Mumbai dabbawallahs help Protinex carve new brand identity

MUMBAI: It is a challenge for any brand to bust myths around itself that it once thrived upon.

If one were to wake up one fine day and discover that their favourite face-wash brand can also be used as a kitchen cleaner, consumers would hardly buy it; (pun intended). Categories exist for reason, after all. Breaking away from this typecast in the marketing world is one of the biggest challenges a brand can take on. And yet, if it's done right, the returns are promising. Nutrition and wellness label Danone Nutricia’s Indian marketing director Himanshu Bakshi can testify to that.

Protinex was by and large a heritage brand; been around in the country for some 60 years now and is well known among its niche consumer in the medical circle. Historically the brand has always been prescription driven, which is to say its sales was driven through doctor recommendations and prescriptions. Around three years ago when Danone Nutricia acquired Wockhardt Group, brands such as Dexolac, Farex, Nusobee and Protinex brands, came under its purview and kindled a scope for Protinex to enter the over the counter market.

“That is when we decided to take our brand OTC, or over the counter,” recollects Bakshi. When you think about it, Protein in itself doesn’t require doctor’s prescription per say to be consumed, and it is a requirement for everyone.

To ensure that their thought process was backed by facts,  Protinex did a huge round of consumer research. What came out of it was that people knew what protein is, people knew what Protinex is, but they weren’t aware why they should consume it without being asked by a doctor. “Clearly, we realised that the relevance of protein in everyday life was missing among the consumers,” Bakshi remembers.

There were lots of myths associated with the product, the primary one being its use for body builders. Several assumed that if they were not into body building, protein and Protinex didn’t concern them.  There were also those that believed that Protinex was limited to specific occasions, such as when one is recovering from any sickness.

“To test the waters, we did a pilot campaign in south India starting with Andhra Pradesh back in 2014. It did exceedingly well for us in that market, both in terms of brand awareness and shelf life of the product in retail stores. Following which in 2015, we went all out with our national campaign including, television ad spots, newspaper visibility, out-of-home campaigns and of course digital,” shares Bakshi.

While Taproot Dentsu has  the brand’s creative mandate, GroupM has managed the planning and buying of all media for Protinex as its media agency ever since.

The first campaign was straightforward awareness building on the brand’s part that laid down facts and figures on protein deficiency in the country, upholding it as an issue that affects the everyday consumer. The campaign touched upon the fact that common illnesses like fatigue and weakness can be tied down to deficiency of adequate protein in one’s everyday diet.

The brand custodians claim that it was not only a first time for Protinex reach out to consumers directly through TV, radio, print and digital, but the campaign was a novelty in the category itself.

But grabbing the retail consumer’s attention was just the start of the multifold challenge that the brand and its marketing team was taking on. “Gaining penetration in a market like this isn’t an easy task. It takes time and consistent effort through brand communication. We did make inroads when it comes to adoption figures going up as gathered from our sales study in the areas where the campaign did well,” states Bakshi.

He, however, has no qualms in facing the reality that when the overall health food and food supplements market is looked at -- which is dominated by the Horlicks’ and Complans of the world-- Protinex has a long way to go.

Where in comes the need for a differentiated communication that will cut above the noise. The brand’s second campaign is a sea removed from what it attempted at first to generate awareness. It was more about building unique brand identity than educating consumers.

“Generally health and wellness is considered a boring category and not much innovation is seen when it comes to marketing it. People don't really tweet and share about it as enthusiastically as they would for an automobile brand for example. Therefore the key to it is to create a point of engagement.  If you look at the campaigns done in the category so far, every brand is talking about ‘kids growing taller and smarter.’  Claims are really overdone. A plain vanila ad on health will just not cut it, especially for us, because we are still very small when it comes to market share. That is why we have willed ourselves to think out of the box and come up with truly engaging ideas, including the involvement with Mumbai dabbawallahs,” Bakshi says, referring to its  latest campaign.

Having said that, the current ongoing campaign is a bud up on the first one. “While the first campaign was very functional in nature, the second is way more engaging for the consumer. We have blended in fun elements along with indian values, so that the consumers can relate and own the message. Above all the message shouldn’t sound like a sermon, if we wanted consumers to listen,” he says.

“We took the insights from our study that ä huge chunk of the Indian demography has a deficiency in protein, and instead of outright saying it in their face, we took a queue from the fact that most people think it's good enough. We built the campaign ‘something missing’ around it using the dabba or the Indian lunchbox as the key visual for it,” Bakshi explains.


It started with a teaser for the first few days on the major news channels on TV, followed by visibility at bus shelters. The most innovative was the involvement of the Mumbai dabba wallas in the campaign. The scale at which the campaign is being attempted is a first for the brand, and therefore overwhelming but it feedback makes it worth it,  Bakshi says.

Currently the campaign has been launched nationally and an entire 360 degree conversation has been chalked out which includes TV spots, radio spots, print coverage and digital penetration through various social media and VOD platforms.

When it comes to buying media on television news channels are the preferred genre for the brand given its target audience and its limited penetration in that market.

“We have been sponsoring news shows on Times Now, for example, for News Hour. Apart from that we have been buying slots in India TV and some regional news channels as well, “ reveals Bakshi.  “Given the male-female skew to the brand, we also buy slots in GECs to cater to the housewives in the target profile. We are also somewhat present in sports channels, although we don't go overboard with it as the intention remains to make Protinex a mainstream consumption product rather than niche consumption by sports enthusiasts.”

Based on the same analogy, the brand has looked away from roping in a sports celebrity to endorse its product as well, as it doesn’t want to just build a niche consumer base for itself.

A key touch point of the campaign is out-of-home engagement with consumers which includes billboards and on-ground activations at malls and other retail points.


The mall activation was tied to the brand’s digital initiatives, where the brand encouraged mall goers to click selfies with their  dabbas against the giant lunchbox installations. The campaign garnered a fair amount of traction for the brand on social media.  “Apart from this we are also tying up with few airlines to reach out to the captive audience onboard flights,”  Bakshi adds.


As per Bakshi, digital has proven to be a useful media for the brand.  “We have realised since last year that digital has become one of the primary mediums for us especially in terms of getting feedback and therefore, even our digital ad spends have doubled since last year. Apart from social media, we are also exploring multiple avenues of engagement with our consumers digitally. For example we have an advertising tie up with Hotstar as well,” he informs.

Currently for Protinex, the digital ad spends constitute 10 to 15 percent of its total advertising budget for this financial year.

It is not just the company’s internal benchmarks that hint at the definite ROI from the campaigns, but also how the campaign has impacted the brand on a  macroeconomic level. “Our consumption numbers,  household penetration numbers and share numbers show that our marketing efforts have been very fruitful in gaining new loyal consumers. While there was brand awareness initially, there were very few new trails that took place earlier. Post the campaign, we have gained many new trialists, and that helps in gaining new markets for the brand,” shares a confident Bakshi, while withholding from revealing any specific numbers.

The brand has also expanded its footprint through sales by adding new outlets.  “When we were predominantly prescription driven, we were only available in pharmacies, but now we are largely available in groceries and with general merchants.”

The scale at which the brand has attempted its latest campaign is albeit overwhelming for it, but  last year’s feedback and the high double digit growth rate as a result of the campaign has made it worth it for the brand. The brand custodians are hopeful that this campaign, which is to continue throughout the current financial year, would also help its market penetration as well as sales grow exponentially.

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