In a candid chat with Campaign India, Joy Chatterjee, general manager – sales and marketing, Mankind Pharma (Manforce Condoms’ parent company), states that advertising in the condom category is a challenge with brands having to maintain that thin line between vulgarity and sensuality.
He also explains how the condom category works in the country, the challenges the pandemic brought on, e-commerce sales, and more.
We are amid a pandemic, so let’s start with a pandemic question: What have been the key challenges facing the industry? How did your company overcome them?
2020 was definitely not as smooth as in the previous years. The three months from April till June weren't great in terms of sales. July onwards, however, it gradually started getting better. We did really well in October, November and December. There are two things – primary sales and secondary sales. Condom purchases increased from the chemist point, but decreased from the stock point.
How were the sales of October, November and December 2020 compared to the corresponding quarter in 2019?
Sales between July to September were at par compared to last year’s figures. From October onwards we have done better than last year.
Coming to your category specifically, and not only with the pandemic as context, condom advertising and marketing is also quite a challenge in India. How do you look to solve it?
It’s definitely a challenge in India, and more so thanks to the terms and conditions laid down by the government, too. We have both problems – the first one being the category itself, and secondly, the fact that our brand ambassador is Sunny Leone.
Our strategies being in place helps. We use digital strategies and BTL activities for brand building. We are also present on TV, but advertising for condoms has always been a challenge for the category. You have to keep several things in mind, especially the legal aspect and the very thin line between vulgarity and sensuality. For us, however, we aren’t just selling a condom brand – we are number one in our category. As leaders, we want to send out a strong message to society. Our campaigns ‘#ShutThePhoneUp’
, and the one takes on child pornography are based on this need.
We use TV advertising for brand awareness and digital to benefit society.
You mentioned the problem of having Sunny Leone as your brand ambassador. Could you elaborate?
I didn’t mean it in a negative manner. It’s a very positive association for us. Manforce launched in 2007 and we got Sunny on board around seven-eight years ago. Kohinoor, Karmasutra and Durex were the big brands at the time. Over the next four to five years, we gradually become the number one brand in India. Sunny is liked by the masses and the classes. She has her own acceptance. Our brand image has improved a lot since our association with her. We get good mileage too, and it’s only a positive association.
On social media, the strategy seems to be almost like Amul, albeit with quirky takes on live events. What’s the thinking behind that?
Our digital agency, Grapes Digital, is doing a great job on the platform. We look at daily topics but avoid anything political or religious.
While advertising helps create a brand – a lot of people visiting chemists don’t even mention the brand or the word condom while purchasing. How have you taken on this challenge?
70-80% of the condom-buying population in India doesn’t ask for a brand name. In fact, they don’t even ask for a condom. They’ll say things like ‘woh de dena’ (give that) or just stand around and convey what they need to the chemist via facial expressions. In that case, chemists play a major role. We even give chemists some special benefits to push our brand.
We have a 36% market share in Uttar Pradesh and a 32% market share in India overall, and these numbers are only growing. The category is growing too. And we are present across different platforms. Like I mentioned before, for TV, it is about building brand awareness and in digital, it is about pushing a social cause. We also use posters. If you do a good 360-degree campaign, it is definitely possible to gain market share.
Manforce is also perceived to be the ‘king of flavours’. So, sometimes, people don’t even say ask for a condom or ‘Manforce’; they ask for ‘chocolate’ or ‘strawberry’, which also hints at the condom purchase.
Another thing that has actually happened with the pandemic is speeding up of the online retail category. Has your category also seen an increase?
More than 90% of sales are coming from the general trade (offline retail). Having said that, it is absolutely true that e-commerce sales have increased during Covid. We were not present in e-commerce prior to the pandemic. In the last three to six months, we consciously expanded our offerings on sale on Amazon, Flipkart and BigBasket. We are also going to launch our own e-commerce operations website soon.
Do you think packaging in India is over-engineered at times?
Packaging plays a vital role in the OTC market, without a doubt. If your packaging isn’t good, is unattractive and not friendly, then it definitely won’t push your consumer to buy it. It’s an important factor for repeat purchases, too. We innovate with our packaging, and others in the category, like Durex, also follow this.
What were the challenges that you faced in 2020?
Distribution was our main challenge and became a major problem. Our field force wasn’t able to work and we weren’t able to reach each and every part of India. It has become much better over the last two-three months, though. We were also very cautious ourselves and wanted to take care of our field force’s safety.
What is on the horizon for 2021 other than your e-commerce website?
As I said, we are number one in offline retail and our market share is 32%. No other brand comes close; no one even reaches 20%. The aim now is to be very strong in modern trade. We want to be strong across pharmacies like Apollo and Wellness Forever, in addition to e-commerce. That’s our focus for 2021.