Ritu Singh

"Baba Ramdev has shown that a scantily-clad man, too, can sell products"

That's a line from a recently published book titled 'Stark Raving Ad: A Giddy Guide to Indian Ads You Love (or Hate)', written by former JWT and Times Group hand Ritu Singh. It's a light-hearted take on why our ads are the way they are. Here's an excerpt about Patanjali.

'Baba, black sheep.'

'Yogi, bhogi, dhongi.'

'Baba in the boardroom.'

For the longest time, Baba Ramdev has been called all kinds of names, but like the proverbial differently coloured sheep, he has chosen to go his own way, to follow his passion rather than the herd.

In a world obsessed with parading scantily-clad women in ads for all kinds of products, Baba Ramdev has shown that a scantily-clad man, too, can sell products. From talking the talk (which is what all gurus can do) to performing yogic contortions (that only some of them can do), he has evolved into what very few of them can become - the man behind a business empire that some predict could be the biggest success story in India's fast-moving consumer goods sector.

"Baba Ramdev has shown that a scantily-clad man, too, can sell products"

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When it comes to marketing, this baba is no timid lamb, and as his operating style reveals, he is not leading sheep either. Though when, a decade or so ago, he was showcased on channels named along the lines of 'Devotion' - there sat the masses hanging on to his every move. When he stretched his limbs, they did too. When his nostril flared, taking in a deep breath, theirs did the same. When his belly was drawn in forcefully, their collective bellies, umm...wiggled aspirationally. When he laughed out loud, they laughed too. Today, with his following becoming bigger and bigger, the Baba is still laughing the loudest.

"Baba Ramdev has shown that a scantily-clad man, too, can sell products"

Ritu Singh

Long known for his mass yoga camps and for propounding the ancient medicinal wisdom of Ayurveda, Baba Ramdev teamed up with an Ayurvedic expert, Acharya Balkrishna to set up a small pharmacy by the name of Patanjali Ayurved Ltd (PAL), inspired by no less a person than the legendary father of yoga and cleverly combining two health practices in its name.

While Balakrishna is said to own a 92 per cent stake in the company (7), an expatriate owns the rest. Surprisingly, Baba Ramdev does not hold any stake in the company. Founded in 2006, the company's manufacturing units and headquarters are in Haridwar while their registered office is in Delhi.

The competition for Patanjali's products has been around for ages. Companies like Baidyanath, Vicco and Dabur espouse similar values and manufacture products with Ayurvedic formulations. To cater to their specific market, they have for long invested in advertising their brand value and their company heritage, not to speak of the unique character of their products.

Patanjali began with none of this in place. It was a newcomer in the segment and the only visible icon it had was Baba Ramdev. As it turns out, that was more than enough. From the beginning, the bearded baba had crowds eating out of his hands.

Patanjali's range of food products has shown an impressive expansion. They even have products that have become familiar but sound foreign. In addition to this, they manufacture and sell Ayurvedic formulations of all the normal grocery-list items, toothpastes and soaps, gels and shampoos, and so on. With Ayurvedic and traditional food products, the company has practically taken on the might of Hindustan Unilever Limited, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, to name just a few.

In a coup of sorts, a tie-up with the mammoth Future Group owned by the industrialist Kishore Biyani has ensured that Patanjali Ayurveda products occupy pretty solid asanas on the shelves of supermarkets such as Big Bazaar and Nilgiri.

But if there is one baba conquering the boardroom, can others be far behind? Looking at his success, more baba-log are now joining the fray and Patanjali (and the FMCG biggies) may just see new competition emerging from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev and others.

Patanjali has always been clear about its path as a brand. It claimed to stand against the disguised agendas of MNCs and the nature of their products, pointing to the hidden menace of chemicals, the obvious exploitation of farmers and big corruption in their competitors' backyards. Patanjali tried telling us what we had always suspected was true: We need to be suspicious about what we are consuming.

Their operations and distribution set-up too reflected their thinking. If you wanted to deal in Patanjali products, you could fill an online form. You needed to declare yourself a supporter of the movement that was committed to making the country self-reliant and an economic superpower. As dealers and consumers, you were pledging your commitment then and there. Yes, you were sort of in the army now. You were definitely part of a movement.

While the nationalistic spin appealed to some people, others opted for Patanjali because they felt it was the healthier option among those available. Still others were just part of the ever-growing Baba Ramdev fan club. But, overall, more and more people became willing to try Patanjali products as the products appeared on shelves in markets across the country.

The products, by virtue of focusing on the 'natural' aspect, skyrocketed in perception as being 'better' in some way. Added to this was the word-of-mouth publicity about the quality of the products. There were fervent testimonials to the purity and wonder of Patanjali's products. To these goodwill ambassadors, Patanjali could have said, 'tumhaare moonh mein ghee-shakkar,' and it would not have seemed just slick talk. Because Patanjali Ghee is among the products that have received the most positive endorsements.

In their packaging, Patanjali products often target the competition quite clearly. There may have been some unmet expectations among some consumers but mostly the sentiment was that the 'feel' of most Patanjali products, if not better, was at the very least similar to products that had already been tried. In addition, many Patanjali products were also priced cheaper than their market counterparts. Where the aura of 'natural goodness' around their products makes most brands indulge in a good bit of nakhra and become pricier, here was one brand that displayed a similar halo and at a much lower price.

To make things even better, the distribution of the products was phenomenal. Much like the Baba's believers, the products were to be found everywhere - in big towns, in small gullies, in villages, and on online portals.

The flexible and mobile structure of the organization has worked well for Patanjali. Along the way, advertising was stepped up and in the last week of November 2016, the brand was one of the top three brands advertised on television (as per the Broadcast Audience Research Council [BARC]).(8)

And there's certainly no dissing the appeal of their brand ambassador. Baba Ramdev is no Kareena or Katrina but his items do deliver numbers. And a lot of it is because of his huge following as there is complete resonance between his teachings and the features of his products.

While competing directly with established players in the country, Patanjali is also going saat samundar paar, taking on players in other markets. With herbal alternatives and yoga having a distinct appeal in the West, the products are being exported to Canada, the US, Mauritius and the UK, among others, Patanjali clearly hopes to cash in on the 'back to nature' aspect and the positioning of their products as 'exotic' items made from ancient formulations.

From revenues of Rs.450 crore in the fiscal year 2012, Patanjali recorded an increase to Rs.5,000 crore in the fiscal year 2016 (9) and a reported turnover of over Rs.10,000 crore in the fiscal year 2017. (10)

Then there's all the buzz even on social media. Brand Patanjali generated over 15,000 conversations on Twitter in the second half of 2015. (11) The chatter was around its competitiveness, the quality of its products and its marketing strategy. At the end of 2016, Baba Ramdev himself had 6,44,000 followers on Twitter and 77,06,728.9 likes on his page on Facebook. (12) Enough to get the MNCs' knickers into a knot.

As for the baba, his knicker/dhoti is knotted neatly and his beard seems to defy gravity, even when he twists into an impossible pose.

(7) Rai, Saritha, 'An Indian Yoga Guru's Consumer Products Brand, Patanjali, is Making Global and Domestic Rivals Sweat', Forbes, 15 October 2015

(8) Rukhaiyar, Ashish, 'Patanjali Products Find a Growing Market', The Hindu, 3 February 2016

(9) Gupta, Pankaj, Deepak Himan and Vasant Ramadoss, 'The Secret Behind Patanjali's Rise and Rise', The Hindu Business Line, 3 November 2016

(10) Wadhwa, Puneet, 'Is Patanjali's Rs 20,000 Crore Revenue Target Realistic? Experts Weigh In', Business Standard, 5 May 2017

(11) According to data compiled by social media analytics firm Blueocean Market Intelligence. Chaturvedi, Anumeha, 'Brand Patanjali Driving Buzz on Social Media', Economic Times, 16 March 2016

(12) Narayanan, Chitra, 'Baba Ramdev: The Social Media Sanyasi', The Hindu Business Line, 29 December 2016

(Excerpted from the book 'Stark Raving Ad: A Giddy Guide to Indian Ads You Love (or Hate)' authored by Ritu Singh, with permission from the publisher Hachette India. The book has 274 pages and is priced at Rs.350).