Ashee Sharma

"We want to be the Fabindia of Ayurveda": KK Chutani, Dabur

From the classic 'Raju, tumhare daant toh motiyon jaise chamak rahe hain' ad for Dabur Lal Dant Manjan and the 'Madaari ke pet mein dard' TVC for Pudin Hara to hashtag campaigns such as Vatika's '#BraveAndBeautiful' and '#AmPrettytough' for Gulabari, the 132-year-old FMCG company, Dabur has come a long way.

The Dabur of today - a Rs.8,436 crore company - is no passive advertiser. Remember the 'Honey Wars' being fought on TV with Baba Ramdev's Patanjali? While it does acknowledge the contribution of Patanjali in popularising Ayurveda, Dabur believes there is no better time than the present to appropriate the legacy and be at the forefront.

The two pillars on which the homegrown FMCG giant's go-to-market strategy is based are contemporary, science-based Ayurveda and a focus on the youth. Krishan Kumar Chutani, executive director - consumer care business, tells afaqs!Reporter how it is working towards bringing these two seemingly paradoxical concepts together.

Edited Excerpts

There has been a lot of talk about the resurgence of Ayurveda. Tell us about the impact it has had on the industry and consumers.

Category growth has declined over the past year. Government regulations, consecutive droughts and recently, demonetisation, have all led to cutting down of consumption across categories - whether it's toothpaste, oils or shampoos. It is only in this quarter that we started seeing better results due to good monsoon and incentives by the government for increasing consumption.

But, even in all this, an important trend has been the re-emergence of Ayurveda, or natural products, as a clear preference for consumers. Ayurvedic offerings are growing faster than non-naturals in all categories. Earlier, we used to be the only advertiser in this category, but with Baba Ramdev entering the scene, the noise levels in the industry have suddenly gone up. Ayurveda is coming up as a big currency now.

So you attribute the re-emergence of Ayurveda to Patanjali? Doesn't Patanjali seem more like a movement than a brand, and movements have fragile foundations. What if this turns out to be a fad?

It's true that Patanjali is a movement, but it is not just about Ayurveda. It's also about 'swadeshi'. In fact, 'swadeshi' is the biggest plank. And we have always been the lead players in this space. It's not as if Baba Ramdev has helped us spot a trend. Nor can the resurgence of Ayurveda be attributed solely to him.

This is the first time that the Government has set up a Ministry of Ayush; earlier it was only a department under the Ministry of Health. A lot is being done in terms of standardisation of raw materials, implementing strict quality controls and good manufacturing practices and promoting Ayurveda both in India and internationally.

We can run a parallel of this with traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). When the Chinese government took up this cause, many private players came up with such offerings, first in personal care and then in the healthcare segment. Gradually, TCM became popular. If the signs are to be read correctly, we are at a similar cusp.

Also, Indians are becoming comfortable with 'Indian-ness'. Two or three decades back, when I was in college, imported was fancy. Not any longer. A new idea of India is taking shape, with the youth as the front-runner. This is not just a fad.

Tell us more about this new 'youth-focus' and the change in positioning from 'celebrate life' to 'science-based Ayurveda'.

India is a young country, and to remain relevant to this generation, a 132-year-old company must talk its language. Small and big firms, including MNCs, are coming up with Ayurvedic or natural products.

The clutter will only grow. If not today, a few years down the line, the youth, which is more rational by nature, is going to question the authenticity of these players. Keeping that in mind, we repositioned our brand as science-based Ayurveda.

In the past couple of years, we have modernised many of our Ayurvedic offerings, bringing them in new, easy-to-use formats. 'Lal Dant Manjan' became Dabur Red Toothpaste and soon we will be introducing a gel-based formulation for it. Gulabari began as a rosewater brand for mature women. Today, it has an entire range of beauty products talking to teenagers. A traditional medicine (kadha) was converted to Honitus - a cough syrup, later to lozenges. Recently, we introduced it as 'Hot Sip' available in two formats - a tea-stick and a sachet/tea-bag.

Alongside all this, we are investing in digital marketing and e-commerce. New sites such as 'Live Veda', 'My Beauty Naturally' and 'Dabur Dental Care' were launched, and we have also increased our digital ad spends.

When India is young, Dabur also needs to be young, through products, formats, positioning, languages and channels of communication used. We want to be the Fabindia of Ayurveda. Traditional, yet young and cool.

And how has this affected your advertising and marketing strategies?

We have tried to become more creative as a brand. Our scores in brand recognition and brand imagery have all moved up.

Dabur's campaigns '#BraveAndBeautiful' for Vatika Premium Natural Shampoo (Grand Prix, Goafest 2015) and 'French Horn, Fugelhorn and Saxophone' for Gastrina (Silver Press Lion, Cannes 2015), have been recognised across the globe. We want to do more award-winning campaigns because that creates a virtuous cycle for us. Not only do consumers like it, it also infuses pride in our employees. Potential employees see it and want to join. So, it attracts talent as well.

The youth of today are the ones who stop you from littering and hold candlelight marches at India Gate. Hence, it is important for us to associate our brands with a social cause, such as our 'Ab Daudega Hindustan' campaign for Dabur Glucose-D, '700 se 7 Kadam' for Sani Fresh or Gulabari's '#AmPrettyTough'. Most of these were long-format films, and were released on the digital platform where the youth is.

But these campaigns were mostly about brand building. When it comes to selling a product, isn't TV still the primary medium?

Yes, it is. You can't wish away TV in India, not for FMCG. While SEC A and B are moving towards digital, new TV-owning households are still being added. They are watching the same serials and movies as people in metros, and their aspirations are also going up. We have both Bharat and India to cater to.

As a marketer, what keeps you occupied? To what extent are decisions based on competition?

Our challenge is to remain nimble-footed, keep accelerating our efficacy and pace of innovation. My decisions are driven by consumer trends and preferences. Consumers are never brand-loyal. They are more value-loyal. We must keep evaluating whether the value we are offering is better than everybody else, and is it sustainable?

Isn't it true that Dabur was trying to grow its business in the non-naturals category and Patanjali's 'success' motivated you to renew focus on Ayurveda? There's also news that you will soon be launching a sub-brand in the segment.

There's no question of a renewed focus. We have always been the lead players in this category. The non-natural products we have are acquisitions; we have not created those brands.

At that time (2005) our intent was to be an FMCG company and grow our business while upholding the company ethos, but not many acquisitions were available in the natural space. So, wherever possible we tried to convert them into natural offerings. For instance, Odomos was re-launched as Odomos Naturals.

Where we couldn't, we do not use the name Dabur. Odonil was worth Rs.30-40 crore when we acquired it. Today it's a Rs.100-crore brand. As an FMCG company we had the resources to make it big, but it does not carry our brand name. And why should it? No one wants an 'Ayurvedic bathroom-freshener or detergent'.

Our acquisitions in the toothpaste segment - Balsara's Babool, Promise and Meswak - gave us the confidence to launch Dabur Red Toothpaste and make it the fastest-growing toothpaste brand in the country, currently at No 3.

Similarly, we have launched another product, Real Volo - a fruit juice (25 per cent) with carbonation - under the Real brand, which is all about fruits. But we will never go the Pepsi-Coke way because that requires a different organisational mindset. We are primarily an in-home company that's all about health.

And about the sub-brand...

It will be purely Ayurveda, and will derive a lot of values from mother brand Dabur.

Let's sign off by talking about the 'Honey Wars'. This was the first time we saw some aggressive advertising from Dabur.

It was important to address our consumers as they were being given wrong information. Engaging in price wars doesn't yield returns beyond a point. It is self-defeating. There are 4 Ps of marketing and a brand has to fight on all four. When it is fighting only on price, it is a commodity with price as the differentiator. We are a house of brands, not a house of commodities. We don't compete on price.

Talking of competition, has the definition changed over the past couple of years? Are you competing with individual brands or is competition today about owing/reclaiming the Ayurveda legacy.

It is both. As brand Dabur we must stand for 'Science-based Ayurveda'. That's my competitive positioning. It's about building preference for my brand. So every product under Dabur has to add back to this positioning.

(This interview first appeared in our magazine afaqs! Reporter on February 1, 2017)

A Note From the Editor

Exactly a year back, we asked brand experts to name companies that they thought would be most affected by Patanjali's success. At the time, they named Dabur, Colgate, HUL and Emami, in that order.

Few days back, we decided to ask Dabur a question. To what extent is the company's newfound focus on Ayurveda a response to competition from Patanjali, reigning poster boy of the Ayurveda segment? The question was fielded by Krishan Kumar Chutani, executive director of Dabur India's consumer care business, when we met him at his corporate office at Ghaziabad for this interview.

Delighted were we when he responded with candour, "Previously, we were the only advertisers in the Ayurveda segment, but with Baba Ramdev entering, the noise levels have trebled..." He, however, refused to credit Patanjali with any sort of trendspotting or trendsetting.

"The resurgence of Ayurveda cannot be attributed solely to Baba Ramdev," he said, insisting that Dabur is merely reacting to the market readiness for Ayurveda-based products.

During the interview, this calm and composed marketing executive said something my boss has been saying for a while now - Indians are more comfortable with their 'Indian-ness' today than they ever were. Gone are the days when imported products were perceived as being cooler than indigenous ones. This, coupled with mass consumer interest in the ingredients that go into bottles, tubes and packets, makes the market fertile for Ayurveda-based brands. In fact, it's this very market condition that gave Dabur the confidence to go ahead and re-launch Odomos as Odomos Naturals.

Like every other brand out there, another big focus area for Dabur is - no points for guessing - the youth. How exactly does Dabur plan to balance these two seemingly paradoxical areas of focus - an Ayurveda-centric positioning and India's young?

Chutani puts it quite interestingly - By trying to be the "Fabindia of Ayurveda," that's how. Now, that's a line worth underscoring.


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