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How oral care brand Colgate plans to bring a brighter, healthier shine to India’s smiles

By Amit Bapna, APAC editor-at-large

February 15, 2024 | 7 min read

Colgate-Palmolive is the market leader in India, but the brand’s marketing head, Gunjit Jain, isn’t satisfied with just being number one.

Colgate's emerging playbook for India

Colgate's emerging playbook for India

Aspiring for further growth in a market such as India for global oral care brand Colgate is an interesting puzzle on two levels. The brand is already the market leader in a category that enjoys almost 100% penetration. Achieving further growth is a substantial challenge that the market leader is determined to solve.

Executive vice-president of marketing Gunjit Jain says: “The task here is no longer about category penetration; it is about category consumption as that is where the biggest swing in improving the country’s oral health is going to come from.”

Jain would know. He has cut his teeth in the company and category for more than 15 years now. Before taking on the India remit at Colgate-Palmolive, Jain worked in markets like Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, and he also did a stint at the corporate headquarters in the US.

The task for the brand is to plug the leaking gaps and to work on improving the country’s oral care habits.

For example, 80% of people in urban India do not brush their teeth at night. Some 55% of rural consumers do not even brush their teeth daily, only occasionally. Also, 55% of Indian consumers use a toothbrush that is completely ‘flowered’ and not fit for purpose, leading to inadequate cleaning. These are all significant opportunities not just for Colgate-Palmolive but for the category as a whole, adds Jain.

While the growth may come from encouraging India’s population to use oral care products more regularly, Jain clarifies that by ‘more often’ the brand doesn’t simply mean “creating more usage occasions so that I can grow my business,” but for better oral health outcomes overall, he says.

Being a daily usage category, Jain says it is essential that Colgate-Palmolive and its products remain front of mind every day of the week, every week of the month, and every month of the year.

With the objective of improving the oral habits of the country, Colgate launched a category-building campaign called ‘Sweet Tooth’ late last year with multiple strands that are ongoing.

Journey from product marketing to category-building marketing

While running a product brand campaign is a natural action for any brand, running a ‘category-building’ campaign is a much more challenging task at many levels.

For instance, what human truth does a brand focus on and build the category narrative around? And then, of course, how does a brand keep it relevant and focused on category-build storytelling?

Colgate opted for a universal Indian truth - that the nation is obsessed with sweet foods and that the last thing millions of Indians put on their teeth at the end of the day is not toothpaste but sugar. Even though Indians know that sweets are bad for their teeth, they remain irresistible for most people.

Another consumer truth is that according to research, if, in addition to brushing in the morning, people also brush at night, the likelihood of getting cavities reduces by a whopping 50%. This is significant in light of the fact that nine out of 10 Indians suffer from cavities, which are avoidable.

Therefore, Colgate launched ‘Sweet Truth,’ a funny and quirky campaign conceptualized by the creative team at WPP. The quirky message is brought out by showing different individuals humorously ‘brushing’ their teeth with sweets.

While the campaign was launched last year, it’s part of a mission that the brand has embarked on, shares Jain, by bringing about a change at both the awareness level and behavior change level. He adds, “It would not be a one-off campaign, but continue to be built upon since behavior change doesn’t happen overnight but requires patience and persistence.”

Jain says the company’s mission has always been to help people improve their oral health and beauty. “This habit-changing campaign is to make people realize that brushing at night can help them save themselves and their families from cavities,” he adds.

The fast evolution of toothpaste advertising

There was a time when toothpaste advertising was all about doctors in white coats and patients in stages of dental agony. Of late, oral care advertising has been changing gradually and opting to introduce humor and wackiness to some of its creative work.

Colgate has also been moving its needle from doing work that sold well – but was pretty functional - to doing work that is high on ‘creative effectiveness.’

A close look shows that much of the recent work done by the oral care leader has been funny and quirky, but “it was not done consciously,” so we are told.

Jain says: “We’ve not set out with the premise that going forward, the tone of our communications is going to be humorous. What we have set out on is a journey of creative effectiveness being a strategic differentiator for our business.”

By that, Jain ultimately means doing creative work that is of good quality but also creative work that is effective and delivers growth for the business.

Jain says about the creative output: “Fundamentally, what people want to watch is good quality content, and that is something we’ve been extremely conscious of while crafting our recent campaigns.”

“If a piece of work is keeping the consumer intrigued enough to stay till the end, it means it’s good quality content irrespective of the duration,” he adds.

Other than the ‘Sweet Truth’ campaign, some notable recent campaigns released by Colgate include the ‘Cutting Machine’ campaign, ‘The Real White’ campaign, and the MaxFresh ‘No more morning goof-ups’ campaign.

Ad campaigns

The ‘Sweet truth’ film

MaxFresh 'No more morning goof ups' film

Colgate 'Visible white teeth' film

Colgate 'Cutting machine' film

The new team at the helm

To move the needle on creativity, the brand has trained its entire team, and they keenly look at the best content available across the globe. Creatively, it has also been working with a new team created by the global communication giant WPP called WPP@CP.

Aided by some lighthearted banter, the serious business of creating brighter, whiter, healthier smiles for Indian consumers may be just around the corner.

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