Yash Bhatia

Red, Rural and Raging: What’s attracting Dabur, Marico to the cooling oil category

Last month, the two FMCG giants forayed into the ‘Thanda Thanda Cool Cool’ category. We spoke to brands to decode their strategy, ad route and more.

Back in 1989, Kolkata-based Emami launched one of its flagship brands, ‘Navratna Cool Oil’. Prior to that, the market for cooling therapeutic oils in India, was dominated by unorganised regional players. Recognising the market opportunity, Emami took the initiative to create a brand that addressed the need for cooling oils.

Fast forward to 2023, two FMCG conglomerates entered the cooling oil category last month. Dabur introduced ‘Cool King Thanda Tel’, while Marico unveiled ‘Red King Cooling Oil’.

Somasree Bose Awasthi, chief marketing officer at Marico, explains, “We tasted success with the launch of a cooling oil in Bangladesh last year. We entered the Indian market by leveraging our international expertise, offering a unique product, with exceptional features and blend of ingredients.”

Red, Rural and Raging: What’s attracting Dabur, Marico to the cooling oil category

According to industry experts, the cooling oil market in India is worth Rs 1,000-1,200 crore (approx.), which is around 8-10% of the country’s total hair oil market.

Dabur recognised the opportunity a few years ago. Its research and development team developed a product by tapping into the potential of ayurvedic and natural ingredients.

Speaking about the brand’s entry into the category, Ankur Kumar, head of marketing for hair care at Dabur India, shares, “Our product aims to address unmet consumer needs by delivering the promise of cooling oil, while leveraging the trusted name of Dabur. We believe we entered the market at the right time, as the consumers are facing more mental and physical pressure right now, leading to a deterioration in the quality of life.”

Dabur has launched its products in the northern, western and eastern parts of India.

Navratna is synonymous with the phrase ‘Thanda Thanda Cool Cool’ in the minds of customers. But with the entry of these major brands, what will happen to Navratna’s market dominance?

Kaushik Vedula, AVP - marketing at Emami, says, “The early penetration in this category is around just 10%. So far, our achievements have been a result of our individual efforts. With established brands entering the market as well as increased investments, the market will only grow, benefiting everyone involved.”

Category code  

Brands want to capture the attention of urban and rural audiences, as they are all under pressure and seeking relief. They are targeting a wide range of individuals, including men and women alike. But the commercials for cooling oil products are often set in rural areas. Think of the iconic Navratna ads featuring actors Amitabh Bachchan and Govinda or, more recently, Nora Fatehi, who starred in Dabur’s commercial. 

Cooling oil products are for the masses, both in urban and rural areas. So, why are they always set in rural India? 

Vedula says, “It’s crucial to align ads with times. Earlier, when these ads were released, India was undergoing a significant transformation. As communication methods are constantly evolving, we acknowledge and embrace the changes by presenting solutions in a relevant manner. We’re looking at diverse audiences. We now select media vehicles and align with the target audience.”

Last month, Dabur followed the same category code (rural setting) in its ad featuring Fatehi. 

Kumar highlights, “The need for our product is more in rural areas, as compared to metros. The intense heat and the associated stress, are more prevalent in rural areas. People in urban areas typically spend their time in air-conditioners. Hence, it is crucial for us to target these (rural) demographics and cater to their specific needs. That’s why the ad has been made in a rural setting.”

Red, Rural and Raging: What’s attracting Dabur, Marico to the cooling oil category

Packaging code 

Packaging plays a significant role in the cooling oil category. Whether it is Dabur, Marico or Emami (Navratna), their cooling oil products are consistently packaged in red (colour). 

According to Awasthi, adherence to category codes is essential, considering the market’s value.

Kumar explains, “The red colour in our product, is influenced by the ingredients we use. The presence of these ingredients contributes to the colour. It’s interesting to observe that the category is often associated with the colour, and we have embraced this connection.”

Vedula adds, “While the leading variant in the category originated with the red colour, we have introduced other variants with distinct benefits and specific oils. The success of our green-coloured ‘Navratna Extra Thanda’ variant demonstrates that the category’s identity is not limited to a single colour. However, our brand Navratna has established itself as an association with the red colour in the category, making it easier for people to build a connection.”

Red, Rural and Raging: What’s attracting Dabur, Marico to the cooling oil category

Other players 

There are some small players in the category too, like Wow Science and Seer Secrets. With a price ranging from Rs 300-500 (200 ml pack), their products cater to niche audiences. Marico Red King, on the other hand, costs Rs 149 (180 ml) and Rs 199 (280 ml). Dabur launched six SKUs, starting from a Rs 1 pouch, to Rs 330 for a 470 ml pack. 

Navratna also offers a Rs 1 sachet, while a 100 ml pack costs Rs 78 and a 500 ml pack costs Rs 285.

Marico is looking to leverage its existing distribution strength, while Dabur is looking to distribute its products through retailers, modern trade and e-commerce outlets, and barber shops. 

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