Aishwarya Ramesh
Marketing

Will India use black charcoal toothpaste? Colgate thinks so...

A look at Colgate's spin on the age old practice of using charcoal to whiten teeth

Taking a break from white, red and blue – shades typically found on toothpaste tubes, Colgate’s new variant of toothpaste is black – thanks to the charcoal in it. The new variant of toothpaste is called Colgate Charcoal Clean. The toothpaste contains bamboo and charcoal, giving the toothpaste itself a black hue. This is a marked deviation from the format of a regular toothpaste which tends to be coloured either blue, red, or white.

Colgate's charcoal variant
Colgate's charcoal variant

This is not the first charcoal product that Colgate has introduced in recent times. The company also sells a charcoal variant of its Colgate Total, christened Charcoal Deep Clean – but notably, this product is not black in its packaging. The toothpaste itself is not black either – it only has hints of black in the product. Colgate also sells charcoal variants of its toothbrushes.

Colgate Total's charcoal variant
Colgate Total's charcoal variant
Colgate's charcoal toothbrushes
Colgate's charcoal toothbrushes

Mayuri Nikumbh, a design director at Elephant Design, opines that it is a bold and brave decision to don a completely contrasting colour to Colgate’s personality. "This move will definitely make the consumers stop in their tracks at the shelves and probably get a lot of new recruits, at least as trials. It is also a design decision that will probably create a category within toothpastes in the Indian scenario, since internationally it is a well-established category code," she says.

She also feels that the design stops short at a strong colour and ingredient depiction. "What I am missing is some sort of a credibility or efficacy claim that supports the big change upfront. Why should I choose a bamboo charcoal toothpaste over my current one? – Missing the answer to that!" she says.

Mayuri Nikumbh
Mayuri Nikumbh

Nikumbh mentions that while Colgate’s trademark colour, enclosure and brand identity will rarely alienate the consumer, what the brand is increasingly doing is creating a good balance between the mother brand’s visual assets and strong category codes.

"While the mother brand assets retain its credibility, efficacy and trust, the differentiated and distinct category codes help build the specific benefits and sensorial cues. This helps keep every consumer within the brand’s fold. Take for instance, the Vedshakti packaging. The old world Colgate would’ve probably shied away from blending Ayurvedic cues with the Masterbrand, but here it is – not just with the ancient brown paper cues but even the toothpaste itself appearing brown and infused with herbs. It reflects upon the malleability and inclusivity of the brand, which sends a positive and comforting message to the consumer. It is a similar strategy for bamboo charcoal variant as well, where the brand wants to completely embrace the offering and not be layered about it," she says.

Colgate's vedshakti variant
Colgate's vedshakti variant

Nikumbh goes on to elaborate that nowadays, consumers are increasingly exposed to a plethora of personal care products with charcoal as the core ingredient and as such, it is not completely unfamiliar territory for them. "The packaging for all those products, whether a soap, a face wash, a scrub or face mask, are fully dressed in black and that association has been established. Riding on this wave, Colgate has taken a well-timed decision to bring those codes into the toothpaste category and create a stark, differentiated shelf throw. Black also has traditionally communicated premium-ness in packaging which also helps the cause of the product," she points out. Below is an ad for Ponds' charcoal based face wash.

Nikumbh adds that freshness or mere cleansing is no longer the only benefit consumers seek from oral hygiene products - these are basic needs that they expect to be fulfilled. "Offerings are getting increasingly specific and value-added and those need to be quantified. While the ingredients and formulation can tackle that, what’s important is how effectively and impactfully these are communicated through packaging. It is important since this is the first layer of interaction between the product and the buyer," she says. She adds that in Colgate's case, a stark black colour and a hallowed ingredient depiction of 'Charcoal Clean' has attempted to bridge that gap and communicate the distinct offering.

Talking from an agency perspective, she mentions that consumers are evolving faster than the brands they consume. "They are exposed to international ingredients, formats and products. If a brand is able to add value to their routines and lives in any way, they are more than willing to experiment and eventually shift. We notice this even in the kind of briefs we are increasingly receiving – the focus is on health benefits, convenience and a design language that engages the viewer," she says.

Kunel Gour, founder of Animal Design, finds the product design clean, and says it is in line with the rest of the Colgate toothpaste variants. When asked if it will affect brand identity and recognition, he replies – “I don't think this will affect the brand's image negatively. In fact, if there's a time to own this space, it is now - with all the awareness around the benefits of charcoal. RAW Pressery has a lemonade with activated charcoal, and thanks to air quality in the country, there's enough written and spoken about the importance of activated charcoal filters in leading air-purifiers. The all-black toothpaste and packaging borrows from that information cache in the market and owns it loud and clear.”

Kunel Gour
Kunel Gour

Gour also points out, “For the longest time, we were used to all-white toothpastes before transparent and red/blue stripes came into the picture. I'm hoping it will be a welcome change,” he says. He adds that a consumer’s reaction to the change in product and packaging colour depends on how much solid work the brand is able to put into promoting and marketing it.