Godrej Consumer Products’ (GCPL) personal care brand Cinthol might have recently turned 70, but its core propositions of skin health and deodorisation remain unchanged. The brand, which made heads turn in the 1980s with its ultra-masculine simulacrum represented by Vinod Khanna, has over the decades been endorsed by Bollywood stars like Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik Roshna, before taking on a more inclusive tonality in recent years.
Indeed, over the years it had stepped out of adjacent categories servicing men’s grooming needs to keep a singleminded focus on the core soap business and higher value categories like talc and deodorant.
The move has paid off. Cinthol is reportedly just under the Rs 1,000-crore revenue mark, with an estimated 5% market share of the mass end of the soap market.
The cluttered toilet soap category in India is valued at Rs 20,000 crore. The market is segmented into popular/mass brands, and premium ones that command an estimated 70% and 30% of the overall market respectively. In the mass segment, the brand competes with the likes of Lux, Liril, Santoor and Dettol.
The state in which Cinthol enjoys a significant leadership position, with an estimated 17-18% market share, is Tamil Nadu. Moorthy explains that consumers in that market are benefit-driven and the state brings in a third of the brand’s sales. The Cinthol Original variant accounts for almost half of this, on account of its germicidal properties. Women are an important consumer base for the brand, which is why the brand’s recent campaigns focus on the women of the region and their aspirations.
Across India however, lime is Cinthol’s biggest selling variant, followed by Cinthol Original and menthol.
The brand, which began its journey as India’s first deodorant soap brand in 1952, today is equally preferred by male and female consumers, remarks Ashwin Moorthy, CMO at GCPL India. He says soap purchases are made for entire households, and that most households typically use one or two soap brands at any point of time. This insight has made the brand take a wider and more gender-neutral approach over the past decade.
“While our advertising has evolved, the brand’s messaging has consistently remained focused on Cinthol’s attributes of freshness, confidence and skin health,” says Moorthy. “The message is also unique from other soap brands, which tend to focus more on beauty.”
About a decade ago, the brand’s tagline changed to ‘alive is awesome’, extending the freshness association to concepts such as adventure and the outdoors, which resonated with younger consumer groups too. During the pandemic, it also launched ‘Cinthol Alive Adventures’, a mini web series featuring travel influencers.
Moving with the times
Over the years Cinthol has become a household name — something that comes with both advantages and challenges. Ankur Bisen, senior partner and head, retail, consumer products and food, Technopak, says, “The brand has done well in terms of anticipating changes in consumer behaviour and value systems. Today however, with the market becoming fragmented and as diverse value systems come into play, legacy brands like Cinthol will need to explore different marketing strategies, and strengthen their digital presence to remain relevant to consumers. Brand ambassador-led spaces are becoming fewer, and more companies are positioning themselves around experiences, which connect better with consumers.”
To that end, Cinthol has effectively moved away from celebrity endorsers to focus more on experiences around freshness, adventure and exploration in its marketing.
“Aside from being able to credibly promise and deliver deodorisation and skin care, the brand has updated its packaging and created extensions that offer great sensorial value, allowing Cinthol to charge a premium. This has also allowed the brand to extend into higher value categories like talc and deodorant,” notes Nisha Sampath, managing partner, Bright Angles Consulting.
Around four years ago, Cinthol launched its range of men’s grooming products such as face washes, shaving creams and after shave. Today however, it offers just talcum powders, deo sticks and top to toe wash, and is more focussed on the core soap business. “While these offerings are a natural extension to the brand, our business is driven primarily by soaps. The adjacent categories make up a very small volume of our business. They draw from the halo of the Cinthol brand and its equity,” explains Moorthy. He asserts that the opportunity in the soaps category is far bigger than the grooming space, and so the brand puts most of its investment into the soaps business and in strengthening its existing equity.
While the brand’s core proposition of skin care stays relevant to a younger audience, it is being challenged by new-age brands offering differentiated products that contain natural ingredients, essential oils and Ayurvedic herbs, notes Sampath. Brands like Mamaearth and mCaffeine are also gender-neutral and targeted at younger consumer cohorts, she says, which means that in the future, older ones like Cinthol will need to reinterpret skin care for younger audiences.