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Case Study

Charcoal, neem sticks, husk, salt & powder mixtures have been some of the traditional form of oral hygiene products used in rural India. But these products are losing favor, especially due to the efforts of many organizations & companies, foremost among them, Colgate. The company claims to have persuaded about 300 million people into using oral hygiene products in the country for the last 25 years. Known as one of the leading brands for oral care in & around the world, Colgate soon got popular in rural India as well. Infact, the brand has become so generic with the product itself that it is not surprising to find rural consumers asking for Colgate when they buy toothpaste or tooth powder or tooth brush. The company, on its part, says that the rural markets account for about one third of its total sales, the rest coming on urban sales. Maintaining a steady market share in the oral care product segment wasnt tough job for Colgate, but thats exactly what it didnt want. Colgate was heading for a total monopoly in the rural markets & it was leaving no stone unturned for doing the same. Aggressive is the only word that could perfectly describe the advertising & sales promotion strategy of Colgate. Colgate stepped up its rural promotion drives with IDA (Indian Dental Association) to add value. This has been the stepping stone to the high penetration in rural minds. Since 1976, Colgate has been doing this through its rural promotion vans & Young India, Bright Smiles, Bright Futures, schools dental education program.

After conducting a small research in the rural areas Colgate concluded with five things that were common in all their rural consumers across India, they were: Rural consumers are brand loyal. They have disposal income (i.e. because their needs are limited, so lesser scope to spend.) Literacy level is on an increase. Elderly person in the family have the decision authority. If a brand is turned down in a household in a village, the whole village sooner or later boycotts the brand. High quality products was always a plus point of Colgate all they had to do was to now tap the still unattended rural markets & change their habits i.e. from the usage of manjans & datoon to toothpaste & tooth powder. In 1998, Colgate contacted 6 million people in 20,000 villages of which 15,000 villages had not experienced the availability of toothpaste & toothpowder let alone toothbrushes. Colgate decided to do this by controlling various advertising & promotional activities. Suggesting & implementing a rural promotional scheme was what Colgate called Sampark for, as they were specialist in rural advertising category. Sampark had limited budget to their disposal. Going in for mass media would not prove to be costly but the reach would be limited as, still only very few people own & possess a T.V. or a radio. Sampark wanted something that had far & wide reach that is why Sampark decided to their advertising by door to door selling. Sampark hired people from a certain locality who knew the local language, jargons & idioms. This not only helped Colgate communicate easily with the consumer but was also effective in sending the right message across to the rural consumer, the other plus point of this message was that the communication gap was reduced to a large extend. These people would move about in the villages telling the people about the pros of using advanced oral care products & the cons involved in tradition oral care system, this was quite difficult as rural people always felt that natural was the best. Colgate
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trained these salesmen to convince the rural population & make them try the free sample that Colgate was distributing free. The next best option that Sampark choose after door to door selling was publicity vans also called as A/V vans. Seventy promotion vans do the rounds of the country & educate rural folks on oral hygiene products such as toothpaste, toothpowder & toothbrushes. These vans used to travel from village to village & depending upon the market day in that specific village. These vans also did a number of other activities at a time such as spot selling, sampling, retailing etc. The vans used to be parked in strategic locations, they were highly decorated so as to get more curious eyes & in the process educate the rural folk. The roving Colgate vans, after screening a 22 minute film on oral hygiene that explains how to use the product, offer sampling at stalls setup near the van. 60 percent of the towns were covered by Colgate with their own distribution strategy & the remaining 40 percent was covered by other distributors. There are puppet shows done in the villages educating the villagers about the plus points of using modern hygiene products. Educational films were also shown in between movies in theatres, these are usually 10-40 seconders which were educational & used to feature either actors, local lenders, for a farmer just like the ones viewing the documentary, later on after the movie would end free samples were distributed to the audience, these tactics are also used in Haats & Melas thought the length & breadth of India. The thrust towards promotion through schools has done wonders in changing the awareness levels as well as a shift towards the new decision-makers in the rural families.