Aishwarya Ramesh

"Oil pulling is an ancient ritual we want to revive": Arvind Chintamani, Colgate-Palmolive

A chat with the vice president, marketing, Colgate-Palmolive (India), on the new Vedshakti oil pulling product.

Colgate-Palmolive (India) recently launched Vedshakti oil pulling product in a bid to expand its 'Naturals' portfolio. Over a Zoom call, Arvind Chintamani, vice president, marketing, Colgate-Palmolive (India,) reveals that the intention is to revive a centuries old practice.

Oil pulling is the process of rinsing one’s mouth with oil as soon as one wakes up. The practice is said to whiten teeth, keep gums healthy and kill bacteria in the mouth.

“Oil pulling has become a forgotten ritual. We are trying to bring the habit back to the country,” says Chintamani. Researched and designed in India, Colgate Vedshakti oil pulling product is an antioxidant-rich (oil) blend of sesame, eucalyptus, basil, clove and lemon to detoxify the mouth of impurities.

Vedshakti Oil Pulling product
Vedshakti Oil Pulling product

The product caught our attention because Colgate, as a brand, is known for being backed by science. Most of its ads show it as being recommended by dentists and so on.

"Our product philosophy is that good health starts in the mouth. That's our starting point for everything. Our starting point is not science or nature, it's that good health starts in the mouth. We try to understand the linkages of the mouth with the rest of the body. Once we understand that, we will leverage whatever we can find to address various problems of the mouth," mentions Chintamani.

He adds that oil pulling has been spoken about in Ayurveda for a while. Chintamani theorises that over the next decade, Indians will become increasingly concerned about the linkages between the mouth and the body, and how it affects their overall health. For example, people used to say that if you have a mouth ulcer, you have digestive problems and so on.

Arvind Chintamani
Arvind Chintamani

Chintamani explains that Colgate’s attempts to understanding the mouth, its anatomy and linkages with the rest of the body. "In that sense, nature and natural ingredients have always played a role. We launched our toothpaste called Colgate herbal some 20 years back. Roughly 15 years back, we launched Colgate active salt, which plays an important role in oral care."

He also mentions that this awareness isn’t entirely because of the COVID pandemic. "In the pre-COVID times, we launched a campaign for Colgate Vedshakti in which the girl with the funnel is advising her father not to drink coffee because he hasn’t brushed his teeth yet. That was a way of saying an impure mouth can mean an impure body. When you form a brand strategy, you want to be consistent with it. You don't want to go tomorrow and say, Colgate Vedshakti will whiten your teeth – that won’t make sense."

Explaining the logic behind the Vedshakti spray product, Chintamani says that when people go out, they might eat or drink something and there may be bacteria that forms in the mouth when you don’t have access to a toothbrush or oral care. "That’s why we created the Vedshakti spray, which cane be safely used inside the mouth to kill germs. Oil pulling is a natural extension of the strategy in the link between the body and the mouth."

He reveals that Colgate had tested this product multiple times for germ removal, and on toxin reduction in the mouth. "The challenge we faced is that oil can go rancid quickly, so we had to formulate it in such a way that this product can be used over a longer duration of time with a longer shelf life. We tested the product in different temperatures, humidity levels and so on."

Bringing an old habit back…

Chintamani points out that oil pulling is a centuries old practice, but the challenge is to make it relevant again to the audiences. “It’s not going to be easy. Oil pulling exists as a practice in different forms in different places, but it’s most prevalent in the south. There, coconut and sesame oil are used. It’s not easy to convince a user to rinse his mouth for 2-3 minutes every morning with oil – that kind of habit creation is going to be challenging.”

“Every marketer will tell you that it does not happen in a year, or in two years. It happens when you find the right insight, which translates to a motivating factor in people's lives to use the product. If we find the right motivating factor, we design an engaging communication, accordingly.”

Chintamani says preventative care is a consistent trend Colgate has been observing in the Indian markets. He calls it an important step to make people experience the product by means of sampling. “We are working on various formats of sampling. Some people may even see us in the gym or stores in different parts of the country. We will use various digital and physical touch points to educate people in different parts of the country.”

He adds that the digital medium is going to be important for marketing this product. The company is going to work with digital/health influencers and celebrities, who are already following oil pulling methods in their daily lives.

Last year, Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma promoted the practice on her Instagram handle, after which, it garnered attention on the Internet.

“Age is no longer the right way to target people. It’s no longer a criteria for a marketer when selecting a target audience. My target audience is anyone who wants to invest in their own health,” Chintamani says.

He adds that during COVID-induced lockdowns, there was a temporary interruption in the supply chain, but the consumers’ habits were not affected. People got used to shopping online and digital media consumption went up considerably, which worked in the company’s favour.