The Indian shampoo category has always been over crowded, with very little interesting advertising. The last truly clutter-breaking initiative was the packaging innovation of south-based CavinKare’s Chik brand – the introduction of the Re.1 sachet, which again was a truly exciting packaging revolution, but didn’t create great advertising.
This, despite the significant change in the consumer profile over the last few years. Hair care has taken on new levels of importance for consumers with new ‘essentials’ in the consumer’s daily regime (shampoos extended to conditioners and smootheners). Experimentation with hair colour, treatment is common now among urban women, reflective of a new confidence and indulgence, and of course the ability and desire to spend money on oneself.
Have shampoo brands truly picked up on the consumer’s changing needs, and is that reflected in their advertising? The shampoo market is led by large corporations like Unilever, P&G and ITC who spend significantly on research to understand their customers. So it’s a little dangerous for a lay receiver of advertising communication to question them!
But let’s take a look at what they have been doing – even if just to draw some conclusions. Are shampoo brands just playing it safe? Is the market doing so well that there is no need for innovative marketing? Is there any clutter breaking marketing communications being done at all?
Most shampoo brands have a celebrity endorser. Priyanka Chopra with Sunsilk, Sushmita Sen with Pantene, Kareena Kapoor with Garnier, Riya Sen and Genelia with Dabur Vatika; even anti-dandruff shampoos have checked that box – Clinic Plus used Bipasha-John, and Saif & Preity have endorsed Head & Shoulders.
What value do the celebrities truly add? Does the consumer even distinguish between one celebrity-brand equation from another? Not really.
Even the propositions to consumers have not evolved. All anti-dandruff shampoos promise self confidence or success with the opposite sex; and all other shampoos go through a rotation of the same propositions. For instance, the current commitment of all shampoo brands is ‘no hair fall’. Are they referring to the same research document that tells them that hair fall is the top most concern among women today? Or is shampoo as a category so basic that it does not need to change at all over a period of time?
That's why the recent attempt to leverage social media by two leading shampoo brands is interesting. Dove’s launch of their hair care range on ‘Yahoo Answers’, and the attempted revival of Sunsilk with the ‘gang of girls’ have become case study material, and rare examples of internet marketing success. But why social media for shampoos? Why the move away from the tried-and-tested boring promises, into community building?
Despite research, Sunsilk obviously felt a little out of touch with its customers. The ‘Sunsilk gang of girls’ was launched in June 2006 to get past brand ‘fatigue’, and recover from a staid boring image. The launch was spectacular – across all media including television, radio, print (through PR) and the internet. The first 3 months saw 200,000 registrations and over 150 million hits.
The offering is wide – Javed Habib runs the hair query section; monster runs job listings; celeb blogs encourage girls to blog themselves; music, makeovers, chat, friends and an opportunity to showcase talent – its all there! A reality show called ‘Sunsilk Gang of Girls spotlight mein’ on Zoom discovered a Sunsilk gang of four, who went on to get trained and perform for audiences.
With such online and offline marketing, no wonder the site has over 40,000 gangs today ,and over 6,53,262 registered users.
What has it done for Sunsilk? Well certainly brought the brand closer to its consumer. But unless the brand takes on a more definitive role, a general social networking site for young girls is unlikely to sustain interest, and create any brand equity. What is the core purpose of being for the brand, which would provide the direction for the online initiative? And what must they keep doing to keep it alive and vibrant; while growing into a potential medium for change.
Dove as a brand has changed the way beauty is perceived in some parts of the world. The Campaign for Real Beauty focussed on redefining beauty and made it real and timeless. Dove’s drive for self-esteem for women of all shapes and sizes created a marked social change.
In May 2007 Dove launched its hair care range in India in association with Yahoo! India. For the first time, an existing property, Yahoo! India Answers, was used to create an exclusive microsite for Dove – the world’s first Knowledge Video Search. In 9 days 250 women across 3 cities gave their answers to questions on hair care – real women, real questions and real answers! A thousand minutes of footage was made available. The results – close to 830,000 minutes were spent on the Dove Promo Site of which about 69,000 minutes were spent only on viewing the videos.
The Dove campaign is far stronger as an integrated approach to creating a community and then growing it. Why?
1. It leveraged Yahoo! India’s existing traffic and leveraged the most appropriate service, Answers, to create an interactive forum suitable for Dove.
2. It stayed true to Dove’s core belief - stay real.
3. It created a high-impact viral in a male-dominated internet space with a clear purpose and relevant content.
It is heartening to see attempts to do something different with shampoo brand communication at least online. Suddenly, brands are recognizing their buyers as real people, and trying to understand them better, relate to them better. Two key issues though – one, when will TV / ‘celebrity’ / offline advertising tie in with this ‘community’ approach (if the community approach actually starts reaping benefits for the brands)?
And two, will brands understand that just ‘ganging’ up may not be the answer. Communities come together based on shared values and beliefs, online and offline. So before creating an online community, the brand needs to provide a basic social framework, a reason to come together. Thereafter, the community may grow, evolve and hopefully feed back into the brand. But social networks need a social framework to really blossom.