After failing at extending Fair & Lovely to the premium end of the market, HLL positions its Pond's international range as a `masstige' brand.
Candlelight dinners, long drives and the sound of saxophones will be part of your lives, once again. The smell of love in the air, the feeling of your heart skipping a beat, once again." Hindustan Lever recently threw a party to formally launch its premium Pond's Age Miracle range using these words in invitation. The FMCG major promises to bring romance back into the 35-plus woman's life with a new look courtesy Pond's Age Miracle.
This is not HLL's first attempt at entering the premium end of the skincare market. In the past, it had extended its Fair & Lovely (FAL) franchise at the high end under Perfect Radiance. However, stretching a mass brand to the premium end did not work. Now the Pond's franchise is being expanded to include an international range, an exercise which HLL hopes will work better with consumers being ready to splurge and look good. The emergence of modern trade is also expected to help in concept selling.
This time around, HLL is being careful while entering the premium segment. Instead of calling it the premium end of the market, it believes Ponds has now become a `masstige' brand.
Considering the new Pond's range is within the Rs 1,000 bracket, the purpose is to provide prestige products at almost mass prices. While its pricing does not pit it against international brands such as L'Oreal and Vichy, the affordability factor at the premium end of the market may just click for the FMCG major.
At the same time, building awareness about Pond's international range may take time. Considering Pond's has existed primarily as a cold cream and talc in the country, its extension as a `masstige' brand may not be immediately accepted. "Pond's has always been a hard-working women's brand. Stretching it suddenly at the top end may not be in sync with the imagery of the brand,'' claims a marketing analyst.
But "India is shining," says Ashok Venkatramani, Vice-President - Skin Care, HLL, who is fairly sure of the brand's heritage and international equity getting accepted in the Indian market. "There is a fair amount of disposable income and with heightened levels of personal grooming, consumers today understand what anti-aging is all about.'' In Pond's Age Miracle, HLL is offering a regime for skin care comprising a cleanser, toner, serum, cream and an under-eye cream. Besides, it has also brought in a Pond's Double White and Botanical Hydration range to promote regime-selling in the Indian market.
Says Venkatramani, "We would not be selling SKUs in this range. It will be all about regime selling.'' Devoid of SKUs, the Age Miracle range will highlight the importance of a skin care regime rather than be sold as individual products.
HLL would vend the products on par with international practice, where there is a fair amount of interaction between consumers and brand prior to the sale. "We would sell the range just the way high-end skin care products are sold globally.'' Investing in skin analysers at the Pond's counters, the purpose is to interact with consumers to help them while deciding to purchase the brand.
In fact, this is not Pond's first attempt in trying to get global with its offerings. In the late '90s, HLL launched anti-aging capsules in the market. The absence of modern trade hindered the acceptance of the product. "Such products cannot work in a grocery environment. Retail formats had not evolved during that time,'' explains Venkatramani.
Considering FAL's extension into Perfect Radiance at the premium end was ahead of its time, HLL has now realised the importance of timing the launch of its products. Now, it is not taking chances with its largest selling skin care brand and has decided to restrict it to the bottom end of the market. Instead Pond's heritage as an international skin care brand will now be extended to the top end of the spectrum, making it the most expensive skin care brand in HLL's kitty.
"Rather than stretching FAL upwards, it is easier to move Pond's since its imagery as an international skin care brand already exists,'' says Venkatramani. In India, Pond's Institute as a technology centre has already been emphasised and with Unilever investing heavily in the rest of its technology centres across the world, it is now attempting to make the brand global in the country.
As Venkatramani stresses, "Going forward, we have taken a conscious call to build a global brand for Pond's as it already has the backing of fundamental research at Unilever's technology centres.''
Currently, the products are being imported from Unilever's subsidiaries in Thailand and Taiwan but there are intentions to manufacture the range locally.
Age Miracle will be made available across 1,000 outlets in the top 23 cities and towns across India. While modern retail will help, there are already other international skin care brands from Vichy and L'Oreal which have already come into India. But Pond's late entrance into the premium skin care market is not seen as a drawback by industry observers.
As Juhi Ramakrishnan, Director, mConsult, Group M's marketing consultancy division, says, "All these international brands may have a strong equity back home but in India they are still small. Pond's share of voice in the category in India has been longer. It has a `do good' kind of imagery which has a positive connotation for the brand.''
The heritage brand, built over decades in India, should be able to take that big leap forward now. Its chances of being a successful `masstige' brand are greater than that of the mass FAL brand. As Ramakrishnan observes, "Pond's is in a better position than FAL in the beautifying area.''