When the bottle itself becomes the hope

For those who missed the first part of this discussion, please read here. The question was, as a brand that is serious about its intentions, what can it do to break the vicious circle of ‘commoditising’ the entire men’s deo category in India?

Thank you everyone for taking time to post your views for my post. Especially the discussions that I had with my digital planner friend, and my FMCG passionate buddy brought about a clearer definition of the idea that I already had in mind. The idea that got crystallized was basically this – If I am the brand that has originally created a break through positioning and did everything to own it in the first place,  why should I now even tweak my proposition and thereby vacate the place to competition just because there are so many ‘me-too’ brands in the category?

So now the focus goes to the remaining P’s in the mix (believe me, as simplistic as it may sound but it’s always about getting the mix right in marketing. Always). So where would you now focus? Mind you this is in no way a breakthrough idea that I am proposing. All this could do is to give a better pedestal for the brand to further differentiate itself from the multitude of the me-too brands and reach out to the consumer in a way that is still consistent with its present positioning.

Now let me park this here while we try and ideate to come up with an idea for this challenge. If I were to think ‘out of this category’ and try to see if there is any other category with which I can draw parallels to this case, I find that there is one that has very successfully survived this sort of me-too syndrome of lower priced but similarly positioned competition. It is Vodka.

There was a time when every other middle to premium priced vodka spoke about very similar things – exotic places that were purportedly the sources of a vodka’s key ingredients (grain, rye, wheat, potatoes, or sugar beet molasses),  imagery of fun and frolic (sometimes in a very adulterous way) etc. While they really sounded exotic and sometimes even evoked the imagery associated with a place, most of them couldn’t reach a critical mass in terms of marketing effectiveness. So what did they do? Some tweaked around with prices, thereby decoupling themselves from their supposedly premium positioning and lost out. Some over priced themselves without an demonstrated claim to superiority. Some sought to differentiate themselves by line extending their core offering and started rolling out various flavours of vodka and so on. While some of these strategic moves could have worked for a few, most of them have only succeeded at further diluting the consistency of their identity and positioning.

So what did some of the most iconic vodka brands that we know today have resorted to? They acted upon an insight that was in fact very obvious (insights, by very definition are obvious but unnoticed or ‘not acted upon’ spaces in the landscape of consumer behavior). Vodka is an alcoholic drink that is unlike other alcoholic drinks in many ways. While they arguably have a masculine appeal about them, they have an imagery of strength and resilience associated with them. A vodka is a very common additive in many cocktails and is also enjoyed on the rocks. So in many instances, a bottle of vodka finds itself with pretty much time and space as it becomes a part of the gathering for the occasion. So what should it ideally do? Simple. It should itself be a statement just like the people who drink it are. This was the insight that went into those brands that sought to differentiate themselves on the basis of their Packaging. That’s how Absolut and many other brands were born.

It was an incredibly simple insight. But the result – phenomenal. Absolut now has books written over just the shape of the bottle. The shape in itself is a brand so much so that it is the shape of the bottle that is the fundamental identity of the brand. It is then that it becomes almost a non-transferable and non-copyable identity of the brand. Even if someone tries to ape it today, the consumer becomes absolutely sure that has to be a rip-off as they know that if it has that shape it ought to be absolut.

So now you know the answer. You have a very powerful positioning in the men’s deo’s category. You try to bring in the imagery of an irresistible masculinity, fatal attraction, power (of a magnetic odor), confidence and charm of an uber sexy male. You work hard to own this space in your TG’s mind. But alas! You see a bunch of me-too’s jumping into your wagon (taking the short way out) to appeal to the similar class that you are trying to target. So what do you do?

Think of an even smarter way to reach out to your TG by subtly tweaking your core positioning? If so, aren’t you vacating your hard earned space. Why not stay put and try to reinforce your very own positioning in an albeit very tangible way? Just as an example, consider the design of Samurai vodka bottle: (This is a design by a Moscow based designer Arthur Schreiber)

Got my point? Why not explore the possibility of making your pack speak by itself? Why not break out of the very similar looking pumps and dispensers? I know this could eat into your Gross Margin as the packaging cost becomes a little more expensive. But doesn’t it give you a better reason to price yourself a little more? Your competitors are in fact doing you a favor by moving their prices south. So now you have a more premium space for yourself, the same positioning albeit reinforced in a stronger way and your TG who, given the increasing need of distinctiveness would only be willing to shell out a little more.

  • It does have a very loud pick me up factor from the shelves. In fact, just come to think of yourself walking along the aisles to pick up a brand of deo. You are sure to at least consider this, at least once
  • Now another threat of the Indian deo category – the rip-offs business of fakes and counterfeits would have an even difficult time catching up with you
  • It now becomes a very glamorous thing to be proudly exhibited on your dressing table – the best possible ad for a brand

Last but not the least, the packaging of the deo would then assume a life of it’s own. For eg., there is this forum that was discussing the implications of the design of the Samurai Vodka design above. A guy loved it so much that he couldn’t resist to associate a story to the bottle:


(Disclaimer: I have no business interests in the marketing of deodorants. All this post seeks to do is to speak about a need to infuse some fresh thinking to seek some innovative yet simple ways to ‘decommoditise’ the deodorants category in India. The views expressed here are solely mine and in no way relate to the company that I work for.)

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