Ashwini Gangal

"Only 30-40% of all buyers ask for condoms by actually naming a brand": Ajay Rawal, KamaSutra Condoms

The condom category in India is a tricky one. While it has a phenomenal growth rate - the segment grew from Rs. 553 crore in 2013 to Rs. 627 crore in 2014 - the penetration level is just about five to six per cent. Even in metros like Delhi, the category penetration for condoms is no more than 20 per cent. Add to this caveat the existing widespread inertia to use the product because consumers believe it's a deterrent to pleasure.

But the ace up Ajay Rawal's sleeve is research. Recalls the national marketing head of JK Ansell, a 50:50 JV between the Raymond Group and Ansell International, an Australian company, "Back when I used to work with the Patels of Paras Pharmaceuticals, I learnt how important it is to be near the consumer in order to understand the consumer. I used to go to villages that had a population of just 1,000 odd people, deep in the interiors of Baroda. There, I would visit women in their huts and study the cracks on their feet. That's the reality of being a marketer."

Rawal moved from Paras to JK Ansell in 2011 and has since been in-charge of KamaSutra Condoms, KamaSutra Deodorants and KamaSutra Energy Drinks.

KamaSutra Condoms, No.2 condom brand in urban India, has a market share (value) of 14 per cent and is presently in the midst of taking Mankind Pharma's Manforce - its nemesis and current market leader - by the horns.

"Only 30-40% of all buyers ask for condoms by actually naming a brand": Ajay Rawal, KamaSutra Condoms
To this end, KamaSutra Condoms has upped its ad-media spend by 100 per cent since last year. And the efforts haven't gone unnoticed; recall the brand's
that played up different sex positions?

We spent some time with Rawal in his Mumbai office and spoke to him about his consumer research, the insights it offers and of course, rival brand Manforce.

Edited Excerpts.

Edited Excerpts

For a condom marketer regular consumer surveys don't suffice, do they? Tell us about your retail level insight-mining process...

True, we need to do both kinds of research - consumer and retail-level. I simply go and ask retailers, 'What do consumers usually ask for?' We sit at retail outlets and observe how people come and ask for the product.

And I can tell you, based on my personal consumer understanding and interaction with retailers, that 60-70 per cent of the people, across the country, do not ask for a condom by naming a brand. They sheepishly stand and ask the retailer for 'a condom', take whatever is given and move away. Only 30-40 per cent of the people actually ask for a condom by uttering the name of a specific brand.

That is interesting. Do they ask for condoms by type, though? Say, 'Ek packet dotted condom dena...'

Here's the thing: Even when they do ask for a condom by brand name, their awareness of types or variants is very average. The variants people do seem to be aware of are the dotted, long-lasting and thin ranges of condoms.

And yes, of late, there seems to be more awareness about and acceptance for flavoured condoms. That's the direction in which the segment is moving. Today, in urban India, 30 per cent of all condom usage is flavoured.

So sitting at the retail outlet is the best way to do consumer research. It gives us good insights. Other than that, one methodology we use for our consumer research is the CAPI (Computer Aided Personal Interview) method. Given the nature of the segment, consumers are more comfortable answering questions on a computer. We usually study 18-35 year olds and are increasingly targeting the youth in all our research studies.

Traditionally, at the retail level, the condom buyer has been male. And typically, he just points to his brand of choice through the transparent glass barrier on the counter. Have you noticed any change on that front?

Men are still the primary buyers. But there are certain cases in metros when women go and buy the product. Modern trade is where you sometimes see couples buying condoms; here there's an opportunity for self-selection and variant exploration/selection because of the way the product is displayed. This doesn't happen at the retailer level because you can't ask the retailer to show you different variants before selecting at leisure.

At the retail level, it's a fast purchase; both, the retailer and the buyer want to go through with the transaction as fast as possible.

(smiles) Maybe they should keep a tablet on which buyers can explore all the variants and then click on the one they want to buy!

That's a great idea, actually. So how else have retailers started displaying condoms?

At the retail level, I have observed three types of display options: First - like you said, when the condoms are just kept under a glass surface on the table, easily visible to the consumer as he stands across the retailer. Second - when the retailer or chemist keeps all the condoms in a drawer and doesn't display them at all. And third, when companies occupy an entire window/shelf and display their product such that only one brand is visible on that platform. The shelf is usually at the consumer's eye-level. This kind of display is rare.

Visibility always helps, even at the chemist level, but not every retailer is willing to display condoms so prominently.

Some amount of innovative visibility also helps... (points to a branded KamaSutra wall clock that has graphic sex positions in place of numbers).

Buying condoms online solves all these problems, doesn't it? To what extent have consumers embraced this option?

Roughly, I would say around one per cent of all condom sales takes place through the online medium. As a category, we still have a long way to go. It's a matter of evolution; one has to get used to buying condoms online. Just like how five years back, we could only think of buying books online, not clothes. People still need to get used to the idea. But it is happening.

We have our own online store and the number of orders has multiplied manifold in the last two years. We have also started selling through other e-commerce sites like Healthkart, IndiaTimes, eBay, Amazon, Flipkart, Ngpay, etc.

The largest selling variant on our website is Skyn, our non-latex condom brand. For every order we get online for KamaSutra Condoms, we include a free pack of Skyn to get people to sample it. Our research on Skyn in Delhi, Pune and Mumbai shows that almost all the people who have sampled it have gone ahead and purchased/re-purchased it.

Let's talk about competition. Sunny Leone has changed the fortunes of Manforce. To what extent are you now banking on your flavoured condom variant, given that flavor is Manforce's most visibly promoted proposition?

Manforce began advertising heavily 2009 onwards. Therefore, over the last five years they have gained share. In India, for any FMCG brand, advertising and distribution are the two critical elements.

Every brand has its own USP. We have a strong idea, which is sacrosanct to KamaSutra - ancient Indian erotica and positions. That's something no one can take away from us.

Yes we are also focusing on our flavoured range. But for condoms, advertising is not the end of it. Ultimately, it comes down to distribution and the sort of relationship the brand enjoys at the retail level. In this segment, the retailer is a commercial trader and a valued influencer. One has to keep him happy.

But yes, awareness is critical too and we are now taking care of it through our advertising. We haven't advertised for the last few years on national television; we've been doing more state-specific activations. But now we're back.

We continue to lead the market in the South, across Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. We have over 30 per cent share in the South.

You don't advertise your deodorants and energy drinks range much. Tell us a bit about this part of your business...

KamaSutra Deodorant now has 3.5 per cent market share (value) in the deodorant segment in urban India. The top 35 metros account for a major chunk of our business.

In fact, one of the top five 'individual variants' in the deo market is a KamaSutra deo called Spark; the sales of Spark alone, account for around two per cent of the overall sales in the deo category.

We've started advertising our deos only this year. Currently, our deos are available across a lakh and ten thousand outlets, which is 20 per cent more than last year. But across India, deos are available across five lakh outlets. So distribution is a big opportunity for us.

As for our energy drinks - KamaSutra is currently present in eight cities. We are in the process of building our competence in distribution across hotels, restaurants, caterers (HORECA channels) and soft drink outlets.

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