Ubaid Zargar

GECs, sampling, and lots of cricket: Cycle Pure Agarbathi’s 75 years of marketing

The brand’s managing director describes the journey of the incense sticks brand, from Mysuru to 75 countries.

Incense sticks, a staple of spiritual and cultural practices, boast a rich history that dates back thousands of years in India. Originating from the Vedic period, incense was integral to rituals and religious ceremonies, used to purify the air and create a conducive environment for meditation and worship​. Today, the fragrant sticks are just as relevant, that is as per Arjun Ranga, who is the managing director of Cycle Pure Agarbathi, an incense brand conceived and based out of Mysuru.

Cycle Pure Agarbathi was founded in 1948 by N Ranga Rao, grandfather of Arjun Ranga. What started as a startup, has now seen 75 years of the evolving Indian marketing industry. Between sampling, market research, and relentless innovations, Cycle has charted its place within fierce competition in a category with key players including ITC Limited, Mysore Deep Perfumery House (MDPH), and Patanjali, among others.

Speaking at the Festival of Indian Languages (FOIL), hosted by afaqs!, Ranga, narrated the story of the brand that has grown alongside post-independence India.

"Our brand evolved with the country, we are probably among the first startups post-independence," Ranga states, reflecting on the journey that began with his grandfather's vision. 

The essence of Cycle Pure Agarbathi is rooted in fragrance and prayer, symbolising hope and unity. "If you look at the name of the brand, Cycle, it was coined in 1949. My grandfather decided to create a brand that is agnostic of the language in media. The cycle is called a cycle in every language in India, so it was a fitting name for the brand," Ranga explains.

"Agarbathi is a commodity product, and it has always been the same. We’ve always focused on fragrance as the key differentiator for the product," he further adds. This focus led to the brand's first product becoming an instant success. 

My grandfather decided to create a brand that is agnostic of the language in media. The cycle is called a cycle in every language in India, so it was a fitting name for the brand.

By 1950, Cycle products were in stores, and the colourful packaging became a distinctive identifier. The first tagline, "Cycle Brand Agarbathi, Simple and affordable like a cycle," launched in 1950, encapsulated the brand's philosophy. 

In 1952, Cycle became a pioneer in advertising, being the first in its category to use radio, as per Ranga. It also engaged in below-the-line (BTL) activities, initially offering 25 sticks for Re 1—a premium pricing strategy that initially puzzled retailers. However, Ranga recounts, "My grandfather just wanted to light a stick in every store. And sure enough, people started inquiring. A week later, every shopkeeper wanted to sell it." This early insight highlighted the power of sampling as a marketing tool.

In India, religion and prayers are deeply embedded in the cultural and social fabric, influencing daily life and practices. As a nation with diverse religious beliefs and traditions, sentiments around these practices are profoundly sensitive and personal. Brands associated with religious activities, such as those involved in manufacturing prayer items, must navigate these sentiments with great care and respect. 

There is no limitation to hope, and freedom. But we’ve always made sure to stay within the boundaries.

Incense being a category closely tied to religion, Cycle has always ensured its creativity respects the brand's ethos. "There is no limitation to hope, and freedom. But we’ve always made sure to stay within the boundaries," Ranga emphasises. But the brand has seen the incense sticks step out of the prayer rooms into other avenues of consumer’s life.

In 1981, responding to market feedback, Cycle launched Cycle 3-in-1, offering three fragrances in one pack—a move that personalised the product while appealing to a mass audience. This innovation marked the transition of the agarbathi from prayer rooms to living spaces, illustrated by an anecdote where a customs officer recognised Ranga’s father, saying, "He makes Cycle 3-in-1. It is my first night agarbathi."

Cycle Pure Agarbathi's business overview
Cycle Pure Agarbathi's business overview

As per Ranga, the consumption patterns of the category have also seen shifts globally, with people using incense sticks for purposes other than prayers, such as Yoga, aromatic ambiences, or even studies. The brand also has a notable presence overseas and has seen native consumers of different countries buy the products, owing to the rise of Yoga and other spiritual activities. 

Today, Cycle Pure Agarbathi manufactures around 1.5 billion sticks annually, directly reaching about 800,000 retail outlets and indirectly about 1.5 million. It also exports to 75 countries, with significant markets in the Middle East, West Africa, and East Africa. "We are amongst the largest exporters as well, while India remains our biggest market," Ranga notes.

Because prayers are generally always about the future, we realised we need to be very sustainable as well. This year we plan to be completely plastic-neutral.

Sustainability is a core value for the brand, which prides itself on being the only zero-carbon incense manufacturer globally. "Because prayers are generally always about the future, we realised we need to be very sustainable as well. This year we plan to be completely plastic-neutral," Ranga reveals.

The brand's media strategy has evolved significantly. While Ranga was initially sceptical about media investments, he now acknowledges their importance. Cycle is invested in television as its primary choice of medium. "There is no second-guessing media communication through television. We employ a lot of General Entertainment Channels (GECs). The key is to identify your target group, stay consistent, and be thorough with your creatives." 

There is also a long-lasting association on the brand’s part with cricketing properties in the country. As per Ranga, Cycle’s foray into cricket sponsorship began in 2004 during the Pakistan tour of India, securing a deal at a 70% discount due to a last-minute opportunity.

"I spent all my annual budget in one series. That gave us unbelievable visibility," Ranga recalls. This bold move elevated Cycle’s national profile, aligning it with major brands like Airtel and Hero. "We’ve continued with Cricket, with selected properties," Ranga adds, underscoring the sport's integral role in its marketing strategy.

Cricketing celebrities like Sourav Ganguly and Mithali Raj have been Cycle’s brand ambassadors.

afaqs! FOIL 2024 Media Partner:


Community Partner:

The Advertising Club Bangalore

Networking Partner:


Associate Partners:

  • Jagran New Media

  • Manorama Online

  • TimesNow Navbharat and

  • Voxxy Media

This is the era of ‘Bharat’—an India where regional audiences have become more important than ever. Anandabazar Patrika, the leading Bengali daily in India, has always set a benchmark for how journalism should be done in a regional language. A brand that has become a habit and a matter of pride for Bengalis, Anandabazar has been a stalwart for over a hundred years. Anandabazar has always stood for innovations and disruptions. It has partnered with thought leaders in art, culture, and literature to foster the growth of the Bengali language. Anandabazar.com, the digital arm of Anandabazar Patrika, carries this rich legacy of its parent. As a digital-first organisation, it is revolutionising content creation in regional languages. It aims to disrupt age-old practices and embrace the new. The Festival of Indian Languages (FOIL), as an initiative aims to explore the power of local languages in mass media, which as an idea resonates with the same values and ethos that Anandabazar stands for. 'FOIL' will try to paint the linguistic patchwork that keeps together the magical concept of India. Anandabazar.com proudly partners with afaqs! in this endeavour.

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