We have addressed inflation concerns by understanding the needs of the consumers: GCPL CMO Somasree Bose Awasthi

The Godrej CMO spoke to on the sidelines of its new product launch.

Mumbai: Godrej Consumer Products Ltd (GCPL) on Tuesday unveiled Godrej Magic Bodywash, a ready-to-mix bodywash that aims to offer consumers a bodywash experience at the price of a soap, while ensuring it is eco-friendly by encouraging the habit of "reuse and reduce." Actor Shah Rukh Khan has been roped in as the brand ambassador for the product and will feature in a mass awareness campaign.

In 2018, under the ‘Magic’ portfolio, the Godrej Group’s FMCG arm launched its powder-to-liquid handwash, Godrej Magic Handwash. The bodywash is the second addition to the ready-to-mix category with which the brand hopes to empower people to make a sustainable choice for their daily life activities.

The company also pledged Rs 100 crore to be spent over the next three years towards mass awareness initiatives endorsing the message of an environment-conscious lifestyle along with social initiatives.

On the sidelines of the event held at Mumbai, had an exclusive interaction with Godrej Consumer Products Ltd (GCPL) India chief marketing officer Somasree Bose Awasthi to know more about the FMCG’s sustainable initiative and what it hoped to achieve through it, both in the short as well as long terms. Awasthi also highlights the company's plans to extend the concept of the ready-to-mix format across its other product categories, such as liquid detergent.

A Godrej group veteran, Awasthi completes two decades at the conglomerate, having joined as a management trainee in 2003 and working her way up. She was appointed as GCPL associate vice president-marketing (personal care) & aircare in 2014 and elevated as the chief marketing officer (India) in October 2021.

She also discusses the steps Godrej Consumer is taking to mitigate the effects of soaring inflation on the FMCG sector as a whole, as well as its marketing strategy and whether the company has reduced its AdEx and/or marketing spends to protect its bottom line in the current uncertain market conditions.

Edited excerpts…

On launching a new product category at a time when most FMCG companies are cost-cutting and postponing or putting on hold new launches due to rising inflation.

Awasthi: Actually, the timing itself was an inspiration for us to launch this product. As you rightly pointed out, because of inflation, prices are only going up. Today, a 200 ml body wash would cost anywhere between Rs 100 and Rs 200, and people are possibly dropping the category. This was the time when we thought that if we cut down on the "low-utility items" (of the product), can we bring down the cost? It may sound like an oxymoron that at a time like this, we talk about reducing costs. But we realised that there was this formulation which allowed us to reduce plastic to only 16 per cent, reduce fuel to less than half, and reduce energy to just 19 per cent compared to the current body wash. Then we went right to the root and put in our margin, etc., and we realised that we could actually give it to the consumers at one-third of the cost (of a bodywash) and actually at the cost of a soap!

So, for someone who wants to upgrade from soap to bodywash for a better experience (because it is usually softer on the skin than soap), but is unable to do so due to the inflationary pressure of rising prices, we are offering this at the price of soap.

Thus, the timing was just right in terms of both the inflationary pressure, which we handled, while also making it environmentally sustainable.

On whether the FMCG company hopes to target the youth and form a connection with the youth consumer segment through this "sustainable" outreach.

Awasthi: Today, right from the youth to everyone, talks about wanting a better earth. Everybody’s aware of the climatic conditions, global warming, etc. Without a doubt, the youth enters the picture because they have strong opinions and questions about everything. This is something that they care about, so yes. But is youth the only target? No! Our TG is the changing mindset of every consumer group. Hence, this product that uses less plastic, energy, and fuel is for all those who believe that this behaviour change is critical.

On whether the brand would look to expand the ready-to-mix concept across its other product categories, like liquid detergents.

Awasthi: So, we have done this in the handwash category in 2018 with the powder-to-liquid handwash. Now, three to four years after that, we have incorporated it into the body wash category. And more is coming, but for that we’ll have to wait and watch.

On addressing the challenges posed by soaring inflation in the FMCG sector, such as increase in input costs, fuel price increase, shipping costs, and so on.

Awasthi: What we have done is try and keep the consumer at the heart of our efforts to tackle inflationary pressures. And that’s how this new product development happened. If I talk about other categories, like hair colour, for instance, we realised that people want to use the better quality of hair colour with the crème, but are unable to do so because it comes at a price of Rs 30 plus. So we launched a smaller sachet priced at Rs 15. Thus, in this inflationary environment, the smaller packet helped retain consumption behaviour without denting the pocket.

Similarly, in other categories like soaps, we have been careful to not completely pass on the inflation to the consumer. We have also taken a hit, but we have ensured that we do not tamper with the quality of the soap.

Thus, we have addressed the inflation concerns by understanding consumer needs at such a time. Firstly, by reducing the price, or by coming up with smaller sachets, or else by passing on some part of the inflation but not the full burden of it onto the consumer and by launching innovations like this. So there are a plethora of activities that we have undertaken to ensure that people can still afford and access our products. And this is the reason why we have been able to sustain our market leadership and also the consumer’s goodwill.

On the overall market outlook on the FMCG sector currently- have the market conditions improved in the face of macro uncertainty and inflation?

Awasthi: Inflationary pressures continue, and that is making us, the marketers, think differently. In the boardroom, the discussions are always around how we can ensure consumption continues. And that’s where these strategies are coming from. In such an environment where people are being very careful about what they spend, how do you ensure that your share in that pocket doesn’t come down? Hence, strategies like those spelled out earlier—reducing the product quantity, making it affordable, not touching the quality but absorbing some of the pressure, and hoping that consumers are not negatively impacted and are still able to get access to them. That’s what we are trying to do.

On the effect on Adex, has there been a dip in the resources allocated towards advertising & marketing spends

Awasthi: We are proud to say that we have continued launching our products and have been repositioning our advertisements. In fact, we have been adding to our advertising expenses by investing in newer products. For example, we recently shifted our Goodknight positioning from efficacy-led campaigns to a "full night's sleep" campaign. The highlight of that campaign is the amazing bond that the father and child share and how he tries to ensure that the baby’s sleep is not disturbed. It has made it to some of the top ads recently.

We also invested in a new category altogether. We used to advertise the toilet variant. Now we have started advertising for the aer-matic, the automatic fragrance diffuser. We are the first brand to start advertising in mass media for this premium product category (priced at Rs 570). Because even in today’s uncertain environment, there’s a certain kind of lifestyle that people want to have. It's for those premium consumers' benefit-seeking campaigns that we have launched this campaign.

We are also advertising the smaller sized sachets of hair dye through Anoushka Sharma. Thus, we have relaunched, launched new products, and started new campaigns. So overall, the ATL expenditure has only gone up for us. What we believe is that at this point in time, the consumer is super-conscious of where he’s putting his money. So, if our brand is the one that is present-giving the right, relevant message to the consumers, we will get picked up. And we are seeing the fruits of that.

On optimising the company’s advertising expenditure, which medium sees the major portion of the advertisement pie? Also, have there been any changes in ad spend allocation in the last two years since the pandemic?

Awasti: We are chasing the consumer where they are. So we are present across 360-degree media, whether it is television, whether it is increasing investment in digital, whether it is going on print or on outdoor media. What we're doing is segmenting the market by consumer profile and investing where we can reach the most relevant consumers. And that’s the whole strategy because every product is different.

On changes in adspend post-pandemic, I would say, yes, there’s been a rise in the way we spend beyond television. Digital obviously has been a rightful candidate because more and more people have shifted to digital quite a bit during the pandemic, and that’s one place where we have raised our investment. Apart from that, we are doing quite a bit of print, quite a bit of outdoors etc. As I said, wherever we are getting maximum reach for our TG we are there.

On tackling emerging competition from D2C brands in the personal care sector and marketing strategies to enhance penetration.

Awasthi: The marketing strategy is very simple. It's like the basics of marketing: understand the consumer's needs in each of the categories that we are present in and, possibly, even not present in but seeing a trend. And enter the newer markets with products that are differentiated and relevant to consumers. That would be our objective. And for products where we are already leaders and doing well, that’s where we would be investing very hard to maintain our leadership.

The emerging D2C brands are still in a very niche space, I would say, with the economy today still limited to a few. Of course, it's growing and we have to take cognisance of it. But having said that, at the moment it's still the general trade which is ruling the roost and that’s where Godrej has the power of distribution.

The majority of Indian consumers still prefer to interact with their friendly neighbourhood kirana and to touch & feel a product before purchasing it. So as of now, we still have that strength. But yes, D2Cs are an emerging segment, and as and when we see fit, we will adapt our strategy to the changing environment.

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