Aishwarya Ramesh

Ariel targets convenience seeking Indian with 'laundry PODs', an international 'detergent capsule' format

With a new format, P&G looks to disrupt the detergent segment, that comprises soap bars, powders and liquids.

Ariel has brought a new category of laundry product to India, which is sold in single-use tablets called PODs. These are pre-dosed washing capsules. A water-soluble film holds concentrated liquid detergent in three chambers.

When a POD is put in a washing machine, the film dissolves completely (in wash), leaving no residue. A press note mentions that the three compartments work together to provide a laundry experience with thorough cleaning, stain removal, and brightness that claims to make whites brighter and colours more vibrant.

Ariel Matic 3in1 PODs are suitable for both top and front load fully automatic washing machines. The note also claims that because of the 3in1 benefit, there is no need to use other products along with this. One wash needs just one POD. Since the capsules are pre-dosed, there is no need for messy measuring or accuracy.

The PODs don’t have to be cut or peeled. The consumer problem that Ariel is focusing on is this. A POD can help save the users (from) the effort of washing clothes again if they don’t get cleaned properly the first time (by not using enough detergent).

Speaking about the launch of the new Ariel PODs, Sharat Verma, chief marketing officer, P&G India, and vice president, fabric care, said, “Ariel PODs is our latest laundry innovation globally, and were developed by P&G after years of research and development. It promises to transform your laundry experience from being a mundane, time-consuming and complicated task, to one which is convenient. With Ariel PODs, you no longer need to tediously measure and dose multiple products or worry about getting perfect laundry results in a washing machine.”

Sharat Verma
Sharat Verma

Ariel PODs are available at select stores and on e-commerce websites. They are available in two sizes – 18 and 32 count packs. The 18-count pack is priced at Rs 432 and the 32-count pack is for Rs 704. The launch is supported by a digitally-led campaign to create awareness about PODs now being available in India.

In India, the laundry detergent category included bars of soap, powder (usually available in kg) and liquid soap formats. Clothes are washed in the washing machine, in a bucket with soap or by a dhobi.

We spoke to a few experts in the category to know more about the adoption of PODs, and who is likely to buy into this new sub-category of detergent products.

A bird's eye view on the new sub-category

Nisha Sampath, a brand marketing consultant with 20-plus years of experience, calls it an extremely interesting space. (She has worked with brands like HUL, Swiggy, Aditya Birla Group, GVK Group, BookMyShow, Piramal Healthcare.)

She has been tracking the category internationally and explains that what Ariel is cashing in on, in terms of existing behaviour when it comes to laundry trends, is upgradation.

"For most consumers, even if they’re using a brand like Wheel or Nirma, they will also have a sachet of Surf Excel or Ariel as a backup. I’ve visited homes where I’ve seen a mid-segment product like Tide and they also use a brand like Comfort, which is a premium product – a post-wash product. They use expensive products for certain types of laundry. This means things like comfort for delicate clothes, liquid detergent for your special clothes."

Nisha Sampath
Nisha Sampath

She is intrigued by the brand's claim of washes, brightening and removing stains from clothes. "They are looking at combining these things and giving convenience to users in a largely manual and somewhat back-breaking category."

Sampath adds that India is a repertoire category, whether you’re a washing machine user or a user who washes clothes in a bucket. The first thing you do is dip your clothes in a bucket before washing and then you use a post-wash product like, say, a fabric conditioner.

She explains that many people wash their special clothes outside the machine. Heavy wash/soiled clothes are washed outside the machine. The tendency is to believe that premium laundry products are to be used only for special clothes.

Sampath says that there are many millennials and new age consumers who are seeking convenience. It’s no longer only about imagery. Laundry is a chore you have to complete. This is the kind of consumer that the company is targeting because the COVID pandemic is the right time to target people, since they are mostly doing their own chores. Convenience is relevant at this time.

"Indians tend to overload the machines as well. In our country, people try to rationalise and use less of a product. Marketing wise, the first thing that has to be done is to establish a price-value equation. We currently buy by the kilo if it’s a detergent, and by the litre if it’s a liquid detergent. But what’s the price for a POD? What’s the price value equation there?"

Sampath opines that changing habits in a category like laundry is a task, especially since it is a low involvement routine type of process. People will see some novelty value and, maybe, use it. People exposed to international markets could also pick it up.

Brand and consumer expert Sita Lakshmi Narayan Swamy (former Rediffusion Y&R, UTV Media, Zee, JWT) says Indian consumers are used to international products and PODs are just easier (compared to washing machine detergent powder).

Swamy says that for people, who used powders and then moved to detergent liquid… switching to PODs will be easier. "I think middle class Indians are pretty okay with this and it (PODs) is not a luxury… People are more willing to spend on hygiene now…"

Sita Lakshmi Narayan Swamy
Sita Lakshmi Narayan Swamy

"When you use a detergent powder in the machine (you estimate basis the number of clothes)… these PODs won’t create that issue. They are easy to use and won’t coagulate (changing weather in India often leads detergent powder, and even coffee, to coagulate)."

Swamy adds that PODs are a norm in the west. Indians know it’s a tried and tested item… and because it’s from P&G, the trust factor is strong.

"Also, the Ariel PODs don’t make any extra promise… it says it will whiten and brighten… Even Nirma says, `Doodh si safedi Nirma se aaye, rangeen kapda bhi khil khil jaaye…’ Unless the cost is three times that of washing powder detergent, it will find takers."

Arun Iyer, founder and creative partner at Spring Marketing Capital, points out that this is going to be targeted at high-end consumers, since they have exposure to international products and trends.

Arun Iyer
Arun Iyer

"This is an experiment in time to try and get them to adopt the product. I also feel that there is so much of buying that’s moved online – this is also a play for the brand to have in the online space. From a price point POV, this is expensive too, so I don’t see this becoming a mass-ey product. At least not in the short-term."

Iyer has worked closely on advertising campaigns for Surf Excel during his days at Lowe Lintas, and mentions that there is still a lot of room for product evolution in the liquid detergent space itself.

"These products are also restricted only to washing machine households. Every once in a while, there have been attempts by Surf Excel or Ariel to create innovations in this category. This seems to be one of those efforts. India is a country where everything is calculated on a monthly basis. My hunch is that the adoption process is not going to be seamless. It’s going to be a bit of a slow burner in that sense."