Ananya Pathak

Kya aapke mattress mein Neem hai?

As categories across the board hatch ways to make themselves relevant in a COVID-struck market, we analyse Sleepwell’s Neem-infused bed.

Over the years, we have seen, and reported about, brands across categories, including pharma companies and manufacturers of face washes and toothpastes, introduce the ‘goodness of Neem’ in their products. However, none of these products were able to intrigue our curiosity as much as a ‘Neem mattress’ did. Yes, Sleepwell, a mattress brand from the house of Sheela Foam, has launched Neem Fresche technology enabled mattresses.

Well, we can’t forget that time when we were equally dazed by Lux Cozi introducing 'scented vests' – a category that would, otherwise, only bank on hypermasculinity by using film stars. And, looking at the fear among consumers since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, a move like this one by Sleepwell isn’t surprising.

The brand has been selling ‘sleep’ by building communication around ‘comfort’, with campaigns like ‘Maa jaisa Aaram’ (comfort like that of mom’s lap). So, is it now riding on consumer insecurities, given the current COVID-19 situation?

Sumit Sehgal, CMO, Sheela Foam, believes that consumers are taking all necessary precautions these days, like covering their mouths, washing hands, practicing social distancing, sanitising regularly, etc. But, they tend to forget about how unhygienic their mattresses can be.

“Health and hygiene have become very important in today’s context. In such times, people barely know that their mattresses can be unhygienic as well,” he says.

Sumit Sehgal
Sumit Sehgal

As far as the context goes, Sehgal points out, “With use, a mattress that weighs 20 kg (approx.) at the end of 5-7 years, could weigh up to 30-40 kg because of the germs, allergens, sweat, water, and bacteria it gathers. People often tend to forget that their mattresses could be a source of allergies, diseases, and bad hygiene.”

Indian households have forever used the anti-bacterial quality of Neem in their sleeping space to fight germs, especially if someone has measles or chicken pox. So, how is Sleepwell using Neem?

Sehgal says that Sleepwell has collaborated with Australian company Fresche Bioscience for the purpose. In a fairly scientific process, the brand combines the medicinal properties of Neem with an antimicrobic agent QAC (quaternary ammonium compounds) during the product development phase. QACs are active ingredients found in coconut extracts.

These QACs are combined with another chemical ‘Silane’ to form a new class of antimicrobial that can bind to almost every surface – whether foam or fabric. When integrated into the product’s surface, it stays there till the life of the product, attracting microbes and triggering a reaction that helps degenerate and kill them.

How long can one use these mattresses for? “We suggest consumers use them in their warranty period. They are perfectly okay during this time and are the best (mattresses) to use,” says Sehgal.

A single bed (72*35 inches) Neem Fresche mattress costs anywhere between Rs 4,000 and Rs 2 lakh. Sehgal says, “We introduced the Neem feature throughout our range of mattresses, irrespective of the price, because this is a preventive measure for the customers, and health and hygiene for now are our top priority.”

Recently, the Noida-headquartered brand also introduced home delivery services. The initiative offers access to a wide range of Neem Fresche technology enabled mattresses, expert advice on choosing the right mattress with accurate sizing, extended warranty with mattress protector, and an array of offers and discounts.

Sehgal tells us that the doorstep delivery service was introduced because of the need of the consumer. “We will send experts to the doorsteps of the consumers with various models of products in miniature sizes. The experts can advise consumers on the product, depending on their requirement. Once the selection is made, contactless delivery of the mattress will be made to the consumer’s house.”

The service, which is currently active in 90 (top) cities across India, can be availed by consumers by giving a missed call to the company’s number provided in its website.

Speaking about the campaign #StaySafeWithSleepWell, Sehgal confirms that the film was shot at home by the featured actors, and was directed over a Zoom call.

The one-minute-long ad, released as a part of the campaign has been conceptualised by Ogilvy India.

Kya aapke mattress mein Neem hai?

While Sleepwell took a scientific approach and has made an attempt to make consumers aware of the need for hygiene in their mattress, it isn’t the only brand in its category to build its communication around the 'new normal'. Arihant, another mattress manufacturer, advertised an anti-corona mattress for Rs 15,000 in a recent print ad. The Mumbai-based brand claimed that ‘An India which sleeps on anti-coronavirus mattress will move forward’. As per recent reports, The Narpoli police in Bhiwandi, Maharashtra, filed an FIR against the owner of the private company for the ‘misleading ad’.

In its campaign ‘Open Letters’, start-up mattress brand is seen leaning on the lockdown situation, too, albeit by subtly reminding us that a good night’s sleep boosts immunity.

While we understand the need for these brands to speak the language that the consumers are closely listening to, we wonder how they draw a line between staying relevant and not force-fitting a proposition (health, in this case).

It reminds us of the words of Jitender Dabas, chief operating officer and CSO, McCann Worldgroup India, who, in a recent guest article for afaqs!, wrote, "Some categories and brands will become more meaningful because of the promise they hold – of protection, health, immunity, etc. But what does it mean for categories that don't address these needs? It would be incumbent upon them to rethink whether they can do so.”

“This would require brands to redefine the role they can play in people’s lives. A car brand that pitched itself on luxury, might need to look at the safety it can offer. Some categories will need to justify their relevance in the lives of consumers, who might reprioritise their spends. And yet, there will be categories that come with functional promises that might make it difficult to pitch based on these needs..."

Experts Speak:

We turn to industry experts to get their take on Sleepwell’s initiative…

Brand expert Sita Lakshmi Narayan Swamy finds this initiative by the brand ‘opportunistic’. “I just can’t see a connection. It seems like the brand is riding on the fear and anxieties of the consumer,” she says.

To her, the concept seems a little far-fetched. “While I understand that brands need to communicate their USPs… I also believe they should have some principles. Addressing people’s vulnerabilities can’t be the solution.”

Sita Lakshmi Narayan Swamy
Sita Lakshmi Narayan Swamy

Swamy feels the brand could have communicated the idea better. “Never in the past has the brand had such a proposition. It has always communicated about the comfort of the mattress. To bring up a USP like such, with no concrete or clear idea of how is the Neem essence present in the mattress, seems vague.”

She finds the communication completely out of context.

Rashmi Berry, managing partner, BrandStory Consult, a strategic brand advisory, opines, “With health being top of mind in these COVID times, Sleepwell’s focus on health is very relevant. However, the germ-free mattress proposition seems a bit of a stretch on a couple of counts.”

Rashmi Berry
Rashmi Berry

She says that first, it would have limited appeal. The primary category motivators are getting a good sleep and ensuring right body alignment or posture. Additionally, there are specialist mattresses for specific health concerns, such as spine issues. Protection from germs is a not a primary need driver for choosing a mattress and can, at best, appeal to a niche segment. Second, the proposition itself seems weak on credibility.

“To seed a new concept, the brand communication needs to build the rational benefits of ‘how and why’ Neem Fresche technology works to deliver a germ-free mattress over time. Further substantiation or medical endorsement might help, too,” Berry says.

The branded mattress category is still evolving in India, she says. There are multiple opportunities for a mass brand like Sleepwell to build relevant, motivating and differentiated benefits within the core drivers of restorative sleep and body posture.