Moti soap and Meera herbal powder - still a popular choice of the masses?

How traditional brands like Moti soap and Meera herbal powder, whose advertising is limited to festive seasons, find relevance in modern times.

By  Aashrey Baliga and Kashmeera SambamurthyOct 24, 2022 11:36 AM
Moti soap and Meera herbal powder - still a popular choice of the masses?
Stills from ads for Moti soap and Meera herbal powder

On scrolling Twitter, one of the tweets shows the varied moods of actor Rajpal Yadav. It shows Yadav in glee expressing ‘Thik hai bhai’ for Moti soap during the festive occasion. As the festival nears its end, Yadav’s emotions convey, ‘Ab Main Chalta Hoon’.

As one scrolls further, there are tweets that go “Bathing with Moti soap on Diwali is no less than a ritual” and “If you don’t use Moti soap for Diwali, then you are not a true Indian.”

In the case of Meera herbal powder, there are people showering praises on the product, and its famous ‘Vellikizhamai’ ad, followed by spotlighting its unique importance during the festive moment.

But, what makes these brands find widespread acceptance among the masses especially during Diwali? There is a story to this. During the festive occasion, the ritual of early morning oil bath and the application of Utna, a paste made of varied herbs is practised, which is popularly known as Abhyanga Snan. Moti soap tapped into this cultural relevance which was widely followed in Maharashtra, parts of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Northern Karnataka and in the Konkan region.

But, is a story ever complete without a history? During the British Raj, most of the royal families of the princely states used pearl extracts, rose essence and sandalwood oil in their bathing regimen. Since all these ingredients had a royal connection, Tata Oil Mills Company (TOMCO) introduced Moti soap—by including these ingredients—as a luxury brand in the 1970s.

In South India, oil bathing during Diwali equates to taking bath in Ganges, where shikakai too is used to enhance the beauty of the tresses. That is when Meera herbal powder made its entry into the market to cater to those who followed this tradition not just during Diwali, but every Friday, which was a ritual observed by Tamil households.

If you notice, their advertising and marketing is nowhere close to how soaps like Pears, Lux, or Hamam are advertised and marketed. So, what makes these brands witness an uptick in their sales during a festive occasion in a market dominated by brands with high visibility?

What makes them tick among the consumers?

When Moti soap was introduced in the market, it was priced at Rs 25, which was way beyond the means of the middle class households. Then in 1993, Hindustan Lever acquired Moti soap, but a worry crept into their marketing minds. With Pears, Lux, and various other soap brands in HUL's portfolio, how would they cater Moti soap to the masses on a profitable level without cannibalising the rest? Probably, that is when the company hit upon the idea of positioning the product during Diwali, since the product belonged to a niche category.

Currently, Moti soap is priced at Rs 72 on the e-commerce platform Amazon.

Sathyanarayanan Ramachandran, associate professor of marketing at IFMR Graduate School of Business adds that the present generation who is not comfortable with the idea of Utna, would hunt for soap brands that provide the same benefit as the traditional paste. This reason also contributes to its sales.

In the case of Meera herbal powder, when it was introduced in 1991 in single packs, it was supported with high decibel and attractive advertising. This resulted in a good spurt in its sales during Diwali, which made Meera herbal powder stand out as a formidable brand. This further led to the brand extending in the categories of shampoo and hair oil. At present, four packets of Meera herbal powder are sold at Rs 71.

Jagdeep Kapoor, chairman and managing director, Samsika Marketing Consultants highlights that their names, which are very ethnic in nature, too are the main reasons for the sales of the brands picking up during Diwali.

Is limited advertising denting their growth?

Meera herbal powder, which enjoys strong visibility in South India, most of its commercials are in the regional language, especially Tamil, that highlights the importance of using Shikakai during Diwali.

One of the famous commercials “Vellikizhamai” (which means Friday) emphasised on how Fridays were dedicated solely for oil bathing and using Shikakai. This commercial gave the brand an entry into the minds of the consumers. Ramachandran emphasises the fact that Meera herbal powder enhances the traditional enculturation process, a process by which an individual imbibes the traditional content of a culture, and further assimilates its practices and values.

The prominence of Moti soap during Diwali got amplified through an early 1990s television commercial. A woman was shown lighting lamps, making rangoli and freshening up herself with Moti soap. This signified celebration, purity and tradition. After its release, the brand got designated as a special occasion soap to be used during Diwali.

In 2013, a regional ad in Marathi was released that highlighted its usage during the festive occasion. The catchphrase of the commercial ‘Uta Uta Diwali aali. Moti Snanachi Vel Zali’ has been used widely in the western belts of India, which signifies its high nostalgic value during Diwali. Today, this catchphrase has also given rise to various memes.

Similarly, in 2010, one more Marathi commercial was released which highlighted its significance during the Abhyanga Snan. And last year, another commercial in the same language showed its relevance and usage in giving a bride a unique glow.

But, is there a fear of them losing visibility with advertising limited on a regional level?

In the case of Moti soap, Ambi Parameswaran, brand strategist reminisces how the brand, at one time used to be advertised at least two to three times during the year. Today, the traction of the brand has been reduced to only one month during Diwali.

But, Kapoor of Samsika Marketing Consultants opines that the both brands are potentially strong all over India. On a regular basis, they cater to affluent or ethnically conscious customers, and on an ethnic basis, they cater to the masses. Since the brands are ethnically, culturally and psychologically driven, their input in terms of advertising, distribution and manpower is miniscule. As a result, it cannot be said that this particular market would not support the sales of the brand.

Ramachandran and Kapoor believe that Meera herbal powder and Moti soap are still going strong in the market during Diwali, however Parameswaran believes that the brands don’t have a stronghold in the market. He explains, “They tried marketing Meera herbal powder throughout the year, but there weren’t many takers because it was going up against shampoo. This led to them being unsuccessful.”

Should they regularise their advertising strategies?

Regularising the advertising of brands depends upon the budget the company is willing to allocate to these traditional brands. In the case of Moti soap, though it has the potential to be marketed and advertised nationally, it is dependent on the positioning it adopts, and the value that customers can derive from the brand.

In the case of Meera herbal powder, people who don’t buy it on a regular basis don’t miss out on purchasing it during Diwali. This contributes to its sales during the occasion.

Also, brands waiting for a year to tap on the needs of the consumers during a particular festival can also dent its visibility. The customer base of other festivals too must be their focus. Kapoor says, “Brand marketing is like breathing. If the advertising is not vigorous, it limits the growth of the brands. Hence, marketing must not be restricted to a particular location, festival or region."

First Published on Oct 24, 2022 11:36 AM

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