Madhuwanti Saha
Marketing

Media plans chasing pandemic waves: a look at the air cooler segment

A chat with marketing heads of air cooler brands about the present day landscape – and future trends for the segment.

Covid induced lockdowns, disrupted television programming and the suspension of the IPL have posed a new set of challenges for the air cooler category, that has been advertising product specific features and innovations this season. We spoke to a few brand marketers in the space to understand where things stand now that media plans have been interrupted by the second wave of the pandemic – and where the segment is headed.

At present, the air cooler market comprises brands like Symphony, Bajaj Electricals, Crompton Greaves, Orient Electric, Usha International, Khaitan Electrical, Havells, and Kenstar, among others. While we were unable to ascertain the size of this segment, a LiveMint article (March 30, 2021) pegs it at Rs. 2,600 crore.

Says C. Haridas, vice president – sales, marketing and customer service (cooling and purification appliances group), Blue Star, “In March, we were expecting to be back to pre-covid sales. Now we hope things to improve in Maharashtra and central India, which are big markets. In north India, another important market, the season goes on till July. So we are hoping Delhi NCR will come out of the second wave by the end of May. Once measures fall in place, we will have a window…”

C. Haridas
C. Haridas

He feels the industry is looking at a flat or marginal growth this year, if things go well hereon. Blue Star also withheld the print leg of its recent mass media campaign ‘Summer Lage Winter Jaise’, featuring Virat Kohli.

“We were strong during the IPL and on Hindi news channels during the elections… we were about to get into print. But we held on to that after the second wave started. Print is at the local distributor level,” Haridas adds.

Blue Star has allocated Rs. 8-10 crore for the campaign. “There is a small window available in North India as the season goes on till June-July. We have also started spending on e-commerce marketing and digital platform,” he says. Blue Star, known for its air conditioners and refrigerators, entered the air cooler space few years ago and is still in the process of making its mark in the space.”

Some brands have put their ad campaigns on hold, and hope to un-pause their media plans when markets open up. For instance, Hindware, which has seven per cent market share, launched a 360-degree campaign (DDB Mudra) for its foldable Snowcrest i-Fold Desert cooler across TV, print and digital, in March. The brand generally allocates seven to eight per cent of its revenue for marketing.

Rakesh Kaul
Rakesh Kaul

“Probably 90 per cent of that is spent on this campaign,” says Rakesh Kaul, CEO and director, Somany Home Innovation, referring to the recently released ad for Hindware. He adds, “But currently, we have paused it as the campaign has largely run its course. We will take a call once markets open up…”

The brand’s foldable air cooler received a good response, he says; the team will continue advertising it on digital as it is a space-efficient option for Indian homes. “This season, I expect the foldable cooler to contribute to three to five per cent of our volume revenues and five to seven per cent of our value revenues. If it suffers a jolt due to the lockdown, the numbers may suffer. I am sure sales will pick up this year or next year…” adds Kaul.

The brand’s Snowcrest range of smart air coolers (Acura i-Pro 70L desert air-cooler and Spectra i-Pro 36L personal air cooler) are Alexa-enabled and use geo-fence technology that uses location sensors and detects one’s proximity to the machine.

“With deeper penetration of the internet in the country, we believe in the massification of technology. Smart coolers should contribute seven to ten per cent of our total volumes next season,” he says.

Market leader Symphony, which commands 40 per cent market share (value), is also in a similar situation, as far as its recent campaigns – ‘Mann Thanda Tann Thanda’ and ‘Symphony ka Movicool’ – are concerned (Triton Communications). The former is a 360-degree campaign centered on the catchphrase ‘Refreshing Lives’. The latter, which targets business owners in the 35-40 age bracket, introduces its new range of coolers (100-200 litre), especially designed for large indoor and outdoor spaces.

Chandradip Paitandi, DGM, marketing, Symphony, says, “It’s difficult to have a strategy in the current scenario. But we are keeping them (campaigns) low key till June due to the lockdown. We have cut down on our TV spends drastically and have shifted our money to digital, which now accounts for 20 per cent of our ad spends.”

Chandradip Paitandi
Chandradip Paitandi

Symphony allocated four to five per cent of its recent marketing spend for household coolers, and nine to ten per cent for the new Movi Cool range.

Meanwhile, Bajaj Electricals has carried out its integrated marketing campaign this summer, highlighting a feature that is designed to fight heat and bacteria.

Krishna Raman
Krishna Raman

Krishna Raman, business head - consumer products, Bajaj Electricals, says, “We have adopted a 360- degree, multi-media strategy that includes an extensive pan-India television campaign and a focused presence in several national and regional dailies in print media. In addition to this, the range is being actively promoted through digital platforms and social media. The summer season is peak time for this category…”

Air cooler brands are turning to digital, for both advertising as well as sale. Symphony saw 40 per cent growth in e-commerce sales over the last two years. The brand team is investing in its digital channels for lead generation, home deliveries, setting up its D2C channel and an e-commerce site. Paitandi informs, “Last year online sales were eight to nine per cent (of our total sales). We sell a lot through Amazon and Flipkart. We are also enabling offline sales through online mediums.”

Hindware has launched its foldable air cooler on e-commerce platforms. “Due to the pandemic, e-commerce contributed to around 20-25 per cent of industry volumes last year,” Kaul points out.

Previously seen as the more affordable alternative to air conditioners, air coolers are now becoming popular in the upper-income strata too. Bluestar’s Haridas observes, “Consumers from the upper income band are buying an air cooler as the second cooler for their homes (first being, an AC). We have been noticing this over the last two years. Also, with the consumer being hesitant to install an AC during the pandemic, as it involves home visits by technicians, an air cooler seems to be a convenient option…”

Uttar Pradesh, Delhi-NCR, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, parts of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are important markets for the air cooler segment. Google Trends indicate that Andhra Pradesh followed by Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka showed most interest in this category, over the last 12 months.

Among trends that are dominating the air cooler segment are smart/connected appliances, increasing focus on aesthetics, style and design, as well as tech-based innovation.

Blue Star, for instance, is working on an air cooler that can double up as a heater. “We plan to introduce it closer to winder,” Haridas says.