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Emami: A great brand journey from Kolkata

Emami: A great brand journey from Kolkata

Author | Probir Ghosh | Tuesday, Jan 15,2008 6:36 AM

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Emami: A great brand journey from Kolkata

Kolkata is in the backwaters as FMCG corporate brands go. Since Brooke Bond and Lipton were absorbed into Unilever, little FMCG brand communication has been generated out of this old town. ITC may have emerged as India’s FMCG champion, but with no cigarette advertising, and its growth divisions located elsewhere, in Kolkata it is better regarded as the city’s last great MNC.

Emami is Kolkata’s great and ongoing FMCG corporate brand story. Yet, when its first highly visible product, Boroplus, started making waves, much of its success was attributed to the stodgy marketing of Boroline, then a household name countrywide.

The driving and energy of Emami’s founders, the ebullient R S Agarwala and the low profile R S Goenka, were already noted in trade circles. But few Marwari start-ups in the FMCG space were historically notable brand builders. Despite Emami’s early successes, it seemed a two-family venture, not likely to professionalise management beyond immediate family.

When consultants of the caliber of the late Subroto Sen Gupta and Alyque Padamsee were inducted as consultants, it was reportedly just to help train the next generation of the families for leadership. Emami’s track record has put paid to all that.

Consider the broad facts. Around 1974, two bright young executives of the Birla empire decided to go into business on their own with a budget of Rs 20,000. They named their firm Emami (borrowed from an Italian word), set up a small office (still retained) in Kolkata’s business district. They personally delivered merchandise for distribution.

Having started from zero, Emami bought over the venerable cosmetics manufacturer Himani – known over many decades for its snow (vanishing cream), glycerine soap and sundry other products. It launched Himani Boroplus – a deceptively simple and potent product concept: a perfumed antiseptic cream directly in competition with then market leader Boroline.

Their functions were near-identical, but being water-based, Boroplus had no heavy, sticky feel. Its ingredients were natural: cost less to make and buy. In short, it was more consumer-friendly. With a great ad campaign from HTA (now JWT), the brand first captured mindshare, especially of younger consumers, then market share. Smart distribution and trade deals steadily ate into Boroline’s franchise – now leader in West Bengal alone.

Boroplus is not Emami’s only coup. Its marketing successes are notable for careful coordination of really smart formulations, largely Ayurveda-based, with carefully targeted markets, spreading and consolidating by turn; subtle shifts of visually rich imagery; strategic use of celebrity brand ambassadorship tailored to phases of growth, and user-friendly packaging.

Take Navratna hair oil for example. Launched in 1991, it has grown from zero to a Rs 180-crore franchise. It began as the typical, somewhat viscous product associated with Ayurveda, and a perceptibly cool feel. It first hit North Indian interior markets with brand ambassador Govinda.

Distributed today in such depth that farmers buy sachets at the village grocer’s, and use them walking home to bathe. As markets spread to more urban and youth markets, Amitabh Bachchan and now Shah Rukh Khan have become brand ambassadors.

Having captured the North, the brand is now establishing itself in the South with Chiranjeevi, Surya and Upendra as brand ambassadors. Besides undisputed market leadership (an estimated 55 per cent share in a fairly crowded space), it has spun off extensions: a talc and a light oil. Both deliver the brand’s core promise of “thanda thanda cool cool”.

In 2006, it was ranked the 6th Most Energized Indian Brand by the DY&R Brand Asset Valuator.

Similar strategies worked for most other major brands, including Boroplus Fast Relief, Sona Chandi Chyawanprash, and the trail-blazing Fair & Handsome (taboo to the politically correct, but a perfect fit with the targeted mindset). Emami has also entered the hair care and baby care segments.

Of its current business, its exports – about a tenth, or Rs 75 crore – comes from South Asia, the seven Gulf states, east and south Africa, and the CIS states, such as Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

Emami, the FMCG brand, has been the launching pad for lateral expansions: the Emami Group is into newsprint, cement, healthcare, retail, and bio-diesel.

What explains Emami’s rapid growth and scale-up? With the objectivity of a recent inductee (from Cavincare), CEO N Venkat observes, “No doubt the drive and sustained ambition of the founders, their ability to manage financial risk… while the professional managers certainly played their part.”

The current agenda? To strengthen and energise its hefty distribution and sales network to better leverage Emami’s corporate brand equity. The goal? “To go from almost Rs 700 crore this fiscal, to Rs 1,000 crore in two years, and Rs 2,000 crore in five,” asserted Venkat. And it will happen. You can bet on it.

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