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Brand Yatra: Nirma – Successfully straddling the rural-urban divide

10-September-2009
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Brand Yatra: Nirma – Successfully straddling the rural-urban divide

Brand: Nirma
Past Agency: Purnima Advertising Agency
Current Agency: Purnima Advertising Agency & TapRoot India

From Nirupama to Nirma

Think of Nirma and the picture of a little girl twirling around in her white frock with the familiar jingle ‘Washing powder Nirma’ comes to mind. One of the most recognisable Indian brands, Nirma’s story is a classic example of the success of Indian entrepreneurship in the face of stiff competition. Nirma took on the might of giant multinationals and wrote a new chapter in the Indian corporate history.

Nirma’s success is synonymous with its advertising and marketing strategy. When Karsanbhai Patel, the founder of the brand, started selling his detergent powder, he decided to call it Nirma, derived from the name of his daughter Nirupama. In the early years, the Nirma packet featured a lady washing a garment. Later, however, the design was changed and an image of his daughter was featured on the pack. The white dancing girl, featured in Nirma’s television advertising, is perhaps the most enduring image of the brand.

Nirma created an entirely new market segment in the domestic marketplace and quickly emerged as a dominant market player. The brand rewrote marking rules and its success story became one of the widely discussed case studies in B-Schools across the world.

The magic that Purnima started

Purnima is the advertising agency that has been handling brand Nirma’s creative and media mandate for the last 30 years and has been consistently focussing on the value-for-money angle. Its simple and catchy jingle – ‘Dudh si safedi Nirma se aye, rangeen kapda bhi khil khil jaye’ – has continued to echo in the drawing rooms of middle-class Indian homes through the decades. While the jingle stresses on the product, it also salutes the savvy and budget-conscious Indian housewife.

The jingle, which was first aired on radio in 1975, was broadcast on television in 1982. It is one of the longest running jingles and the spot has seen very few changes since the time it was first aired.

The various extensions

As its journey continued, Nirma went ahead with category extension with new products in the premium segment. It entered into new line of toilet soaps. In 2000, the company also entered into the hair care segment with a product called Nirma Shikakai.

Since the launch of Nirma detergent powder in 1969, the Nirma portfolio has expanded to include fabric care products, personal care products, food products, packaging and chemicals. However, the underlying philosophy remains consistent – to deliver value-for-money products to consumers.

The re-evolution period

Though the brand has maintained a low profile yet iconic brand status, in 2009, brand Nirma got an image makeover as TapRoot India, the venture group of Agnello Dias and Santosh Padhi, took over the reins of the advertising mandate.

The brief given to the agency by Nirma was to create an advertisement that matched up to the increasing aspirational levels of its customers, but giving it a modern look. Thus, the ‘Jayas, Hemas and Sushmas’ of the world were replaced by Russian ballet dancers, performing underwater to some opera music in the background. The original Nirma jingle also got a modern twist.

It’s like the ‘Tortobbit’

Commenting on brand Nirma, TapRoot India’s Santosh ‘Paddy’ Padhi, said, “For me, Nirma is like the ‘Tortobbit’. The brand has gone the tortoise way, slowly and steadily, and zapped aggressively as and when required.”

He further said, “Change is very important, as that’s what leads to progression. It is needed for all of us, right from people to brands to nations as well. If the change is implemented in a right way and at the right time, then the change works for a longer period of time.”

According to Manan Soni, Director, Purnima Advertising, “Every individual is a potential customer for Nirma. Hence, the communication conceived is also in such a way so as not to segregate or focus on a particular group of consumers. In future, too, our advertising strategy will be based on similar lines. We believe in creating campaigns that are aspirational and always positive in nature, more enjoyable and joyous in mood.”

Breaking the cliché rule

The detergent space has always been a bit crowded with various brands, but when it comes to marketing and communication of the brand, Nirma has its own set of beliefs. Soni explained, “We have stayed away from demo ads and also ads comparing product A to product B. We focus on our product. Nirma will always offer value for money products and we will stay away from demo ads and create communication around aspiration for all individuals.”

Adding to this, Paddy said, “Brand Nirma has never believed in showing a cliched animated product demo/ or comparison of stain/ dirt, which is used by 80 per cent of the players in the category. In fact, they never ever send a script for research. They know the brand and their consumers very well, which they passed on to use it in terms of what need to be communicated.”

In line with this thought process, the recent two campaigns have been conceptualised for Nirma detergent and Super Nirma.

Keeping contact with its roots

Brand Nirma evolved from a small town, and it is from there where the brand was spotted and went to become a national name. So, is the brand still crucial for the rural markets or have their TG now shifted to the bigger towns? For Soni, rural market is extremely crucial for Nirma, and he believes that the same applies for most mass brands in India. He said, “Rural India is changing and so are their preferences and lifestyles. Buying power is increasing in rural India and semi-urban India. In terms of volumes, they generate huge volumes for Nirma. However, urban is equally important, as if you see, rural population is migrating to urban areas and hence, the consumers are the same, only their location changes. Thus, our communication does not suggest a rural or urban touch, but is more neutral.”

An onlooker’s perspective

On the lessons to be learnt from brand Nirma’s yatra, Sumanto Chattopadhyay, Executive Creative Director, O&M, said, “When it first came, Nirma shook its competitors and the Nirma girl stole every housewife’s heart. As of today, I believe, they are at a crossroad, and so they need to reinvent themselves, because the market itself has become much more evolved. What Nirma now needs to do is innovate from the product level and go for a more radical change. A brand has to constantly refresh its communication, and this is one of the lessons creative agencies can learn too.”

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