Ashwini Gangal

"Seduction is not the only motivation of a man": Raja Chakraborty, Park Avenue Deodorant

Being second best is no mean feat. We're sure Raja Chakraborty would agree. He's the proud custodian of a brand that climbed from No.3 to No.2, in the Rs. 2,000-2,300 crore deo category, within 12 months.

As per a Neilson study conducted across urban India, as of March 31, 2014, the brand's market share (in terms of value) was 7.7 per cent, second only to Vini Cosmetics' Fogg. Same time last year, Park Avenue Deo was at the No.3 position (Fogg was No.1, HUL's Axe was No.2) and had a market share of 7.4 per cent. Over a year, Park Avenue displaced Axe, a brand that pretty much set the communication codes for this category.

But interestingly, on the communication front, Park Avenue Deo operates in a space of its own. Over the past year, the brand has increased its ad spend by about 50 per cent.

In lieu of the brand's recent market performance, we spoke to Chakraborty, marketing head of JK Helene Curtis, the Raymond Group Company that markets Park Avenue's deodorants. Over the past 15 years he has worked across brands and categories including PepsiCo, Henkel India, Kansai Nerolac Paints, Babool and Meswak, among others.

Chakraborty has been handling the male grooming portfolio at Park Avenue for a little under two years now.

Edited Excerpts.

Edited Excerpts

Park Avenue's Classic Deo Range
Park Avenue Deo Shot
You've outperformed Axe over the past financial year. What did you do right?

A few things. We stayed away from the eagerness to get into the seduction space; instead, we have been speaking to the young working man about success. The emotional payoff we offer is success. We have maintained a very premium and international imagery.

Moreover, in the recent past we have tried to correct one of our weaknesses - our distribution momentum and push. Over the past year, we increased our distribution by almost 50,000 outlets. This has come on the back of certain SKU strategies, like our 'Deo Shots' range, that comprises small 40 ml deo bottles available for Rs. 59 each. It's an entry level SKU that gives people an option to try the product.

This strategy has given us that incremental trial and incremental distribution in a larger number of towns, and has helped us push our market share.

Speaking of distribution, to what extent to do rely on your Park Avenue apparel stores for your deo sales?

To a very large extent. Park Avenue apparel has helped the deo brand in terms of its imagery. It is surprising, but whenever I meet consumers, they never say Park Avenue is an Indian brand. But the fact that we're seen as a premium, international brand this is a strength. So that's where Park Avenue apparel plays a role. The deo business borrows that rub off from apparel.

But from a distribution standpoint we rely a lot more on our regular distribution outlets, like traditional and modern trade, chemists, cosmetics and general stores. Yes, since the deo products are available at the apparel store, there is some conversion that happens there... but from an overall sales point of view, it is minimal. Almost all our deo sales come from traditional and modern trade.

Why did you decide to stay away from the seduction space? How did you zero in on the 'alpha male' angle, instead?

Our research - a 2013 study called Censidium, in association with Ipsos - that attempts to quantify the motivations of people reveals that seduction is not the only motivation a man has.

'Alpha male' was more of a communication insight. It's about the adventurous instinct. Every time we meet consumers, we see this trend... they're always trying to do something other than their jobs. Nowadays, people take pride in their hobbies. It's almost like a parallel life that gives emotional satisfaction. Everybody wants to be successful, yes, but we found that everybody also wants to have a sense of achievement... not something one necessarily gets from his job.

We have a digital property that translates this idea into reality. Last year, we gave the winners of our online contest (that got around 25,000 participants) a chance to drive a super car on the racetrack in Coimbatore. This year we took three people to sky dive (18,000 feet) in New Zealand.

Functionally, all deo brands cater to the same need gap - long-lasting fragrance and overcoming sweat odour. But we're not a problem-solution brand. We emotionally partner the man who seeks success in life.

Who is your typical consumer? What's he like?

A typical Park Avenue deo consumer is a 25+ guy, who has just started his work life. He's at a stage where he really wants to prove his worth.

Our strength is really in the larger towns (1 million+ population). We have been pushing our distribution in smaller towns. For instance: historically, our communication has always been in English, but over the past year, we have moved to Hinglish. We have ensured the language we use to communicate in is a bit more 'mass'.

We don't believe in SEC as much as we do in the buyer's mindset. For example, sales for our Deo Shots come primarily from smaller towns like Guwahati and Agartala. The guy who uses this product may not be high on purchasing power (typically, he's from SEC C) but his 'consumer sketch' is the same as the kind found in Mumbai. That is, he works in a private company (say, telecom), he is not a government worker, his TV viewing habits are similar to those of people in metros (he watches CID, Crime Patrol, doesn't watch regional channels as such, dabbles a bit in English programming), and he is doing something in his life to progress.

Some people look at deodorants as a 'necessity' in metros and a 'luxury' in small towns. Conversely, others say deos and other male grooming products are no longer for the metrosexual urban male alone...

In metros, given our lifestyle, with long 'travel hours', we sweat it out more. The competitiveness is more in metros. Therefore, the number of people who want to smell good is higher here than if you go to a Durgapur. But, the growth rate for the deodorant market is highest in Tier 3 towns.

A deo is still an expensive product. A price point of Rs. 180-190 is not affordable for everybody. We need to make deos affordable. That's why Deo Shots has done well in small towns. So it's not about being a premium brand or an economy brand; it's about the price point. In general, the willingness of men to wear perfume, not just deo, has increased.

To me, the metrosexual male is probably a high-income guy who is heavily into grooming and is very conscious about how he looks. These are guys who are already successful and want to ensure they are 'tip top'. But we don't play in that consumer segment so much. Saying "Park Avenue Deo talks to the metrosexual guy" would be defining our consumer segment very narrowly.

We talk to the guy who wants to make it on his own and is motivated to succeed. This competitiveness and pressure is common across large and small towns.

How different are the TGs for your deodorants, beer shampoo and shower gel?

In our beer shampoo ads you see a whacky guy. We're talking to younger guys, who are experimental and like taking risks. If you want to move out of your 'family shampoo' and go buy a Park Avenue beer shampoo for yourself, then you're the kind that wants to experiment in life. When we launched our beer shampoo, we saw that most of the guys who bought it were young engineers/MBA/techies, who have moved out of their family home, are living alone and are trying to make their own choices... guys who are from Belgaum but are staying in Bengaluru.

Recently, across four metros, we launched Speed Shower, a shower gel-cum-shampoo for men who're short on time. The objective is to make shower gel less of an indulgence - and more of a daily use - product. It is for men from a slightly higher income group. This is still not a mass category. The guy who buys shower gel is probably slightly more 'evolved' than someone who buys (just a) deo or shampoo. Shampoo is a Rs. 7,000 crore category and shower gel is a Rs. 60-100 crore category.

Being No.2 comes with its own pressures. What keeps you awake at night?

We worry about spreading ourselves out too thin. We are being cautious about how we expand, extend and invest across categories.

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