Here's why so many brands are joining in for a glass of Horlicks

Horlicks, the popular malted milk brand from UK pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline Plc, is up for sale. Speculations are rife that Nestle, Unilever, Coca Cola, Mondelez, KKR, Kelloggs and UK healthcare giant Reckitt Benckiser Plc are potential suitors.

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Sep 4, 2018 8:59 AM  | 4 min read

Ever since UK pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline Plc requested bids for its $4.3 billion Indian consumer health unit, which owns the popular malted milk brand Horlicks, the battle among brands to acquire it is only heating up. While there have been speculations that Nestle, Unilever, Coca Cola and Mondelez are potential suitors in the race, the latest entrants are KKR, Kelloggs and UK healthcare giant Reckitt Benckiser Plc.

Charting brand odyssey

Who wouldn't want to acquire an iconic brand that has a history of over 140 years and has stood the test of time, only to prove how a legacy product can survive the odds. Brand Horlicks defied changing consumer preferences and withstood generations.

When the milk revolution, the rural development programme started by the National Dairy Development Board,  changed things in 1970s, Horlicks seized the opportunity to reinforce its role as a great nourisher for the family. The early ads were about providing daily nourishment to the family and the USP was energy.

Their fictional character Suchitra struck a chord with audiences as she was mindful of her family’s health needs and would ensure they got their daily nourishment through Horlicks. Actor Amitabh Bachchan had lent his voice to the jingles.

Over time, the brand brought out variants for women and children of different age groups and contemporised the brand equity. One of their popular TV campaigns till date is the ‘Why do I drink Horlicks?’ commercial released in the 1980s. This has been one of the earliest instances of slice-of-life advertising as it showed people speaking about what they love about their glass of Horlicks.

And then by 1990s, Horlicks made a decision. The brand began targeting specific consumer segments rather than the entire family. Extensions such as Junior Horlicks, Horlicks Lite (2005), Horlicks Nutribars (2006), Womens Horlicks and Mother's Horlicks soon surfaced.

While new variants kept coming in, the brand also kept discovering new ways to explain the same story--one about performance, achievement and addressing the mother and child nourishment. The brand has been consistent in its messaging, which has worked out in its favour.

Strong, stronger, strongest?

Horlicks proved that Indian marketers were not late in adapting the 5-second trick to drive their message. The brand, in its consumer research, might have realised that products of contemporaries or even Horlicks take time to mix with milk, which is a bother for consumers. Therefore, it came with a product innovation and positioning that Horlicks mixes with milk in 5 seconds. Even before you can manage to skip the ad!

Also, the tussle between Horlicks and Complan is not unknown. Such was the intensity of the rivalry that the brands were seen taking direct digs at each other in their print and television ads. One spot goes with a Complan boy saying, ‘My health drink has 23 nutrients, how much does yours have? To this, the Horlicks boy's answer is 23 nutrients. He then reinstates that Horlicks is better than Complan with even lesser price-points.

When the brand released a clinical study, which claimed that children who consumed Horlicks were taller, stronger, and sharper, it became a starting point for one of the brand's campaign. Over time, the Horlicks ads spoke about stress reduction and children's hunger to grow as they continued dialing up the passion quotient in these spots.

From being one of the pioneer brands leveraging the slice-of-life advertising approach to acing the comparative advertising and the five-second phenomenon, the brand, through its fairly good strategies, has fought through even the most turbulent times only to emerge stronger.

Why more brands want to seal this deal?

Brand expert Gaurav Gulati feels that strategically Horlicks is catering to all possible target markets and the brand and sub-brands have an advantage of filling the entire shelf space.
"GSK has beautifully positioned Horlicks in the Indian market. It won't be wrong to say that they have a strong first-mover advantage when it comes to women and protein consumers. It is very challenging for any competitor to get started with all the segments in one single go, especially in the market where clinical research and evidence play a major role," says Gulati.

Samsika's Jagdeep Kapoor asserts that as a brand, Horlicks has been able to enter the hearts and minds of consumers very strongly. "Whoever grabs it will be able to increase the distribution and will be able to sell it with their other brands. It will be an opportunity to strengthen their portfolio. While both Complan and Horlicks are up for sale, Horlicks makes for a very powerful asset," he says.

N. Chandramouli, CEO, TRA, says, "The legacy that the brand has built and the deep-rooted nostalgic feeling it triggers make it really powerful. It has been able to carve a brand equity for itself. The high-growth sector that the brand operates in is another factor. All in all, Horlicks is a very strong brand."

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