Ashwini Gangal

"Cinthol's journey is all about 'premium-isation'": Sunil Kataria, Godrej

Cinthol, the 62-year-old brand from Godrej, recently rolled out a new variant called Cinthol Confidence+, an entrant in the health soap segment. This launch is part of a larger goal, we learn, from Sunil Kataria, chief operating officer, sales, marketing and SAARC, Godrej Consumer Products, during the course of a quick chat at his office in Mumbai.

"For Cinthol, the present journey is all about 'premium-isation'," he says, "That's why we've been launching premium-end soaps that have a very specific functionality each."

Just like Cinthol Cool is positioned as a 'summer soap' that helps one stay cool and take on the sun, the recently launched Cinthol Confidence+ is positioned as a health soap with deodorising properties. A single bar (100 grams) of Cinthol Confidence+ is priced at Rs. 32.

Interestingly, the biggest market for Cinthol is the South - Tamil Nadu in particular - followed by the Western region. For Cinthol Cool and Confidence+, Kataria sees a big window of opportunity in the Northern markets, those plagued by harsh summers. These regions have traditionally been very strong markets for Godrej No.1 soap, the company's mass-end offering.

This year, Cinthol has upped its advertising spend by 20 per cent. Will mass media presence help the brand take on seasoned players like Dettol and Lifebuoy? Kataria - who has worked at companies like Marico, Idea Cellular and VIP Industries, before joining Godrej in 2011 - answered this question and many and more.

Edited Excerpts.

"Cinthol's journey is all about 'premium-isation'": Sunil Kataria, Godrej

Edited Excerpts

What made you foray into a segment that already has such strong players?

In India, the health soap segment is roughly around Rs 3,000 crore and there are only two significant players in this category right now, Lifebuoy and Dettol. Both are very sharply placed. Lifebuoy is at the mass/popular end. Dettol is at the premium end, one that Cinthol Confidence+ operates in too.

The overall soap category is around Rs. 13,000 crore and it has so many players. Health soaps form around 23 per cent of the soap category. Clearly, the health soap segment is not as fragmented as the soap category. This was one big opportunity.

Moreover, health consciousness is on the rise in India, especially among the youth, which is our main TG. That was another opportunity.

India is a hot, humid country. Dust, 'dhool' and grime are part of India's 'physicality'. We live in environments that are not always hygienic. So I see the whole health soap category on the rise. That was yet another opportunity.

What did your consumer research reveal about the way this category is perceived?

One insight/reaction that kept coming up is, "I don't want to smell medicinal." Health soaps in India, as a result of the way the segment has evolved, are positioned as very effective germ-killers but there's this angle of having to sacrifice something to achieve something. So if you get germ protection, then it doesn't necessarily give you the best fragrance. Our research revealed that consumers feel there's a trade-off between the two benefits.

Soap, as a product, has a lot to do with sensorials... we are offering consumers fragrance along with the same efficacy of germ protection.

You say both Cinthol Confidence+ and Dettol operate on the premium end of the spectrum. Is it fair to assume that you see Dettol as a bigger competitor than you do Lifebuoy?

Competition to my mind is something you feel when you are under threat from somebody or are trying to take share from somebody... I see this launch as an opportunity but not just in the context of taking share. Since we are going after a different TG altogether, I don't really see anybody else as competition. The existing players in this segment target either young mothers or kids. Today, the whole promise of protection is for kids. But that's not Cinthol's personality; Cinthol is not about kids.

I don't know whether I'll get trials from Lifebuoy users or Dettol users first. To be very honest, the market is so big that I'm not really bothered where the trials come from. Since the pricing is premium, we're more likely to get trials from consumers from that bracket first. I obviously expect certain Cinthol users to try it. I also expect a lot of trials from young users of other brands, who have been looking out for a soap of this kind.

What's your core TG like?

We are talking to youngsters, male and female, in the 18-35 years age bracket. It's a premium TG from SEC AB. At the moment, we are focusing on urban areas (one lakh+ towns), though it will also be available in smaller towns because our network reaches there.

Unlike in the case of beauty soaps, for health soaps, you don't usually see local, regional players dominating the market.

Psychographically, we are targeting people with an 'explorer' mindset' - young men and women who live life to the fullest, are open to experimenting, are doing well on the professional front and are also exploring a lot of hobbies/adventures.

Offering a dual benefit is all very well, but won't your 'insta-deo' proposition dilute the seriousness of the ambitious 99.9 per cent germ-kill promise?

The insta-deo part comes as an add-on. There's no compromise on the primary benefit of health.

The unique part of our advertising is that unlike the normal 'kids missing school' thought, 'falling ill/getting diseases' thought, our positioning is different. Other brands say 'If you don't take care of this, you will experience the negatives of life', which could be falling sick, being prone to diseases, missing school or not being able to do what you want'. But that's all negative.

We are talking to young India that's not scared of these small things. That's why we've used the line 'Na darr kisi ka aaj' in our ad. This line is about germ protection, yes. But it is also about 'I don't want to be scared about how I smell'.

We're not scaring anyone, the way people scare small kids, by saying, 'Okay, if you don't do this you'll fall ill.' That's the existing paradigm and category code of health soaps - scaring people.

Instead, we are focusing on giving people confidence. Medicine is for illness. We're not about protection from illness. We're about germ protection that leads to confidence.

Dettol and Lifebuoy started out as germ-kill soaps. Cinthol, on the other hand, is not readily thought of as one. Instead, an image of the green-coloured bar and the promise of freshness come to mind. How much of a challenge is it to get consumers to think of Cinthol in a new context?

Cinthol original, the green soap you are talking about, has always stood for skin protection. In fact, it is a soap, which till date, in all the big markets, is recommended by dermatologists. So it's a soap that already has great equity when it comes to skin protection.

And historically, since the time of its inception (1952), Cinthol's positioning has been based, very strongly, on its deodorising properties; that has been something that 'belongs' to Cinthol. So combining the two (protection and deodorancy) fit perfectly with what the brand stands for.

We don't want to be thought of in the context of germ-kill alone. Cinthol is larger than that.

In many cases, it's still the woman of the house who controls the shopping cart. How do you plan on getting around this and ensuring young adults pick up your soap from the store?

There are several parts to this: Firstly, there are certain areas within personal care, in which we see 'individual consumption' happening. So we expect this change to play a role.

Secondly, we expect this product to appeal to young adults including individuals who are not married, married young women, young couples, and nuclear families. Many times what happens is - one person in the house tells the 'purchaser' to buy a particular soap the next time she goes shopping. And once a new soap comes into the house, everyone tries it.

Thirdly, in urban areas, especially in modern trade outlets, a lot of buying happens when husbands and wives shop together. So, there could be a bit of individual choices getting made there.

Also, this soap vibes well with the mindset of 'the young wife'; she's someone who works, is also a homemaker and has her own hobbies.

Your mandate extends across the SAARC nations. Relative to countries in the region, where does India stand in terms of its attitude towards 'health brands'?

In terms of the health-and-wellness trend, Bangladesh today is where India was 20 years back. Sri Lanka is very evolved as far as health/personal care products go; there's a lot of consciousness about natural products there. India is somewhere in-between.

Have news to share? Write to us