indian knows to read and speak English?
"Yes," admits Ghosh, "and we want people at every level to be able to read the name, Bisleri. This helps us ensure that our consumers in villages can read the brand name correctly."
The brand has 122 bottling plants present across India. Ghosh adds, "All label manufacturers have to change the plate on which they are printing the label and that's an investment we've had to make, which is around Rs.60 lakh."
Adding about how the new move will help the brand fight with counterfeit products, Ghosh says, "Now shopkeepers can't just hand any bottle of packaged water when a person, in a hurry, asks for a "bottle of Bisleri". We don't have this problem in the metro cities but at the local level, people do struggle."
Talking about how people in rural areas and smaller towns are cheated with counterfeit products, Ghosh says, "Our consumers, who can't read English, identify us by our packaging, the green colour and the font style in which Bisleri is written. The trouble is there are many other brands with similar packaging, making it difficult for them to recognise what they asked for. My consumer at the village level should not be cheated."
Currently, the brand is ready with production and distribution, and once it goes on the shelves across India, Bisleri has plans to promote this new offering via communication in various states in local languages.
The brand certainly hopes that this move will solve the problem of counterfeit bottles in the hinterlands. We asked our design and brand experts if it really will tackle this problem.
Ramanujam Sridhar, founder and CEO, brand-comm, a brand consultancy, says, "Bisleri is a huge brand. You can almost say it's a category and the challenge the brand is facing is that when someone says "Bisleri dena", it actually means a bottle of water, a problem that even Xerox and other dominant brands have."
Sridhar points out that people in the United Kingdom drink tap water but that's not the case in India.
He says, "In many India markets such as, Chennai, the quality of drinking water is poor so people invariably use packaged drinking water. So it is logical for them to look at the regional language, and since the brand is already familiar, in terms of its appearance, there's little chance of confusion. Very few people buy mineral water at the supermarket. Here the target audience are those who go to a small kirana store near the bus stand and ask for a bottle of Bisleri in Marathi, Telugu or Tamil."
Sridhar gives us the example of Coca-Cola being called Kekoukele in China.
He says, "Brands are recognising customers. Kekoukele sounds like Coca-Cola but is actually conveying the position of the brand. Therefore the brand name or the design isn't really sacrosanct in that sense of the term. This could be a ploy by the brand to handle the issue of consumers not knowing how to read Bisleri in English."
Does it solve the problem of people being able to differentiate between the original the fake product?
Sridhar says he is not sure. "It is going to be a question of time. It may give Biserli a head start but unless there is some sort of mechanism that deters one brand from riding on another brand's popularity it is going to be difficult. That is one of the biggest challenge brands are facing so we need to check on things like that."
According to Sridhar, given the fact that India has a problem of fake brands and labels, the brand should promote this change aggressively.
Ashwini Deshpande, founder, director and practice head, Elephant Design says, "I am all for local languages and native motifs. However, for a brand that took the bold step of changing the category code of blue labels by going teal, recall and own-able visual identity is already in place. So I don't see the need to use language to be able to have recognition by non-English reading audiences. I am also curious to see what happens to towns along the state borders where language and script are not just a nuance of geography or political decision."