Aishwarya Ramesh

"Rules to launch a product are very stringent now": Raja Varatharaju, CavinKare

On the sidelines of the launch of a new toilet seat sanitiser under CavinKare's Bacto-V range, here is a chat with the company's GM marketing - personal care.

Shared toilets have earned themselves a reputation for being a source of bacterial contamination. The recent COVID pandemic has not eased the situation, as many health experts have stated that confined spaces like toilets result in the Coronavirus spreading rapidly.

Since toilet sharing is a common practice across millions of households in India, CavinKare announced the launch of Bacto-V Toilet Seat Sanitizer. It is powered by a fast action formula that claims to kill 99.9 per cent of bacteria and viruses on the toilet seat surface.

Bacto-V Toilet Seat Sanitizer
Bacto-V Toilet Seat Sanitizer

The surface of toilet bowls retain bacteria and viruses, which are likely to travel and settle on surrounding surfaces released during flushes. Keeping this in mind, CavinKare has designed and launched Bacto-V Toilet Seat Sanitizer as a preventive measure that helps contain build-up of bacteria on the toilet bowl and adjoining surfaces.

We recently saw Harpic also take a similar stance in a series of ads featuring actor Akshay Kumar. In its 100th year, Harpic, the toilet cleaner brand from Reckitt Benckiser (now RB), has released three ads for its ‘Saaf Nahi Swachh’ campaign.

Also Read: Harpic cautions against COVID threat if we turn a blind eye to unclean toilets

Besides the spread of virus, shared toilets in households are also one of the causes of UTI (urinary tract infection) among women. In India, 50 per cent of women suffer from UTI at least once in their lifetime.

The easy to use product has been packaged in a spray and use format with 94 per cent alcohol, leading to fast drying formula for effective sanitisation. CavinKare’s strong R&D team has developed Bacto-V Toilet Seat Sanitizer to ensure it is safe for skin.

Speaking about the launch, Raja Varatharaju, GM marketing - personal care, CavinKare, says that personal safety continues to be a concern for consumers, even five months into the pandemic.

Raja Varatharaju
Raja Varatharaju

He adds that though the government has permitted movement in public spaces, people are still not venturing out. They’d like to do things from indoors and that’s what is advisable at this point of time. "Initially, there was a gap between demand (for sanitisers) and supply, as consumers needed more of the product, but the alcohol was not enough to manufacture the same."

"The pandemic can make or break a brand, and we did not want it to break us – we’re here to stay. However, you may not see the same growth rates that we saw pre-pandemic (which was close to 200-300 per cent in certain categories,)" says Varatharaju.

"Initially, there was a gap between demand and supply as consumers needed more of the product, but the alcohol was not enough to manufacture it (sanitisers)."
Raja Varatharaju, CavinKare

He talks about the beginning of the lockdown, and calls the early March-April period a confusing time for most of the country. He adds that the company pivoted to working from home and focused on how to realign processes, since it was imperative for certain products to be launched at a certain time period.

"The pandemic can make or break a brand, and we did not want it to break us – we’re here to stay."
Raja Varatharaju, CavinKare

“Also keep in mind that the rules to launch a product are very stringent now – we can’t make any product claims without proper substantiation,” he adds.

For CavinKare, consumer research moved online, as a result of the pandemic. He explains that the company has a product performance group, an internal research team, and it reached out to consumers online.

“We mined a lot of consumer data and found that there is still a sense of fear whether the virus is in the air, or on surfaces. We understood a whole gamut of things and our entire marketing team concentrated on understanding consumers and what they were going through as a society. We took it upon ourselves as a special project where the entire marketing group, the R&D team and even some members from the supply team went into market research to understand the consumers at this time,” he says.

Varatharaju mentions that another way of putting it is that this is our largest ever consumer survey, and adds that earlier, they’d call a research agency and would talk to consumers to get data. But this time, CavinKare had to take matters in its hands.

“We also formed a panel and when the formulation of a product was ready, we gave it to the panel for testing. We also had delivery systems in place to deliver these formulations to the panellists, subject to lockdown restrictions in places. The products would then be tested and we’d get feedback. That’s how we formulated and created products in lockdown. This is how we developed solutions for handwashing, gadget disinfection sprays and the toilet seat sanitiser,” he elaborates.

Since the data was mined online, he tells us that the focus was on Tier-I audiences and those from metro cities, who had access to the Internet. CavinKare also utilised its wide field team to work remotely within its community to get insights and, hence, there was also representation from those communities. He adds that they have had to be sensitive to their partners and employees’ safety in this process.

“There is always the constant pain of push in a learning and evolving organisation. We always look to improve the efficacy, in terms of product life cycle, etc. We were already working on how to cut short the product development cycle because we were inspired by some of the start-ups and we wanted to implement that kind of nimble footing in our own company. What the Coronavirus crisis has done is accelerated that. Without the crisis, this change would have happened in, say, 6-8 months. In this situation, the pivot has happened in 2 months,” explains Varatharaju.

Discussing the marketing challenges brought on by the pandemic, he states that it has mainly been due to the varying severity of the lockdown in different parts of the country.

“We have put together a war room – a committee that constantly tracks the situation on ground in these cities to understand the restrictions in each place and how we can work with them. We’ve had to stretch extra hard to get the product across to the consumer within the framework of regulations laid down by the government,” he says.

Varatharaju adds that in most places, the distribution chain is growing, but as far as media investments go, there was a point where TV viewership of CavinKare’s campaigns were dipping so the campaigns had to pivot to digital medium and increase focus there.

“As far as brands surviving the pandemic, we believe that the big brands will stay, as well as those who had been created and found a mainstay during the pandemic,” he concludes.

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