When modern trade came up in India, Vishal Vyas, general manager for marketing at TTK Protective Devices, the makers and marketers of Skore condoms, and a lot of others familiar with the terrain, thought it was ideal for the category. Consumers would get to see a wider range of products, finally, they felt. But pharmacies continue to be the largest contributor to sales. While accounting for 60 per cent of the distribution channel, pharmacies account for 75 per cent of sales. The truth is, Vyas reminds us, customers are embarrassed about buying condoms, and this leads to a lack of assertiveness when it comes to choice of brand, making life for marketers in the space difficult. This in turn renders the retail intermediary all the more powerful.
While a lot has remained unchanged in the category, a lot is also changing, explains Vyas, who has been with the company from the time it had in its fold Durex and Kohinoor, before the brands moved to RB. Thus was born Skore, in November 2012. Today, the brand claims a double-digit share among 'commercial' condom brands in India. And its ambition is not restricted to India.
The category is split as ‘social’ (the likes of Nirodh) and ‘commercial’ (in which Manforce is the market leader). Across commercial, 80 per cent of sales comes from urban markets. This isn’t changing in a hurry, but what has changed in the last five years, is that the share of commercial has grown to 60 per cent of all condoms sold, up from 40 per cent then.
The category itself had degrown in recent years, says Vyas, and has been stagnant this year. But is there an opportunity? The marketer cites the National Family Health Survey (albeit from many years ago), which pegged the penetration of condoms in India at just 5 per cent. The mindset is still to look for other options rather than seek protection through a condom, and this included the headline-grabbing morning-after pills. The good news, is that the customer is getting a little more assertive. Retailers were hesitant to showcase condoms five or six years ago, reminds Vyas. That is changing, too.
“It is this environment which is helping the marketers who want to build a brand,” notes the GM. “Even pharmacies are now more open to give visibility to the brands. In certain markets like Gujarat, paan shops do very well. The customer has become more assertive in urban India. If it was 80-20 earlier (with only 20 pc of consumers asking for a particular brand), it is 50-50 today,” he explains.
Keeping the Skore
In its first year, Skore touched a market share of around 5 per cent, and as of December 2015, it had a share of 10.3 per cent (Nielsen), informs the brand custodian. It has managed this growth in the competitive context of brands like Kamasutra, Durex, Kohinoor and Moods, among others. Other players in the category agree with Vyas that Manforce, from Mankind Pharma, has risen to the very top of the table with an aggressive distribution and marketing push. But there is another large cluster that brands needs to counter – brands that not many would have heard of. Vyas estimates that this bunch of ‘brands’ that customers never ask for by name, would account for 30 per cent of all commercial condoms sold. With entry barrier in the category being quite low, and customers hesitant to name a brand in the category during purchase, they have every opportunity to sustain themselves.
In terms of price-positioning, it’s tough to differentiate in the price-controlled and subsidised category. While there exist variants of brands like Durex that sell for Rs 50 for a pack of three, by and large, the mid-band is what most brands straddle. Skore too sells at this brand of Rs 25 for a pack of three. Of course, there exist numerous variants and flavours within each brand. And these are finding traction, says Vyas.
“Customers are assertive about the product type and flavours. Across the category, 45 per cent of sales comes from flavours, and it’s the same for Skore. It used to be by product type – dotted, ribbed, etc. While those are still strong, flavours have overtaken product type,” he adds.
Customer preferences explain the launch of variants like Skore Cool, which was introduced last year. As the brand said, ‘There’s only one way to cool down’.
Who’s buying online?
The majority of consumption still happens in the family, with the product used by husband and wife, according to Vyas. But the imagery and communication is crafted to appeal to the ‘Young at heart’, coming as it does form the young brand, Skore.
The brand has been aggressive in its investments and the recent commercial (currently on air), has also raised a few eyebrows for its theme, featuring a lady security officer frisking a young woman, rather sensuosly. Messaging apart, the brand has been consistently invested in high visibility properties like the IPL and Indian cricket.
On online platforms like Healthkart, among others, Skore has been present. It also earned appreciation for a discreetly packaged book-shaped delivery mechanism. Consumers could buy online on the brand’s website, and the package, which looks like a book, would house the products. But online sales, including through online pharmacies, is a very small number today.
So could it work if the condom purchase were to become a part of a monthly online grocery shopping exercise, given some discretion? The brand is also in the process of tying up with e-commerce platforms, reveals Vyas, but is not betting big on the numbers in the near future.
“We believe we are a youth brand and digital is very important to address the youth. We have quite a comprehensive programme to engage people on digital. We were the first to launch condoms in the m-commerce category. Now, everyone is available on Flipkart and other places.
People are still comfortable going to pharmacies. Digital sales is miniscule, but there is awareness and engagement,” he explains.
The communication challenge
While porn star-turned-actor Sunny Leone endorses Manforce today, Kamasutra in yesteryears was helped into the market by the likes of Bollywood’s Pooja Bedi. While Skore’s head of marketing clarifies that it has never tried to get a brand ambassador on board, its partners have informed him of the difficulties in getting one. Other challenges he has spoken about in the past relate to some media channels, which have self-imposed regulations at certain times about allowing advertising for the category. While several categories like deos use the premise of attraction, the view tends to be ‘coloured’ by the category, he explains.
Besides advertising, the brand has also employed experiential programmes like a college fashion show using condoms, to bring the category into the limelight.
“We want to be a part of the youth (young at heart) core TG of 18 to 25 years. India is a young country. When we did research, mapping competition and the market, we found that there was a need for a brand that speaks the language of the youth. It is the language of love – but how youth would say it,” he elucidates.
So does Vyas, who has been billed as an intuitive marketer on LinkedIn, take the research route to marketing campaigns? Vyas notes that while product test research works well, the same can’t be said of creatives.
“Research plays an important role in certain aspects. But in marketing communication and creative, it’s about our understanding of youth; we tend to go with our collective wisdom. When we go with a creative for research, we tend to get very ‘safe’ answers,” he adds.
The brand, which engaged Bangaloreans with a prank on World Population Day, has a series of activities planned, leading from the TVC that is on air currently. In that engagement, it got permission from women to prank their partners, saying they were pregnant. The message was clear – use a condom. And the medium was radio.
Radio works well in combination with such activations, notes Vyas. Meantime, TV remains the mass medium with a lion’s share of spends.
The current TV campaign follows a packaging change on the brand. The intent is to get ‘younger and younger’ in its appeal, having been in the market for three years.
Now, the brand is ‘Bolder, Better, Naughtier.’ There will be more TV spots urging the youth to ‘Be Bold’, as well as on-ground activations. From normal dots, the brand now sports ‘very bold’ dots. It has gotten naughtier with ‘Warm’ and ‘Cool’ condoms, and flavours like Pina Colada and Cherry.
While the brand is present across markets, it is relatively stronger in the South and West markets, says Vyas. And while creating a youth brand, the focus has been to keep it to the product category, instead of stretching it beyond, he adds. The company is eyeing international markets for Skore condoms, rather than new categories for brand Skore. Extending the condoms in India to the premium end is an option, but it will be incremental given that the volumes are in the mass segment, notes the marketing head.
It’s also a category where loyalty is tested in many ways, ranging from the retailer influence to non-availability to non-visibility of the available brand.
So how does he rate the strength of the brand after three years? Regular brand tracks and market share apart, Vyas points to the modern trade, which is growing for the category.
“Modern trade stocks only two to three brands and we are present – that shows the strength of the brand,” he surmises.
(This article first appeared in the 5 February 2016 issue of Campaign India)