Scent of a Scandal

Written by Rohit Nautiyal | Updated: Jun 28 2011, 12:28pm hrs
Picture this: A bare-chested Salman Khan doing an Isaaiah Mustafa for an Indian deodorant brand. Even as he says Hello ladies in the commercial, the women swoon. And the men make a beeline for the deo.

Weiden+Kennedys commercial for Old Spice body wash featured Mustafa in a towel lampooning the macho image of the brand. That over-the top, extremely hilarious ad with its tongue-in-cheek monologue clocked more than 94 million hits on YouTube, 630,0000 Facebook fans, and an estimated 1 billion aggregate impressions in just one week. The Man Your Man Could Smell Like Old Spice campaign went on to win the Film Lions Grand Prix at Cannes in 2010. Will we see that kind of smart advertising in India where the message is subtle but hits home

Hen the ministry of information and broadcasting last month ordered television broadcasters not to broadcast seven overtly sexual deodorant ads including that of Addiction Deo, Set Wet Zatak, Wild Stone, Denver, Axe and asked the advertising watchdog, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), to go after these brands for their indecent, vulgar and suggestive ads which it said portrayed women as lustily hankering after men under the influence of such deodorants, it may have been dismissed as another prudish act of the government. But in the last few years, there has been a spate of suggestive TV commercials for mens deodorant brands. Each of them have crafted their messages around one theme spray the deo to catch the attention of the opposite sex. But then they all went overboard with steamy scenes and double entendres.

As ASCIs secretary general Alan Collaco says, There is a thin line between indecent and aesthetically done ads and the problem comes when brands are unable to differentiate.

It all started with an Axe ad in 1999. That ad showed women attracted to men who used the deodorant. The success of that campaign saw many more me-too ads from other brands, each becoming bolder than the other. Using sexual innuendoes in advertising for deodorants for men was here to stay.

Branding in the sensorial category is always a challenge. For deodorants, there are two ways of advertising. You can either use smell to create attraction or use it for depicting repulsion. So far, marketers have chosen the first option by displaying how scent attracts dramatically, says Harish Bijoor, CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults. Bijoor says though the deo category is nascent in India, its time has come. He says though the deo category is nascent in India, its time has come.

Wild Stone Deo, the brand from Kolkata based Mcnroe Chemicals, can be considered as the most experimental brand in terms of its communication strategy. Launched in 2007, its first steamy commercial raised many brows. The then tagline was: Wild by nature. Later as Wild Stones marketing was taken up by Future Brands, the brand mellowed down and moved towards more subtle and suggestive advertising. The first step towards this was made with a new commercial in 2009 with the tagline Barely legal. Though the shots were not as explicit as the last one, this time, again it got noticed for its sexual overtones. The brands latest tagline is It happens and the ads continue to delve on the temporal moments of seduction brought by a fragrance.

The Wild Stone account is handled by Meridian Communications, the second agency of Ogilvy. Ajay Gahlaut, executive creative director, Ogilvy Delhi, is of the opinion that not much has been explored within the chick (read women) magnet positioning. There can be many twists and turns within the chick magnet positioning. Taking Axe commercials as standard communication all the time will not make a difference. Currently, fragrance is the highlight of the communication in this space and not much formal research is being done, he says.

Set Wet Zatak chose to spoof an Axe commercial. In 2006, BBH had created a commercial for Axe globally, which was shot in Los Angeles. It starred model Jeanene Fox and showed thousands of women, including her, tripping over each other, swimming from far-off lands, and indulging in catfights to get to this man who is spraying himself with Axe on a beach. As the women swamp him, the voiceover goes, Spray More, Get More. Launched in 2008, the Zatak commercial shows a skinny man in a nightclub, with an axe in each hand. As he spots two beautiful women, he manoeuvres the axes around his body, in an attempt to woo the women. The women approach him purposefully, but the guy is stumped when they walk past him to a suave young man, dressed in black. Get Set Wet Zatak. Get Very, Very Sexy, concludes the voiceover.

According to market research firm The Nielsen Company, the overall fragrance market in urban India currently stands at R1,600 crore which includes colognes, deodorants and perfumes. Of this, the deodorants market accounts for close to 70%, growing at a whopping 52% with a penetration level of a mere 2%. This healthy double-digit growth has encouraged the leading players in the industry to come out with new launches. Deodorants are no longer considered metro-centric with bulk of growth coming in from Class1 and lower town class (LTC) towns. In fact, the contribution and value growth of metros has come down. Says Roosevelt D Souza, executive directorretail measurement services, India region, Nielsen, The phenomenal growth witnessed in the deodorant segment coupled with the low penetration, will open up the sector to several new players and offer consolidation opportunities for existing players, hence everyone will benefit.

Being at a nascent stage, the deodorants market is yet to see a variety of positioning seen in other categories of products and services such as automobile or telecom, say advertising experts. Between 2007 and 2010 several new brands were launched with high-profile mass media advertising campaigns with catchy and playful storylines and celebrity endorsements. These raised the profile of deodorants in the consumer psyche and spurred sales for both emerging and leading deodorant brands. Many new launches came from regional and small-scale manufacturers such as Mcnroe Chemicals and Vanesa (brand: Denver), the advertising campaigns of which went viral due to their sexual overtones. At the same time, established personal care players such as Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), Wipro and Godrej Consumer Products extended their existing bath and shower brands Dove, Santoor and Cinthol respectively into deodorants. HUL remains the clear leader in deodorants. The company has two major brands, Axe and Rexona and launched Sure (an anti-perspirant) last year. Also, the success of deodorants in the urban markets has encouraged the top brands to launch more deo-related products like deo soaps at lower price points.

Neither HUL, nor Lowe Lintas, the ad agency for Axe, replied to email requests for their comments.

But are Indian consumers really concerned with features in deodorants or do they go by fragrance only Indian consumers are evolving. Using deos to smell good has become an integral part of ones personal hygiene, and the youth today use it regularly. It is becoming an important component of his grooming accessories kit, and he even carries it in his office bag, gym kit and travel bag. Therefore, fragrance is still the key reason for deo usage in the country. However, feature-based deodorants like anti-perspirant deodorants will grow with the evolution of consumer preferences, says Ranjukumar Mohan, director and business head, JK Ansell, which has the KS brand of deodorants.

As Mohan explains, when JK Ansell, makers of Kama Sutra condoms made their foray in the category in 2007, the main objective was to come up with products that would help increase the overall reach of the brand. According to Mohan, the core positioning of KS deodorants is that of attraction with emotional benefits of sensuality and intimacy with the partner.

Bijoor believes that advertising reflects reality, and the current deo ads are just holding a mirror to society. According to him, the problem comes when brands with such positioning use mass media. Masses will be aghast at such commercials which are only meant for a niche target group, he adds.

According to industry insiders, as consumers mature in the forecast period they are expected to look for products that are designed for specific skin types or that provide secondary benefits, such as moisturising, fairness and antiperspirant properties. Consumers, especially women who are more likely to be concerned about using skin-friendly products, are also expected to increasingly experiment with roll-ons and sticks in the forecast period in order to derive such secondary benefits.

At the same time, there are some brands which have kept away from sexual innuendoes in their communication. Personal care brand Garnier provides a range of men and women anti-perspirants. The brand, that defines its target group as the urban consumer who stays outdoor and leads an active life, focuses on product innovation to grab eyeballs in an over-crowded category. Says Richa Singh, marketing manager, Garnier India, Consumers are constantly looking for a product which not only covers body odour but also tackles sweat. Our deodorants are enriched with perlite (an ultra-absorbant mineral) which has five times the absorbing power of talc.

The company has been advertising its Garnier Men Mineral Deodorant range with John Abraham as the brand ambassador. The commercial featuring Abraham shows the actor talk about the product features without drawing much attention to his looks.

Park Avenue is another example of a brand that managed to create a distinct positioning with its first TV commercial. The ad shows a man who sprays Park Avenue deo before re-entering a party. The moment he enters the room, everybody appear headless. Make others invisible goes the tagline. Speaking on the position-ing, Anil Kulkarni, business director, JK Helene Curtis, which owns the Park Avenue brand, says, The posi-tioning of deos had to be consistent with our apparel brand. Today, deodorants have become a round the year part of ones personal grooming and not limited to summers only. This was not the case four years back.

Deodorant ads for women, on the other hand, have mostly centred on features and the impact of fragrance in enhancing the overall personality. The latest entrant in this category is Wipro Consumer Care and Lighting which extended its Yardley range with deodorants that are available across 2,000 outlets in the country. In one of its commercials, the celebrity played by Bollywood actress Katrina Kaif is able to dodge the preying eyes of the paparazzi by making an ordinary girl wear her fragrance. Spinz and Rexona deo ads have been talking about the importance of freshness with the right fragrance. The exception has been Kustody from Mankind Pharma, which has turned the chick magnet insight (used by its sister brand Addiction Deo) into male magnet positioning. The only difference between the two commercials is the featured celebrities Neil Nitin Mukesh in Addiction Deo commercials and Bipasha Basu in the Kustody ad.

Globally, deodorant advertising has been both explicit and experimental. Explicit because of limited moral policing in the West. However, in spite of harping on the sexual, the ads there are more subtle.

As of now, ASCI has asked the offending ads to be changed. Explaining the two main reasons why deodorant ads came under the scanner, Collaco says, Either the commercials have too much of skin show or they are misleading. For instance, mostly, its a good personality that creates attraction (sexual or otherwise) and not some fragrance as depicted in most of the ads in this category.

Without disclosing names, he reveals that as of June 17 only two companies had responded to the complaint with one of them agreeing to make changes in the commercial. The others are expected to respond soon.

Titus Upputuru, national creative director of Dentsu Marcom who has done some work for deodorant brands in the past ,would love to work on the category by bringing some fresh ideas to the table. According to him, today, deos have become a part of ones personal grooming and serve purposes other than attracting attention only. Showing his disapproval of the communication prevalent in the category, he says, You cant flash a sexy woman all the time to sell deos. And its high time to move beyond the idea of chase of the opposite sex. As part of the next phase of communication, brands in this space can explore the realm of smell. This transition will be similar to what happened to toothpastes. By realising how the plank of whiteness had been done to death, CloseUp came up with fresh breath.

Gahlaut agrees that the focus should be on keeping the communication tasteful and classy. There is a need for deodorant brands to focus on digital as the medium allows you a lot of creative freedom, he adds.

Till then, we will have to catch Isaaiah Mustafa on YouTube.