Deodorants and the launch of ‘Sure’

According to newspaper reports, deodorants and fragrances market in India is more than Rs. 10,000 million in 2010. No one could have imagined that deodorants would become such a huge market in India. It required a monumental marketing effort to convert people from an old to a new way to meet a primary human need.

Rexona – the first deodorant in India

In the mid 90’s, Hindustan Unilever (HUL) decided to launch its global deodorant brand ‘Sure’ in India under the brand name ‘Rexona’. Rexona was one of the first deodorants launched in India and was available in roll on, sticks, and aerosols. Though Rexona was a major player in the category, over the time Rexona as a brand lost its way, with a lot of competition from the grey market in deodorants, positioning confusions, and inadequate support from HUL. As a result, Rexona was tapered and its deodorants were slowly phased out from the market.

It is observed that women in this segment have fewer options and much fewer options from big brands. Though there are a couple of brands like Fa, Santoor, Yardley, and Garnier, there is no big brand like ‘Axe’ is for men. As a result, there is an opportunity to create a big brand catering to women in this segment.

Launch of the global brand ‘Sure’

With this opportunity, promising growth rates, and the evolving consumers in India, HUL has launched its leading international brand ‘Sure’ in India. However, as mentioned, Sure was earlier available to the Indian consumers under the brand name ‘Rexona’. The brand ‘Sure’ promises ‘No Paseena’ and provides long-lasting unbeatable protection against sweat and odour keeping the skin, dry and fresh all day long. It is positioned as “stops sweat” rather than as a fragrance. The Sure anti-perspirant range in India was launched in early 2010, with products for women in two variants – Passion Dry and Free Spirit. Later this year, Sure has launched its mens range.

With this launch, HUL is looking to build anti-perspirants as a new category in India. HUL is conducting a lot of consumer education and brand building activities for the brand Sure. HUL is looking to serve multiple consumer segments and build a master brand with the launch of Sure. HUL with the launch of Sure is looking to:

1. Address the void of a big brand in the women segment
2. Take advantage of the growth of the category with two master brands
3. Enter and build a new category, and not to leave any scope for competition
4. Take share from the abundant number of grey market products and private labels
5. Increase revenues and share from the deodorants basket
6. Counter increasing number of new entrants and “me-too” players in the deodorants segment

This seems like a safe bet for Unilever as it gives advantage on both the fronts – growth of female deodorant segment and entering a new category – without disturbing the market of Axe. Apart from building its own niche as anti-perspirants, it is expected that the brand will take away some share from the private labels, and the smaller brands. HUL is aggressively pursuing focused brand building activities, and Akshay Kumar and Asin endorsing this brand will definitely help take it to the masses.

Consumer dynamics in deodorants

No doubt people in both rural and urban India are becoming more and more conscious about their personal hygiene. But, the Indian consumers need a lot of education about anti-perspirants, as most Indians still buy a deo for fragrance. Most consumers in India still use deodorants as ‘fragrances’ on their clothes rather than on their skin. Brands like Axe are bought both for its fragrance and its odour reduction. With these challenges, the success of this new category requires some fundamental changes in consumer behavior and consumer dynamics. However, HUL is not new for developing new categories and altering consumer behavior.

With more focus on ‘blocking sweat’ benefit, the brand Sure is in danger of being perceived as not for office-going people who sit in air-conditioned offices. It might be more appealing for people from the humid regions, people who face the problem of excessive sweat under different situations like travelling, etc. In my view, not many people will have the need to stop or block sweat, and definitely not throughout the year. This puts the brand in danger of becoming a seasonal brand. Broadly there are four types of consumers in this space:

1. Type 1: Consumers, both men and women, who are looking for anti-perspirants in specific
2. Type 2: Consumers who are suffering from excessive sweat and are dissatisfied with deodorants
3. Type 3: Consumers who are looking for an established deodorant brand for women
4. Type 4: Consumers, both men and women, who are new to the deodorant category

While the Type 1 and Type 2 consumers will look for the functional benefits of the anti-perspirants, the Type 2, Type 3 and Type 4 consumers will look for the fragrance benefits of this category. It is interesting to see if the consumer will evaluate the brand based on its fragrance or the consumer has evolved to understand anti-perspirant as a stand-alone benefit. It could well happen that the larger base of consumers would initially buy Sure as a branded deodorant for its fragrance, and slowly then adapt to its functional benefit as an anti-perspirant. Also using Sure, it will be much easier to bring in new consumers into the deodorant category, than educating consumers and changing their behavior towards anti-perspirants. All this behavior makes it more critical for the brand to succeed as a fragrance first, and then adopt more consumers for its anti-perspirant benefit.

Will the same fragrance sell?

Though the Indian consumers have already smelled Sure under the brand name ‘Rexona’, there is less chance that consumers would smell Sure the same as Rexona. With thousands of brands and different fragrances it is less likely that the consumer would be able to smell the same as Rexona. The fate of Sure is more dependent on the brand building and how it is perceived by the entrants in the deodorant category.

As mentioned, it might be easier to bring in new consumers into this category anti-perspirant, than converting existing users from deodorants to anti-perspirants. Sure has been priced at affordable price points – 40 rupees for 25 ml, 60 rupees for 40 ml – apart from the regular SKU size of 150 ml. This shows the intention from HUL to generate more trials from new entrants and a deeper penetration of the category and the brand across all channels. For now, it is expected that ‘Sure for women’ should do well; however, it is interesting to see if the consumers will buy it as a deodorant or as an anti-perspirant.

The brand has to succeed as a fragrance first, to sell the anti-perspirant benefit to the Indian consumers. A lot is dependent on the brand building and positioning in the consumer’s mind.

Thank you.

The thoughts expressed in this blog are completely my personal views, opinions, and interpretations based on observation and secondary research. The blog neither represents the views and ideas nor used any information of the organizations or institutions I am associated with. Thank you.

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