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Case Study

Promoting Oral Health in Rural India: Global Business Review

16(3) 524536
The Case of Pepsodent 2015 IMI
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0972150915569941

Shubhra Bahal1
A. Sahay2

Toothpaste was not an accepted product in the rural market since people in rural areas preferred
conventional method of cleaning their teeth such as neem twigs, salt, etc. Pepsodent was one amongst
the most powerful brand of Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) that was promoted through 1500 den-
tists in the rural areas. They targeted the product to the male member of the family. HUL promoted the
product (Pepsodent) very aggressively in the rural market by organizing free samples of Pepsodent to the
prospective customers. It offered discount coupons to the customers in order to push sales.
In order to sustain and survive in the rural market, the companies have to build a strong brand image
in the rural market. Providing the value proposition is the key to success to sustain in the rural mar-
ket. Sales promotion along with demonstration of the product helps in selling the product to the rural
consumer. Having said this, HUL really has to pull hard in order to beat the No.1 player in the tooth-
paste category in the rural markets. The new strategies have to be formulated in order to increase
consumers trust in the brand. Finally, how Pepsodent reaches the level of customer trust and generic
branding has to be seen in times to come.

Rural market, rural marketing, rural marketing strategies, oral care market

Harish Manwani, the Chairman of Hindustan Uniliver Limited (HUL)1, in his speech in the 79th Annual
General Meeting held on 23 July 2012, focussed on rural India. The Directors Report, while giving
category-wise details, stated that Pepsodent stepped up its play in the Advanced Care segment with
the launch of the Expert Protection range. This had helped in the premiumization2 of the brand. But in
reality, Pepsodents market share had hardly increased from 18.8 per cent in the year 2011 to 19.4 per cent

Banarsidas Chandiwala Institute of Professional Studies, New Delhi.
Birla Institute of Management Technology, Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India.

Corresponding author:
Shubhra Bahal, Assistant Professor, Banarsidas Chandiwala Institute of Professional Studies, Sector 11, Dwarka,
New Delhi 110075.
E-mail: shubhrabahal@hotmail.com

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Bahal and Sahay 525

in the year 2012. Colgate continued to cook the roost (Table 1). The challenge before HUL was to repeat
the Wheel detergent story in rural India with its oral care product Pepsodent. Furthermore, the management
was fervent to upsurge to the numero uno position in the rural market in the toothpaste segment. The brand
manager had to work out the strategy for this.

Oral Care Industry in India

The greatest driving force for the oral care segment had been product innovation, promotion and
distribution. The Indian Oral Care market was worth ` 4200 crore. The toothpaste accounted for
approximately 70 per cent of the total Oral Market (Figure 1). Colgate was the market leader in 2012
accounting for a value share of 46 per cent. HUL held the second position with a 19 per cent share of
value sales followed by Dabur India with a share of 11 per cent. The reason behind Colgate-Palmolives
leadership was its strong product mix and the brand equity it had gained over the years (Euromonitor
International, 2012).

Indian Toothpaste Market

The toothpaste-producing companies were facing the toughest competition ever. All the companies
were involved in winning customers and outperforming competition. Indian toothpaste industry was one
of the countrys largest markets. India was far behind in the per capita consumption of toothpaste
as compared to other countries in the world. The per capita consumption of toothpaste in India stood at
70 g as compared to the market average of 362 g. The reason for low per capita consumption was
primarily the lack of awareness about personal health and hygiene in the rural areas that actually
constituted approximately 70 per cent of the Indian population. This was further evident from the fact
that only 200 out of 740 million Indian rural populations consumed oral care productstoothpaste. One
of the biggest competitors of Pepsodent was Colgate. The other competitors, who fought for their share
in the competitive industry, were Aquafresh, Dabur, Promise, Vicco and Anchor.

Figure 1. Oral Market (` 4200 Cr.) FY 201011

Source: MART (2011).

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526 Global Business Review 16(3)

Rural Market
India was one of the largest emerging markets, with a population of over 1 billion. Out of which, 68.84
per cent were living in rural areas (Table 2). The level of urbanization reported in 2011 Census was 31.16
per cent, which has increased drastically from 2001 Census27.81 per cent. In order to be successful in
the rural market, companies devised innovative marketing strategies to meet the requirements of the
rural consumers. They localized their offering in order to penetrate the rural market. According to ORG
value share (2011), the overall market share of HUL toothpaste accounted for 34.9 per cent. Furthermore,
the article also highlighted the increase in Pepsodent market share from 16.4 per cent to 17.3 per cent in
the year 2011.

Rural Marketing
According to Pradeep Kashyap, CEO MART 3:

Rural Marketing can be defined as a function that manages all activities involved in assessing, stimulating, and
converting the purchasing power of rural consumers into an effective demand for specific products and services
and moving these products and services to the people in rural areas to create satisfaction and a better standard of
living and thereby achieving organizational goals.

Gopalaswamy (2005) conceptualized and defined rural marketing as a two-way marketing process
concerned with the flow of goods and services from urban to rural, rural to urban and rural to rural area.
Kashyap and Raut (2009) listed three distinct phases in the evolution of rural marketing during which the
term changed its meaning and connotation. In the first phase, pre-1960s, rural marketing was synonymous
with agriculture marketing. In the second phase, from 1960s to 1990, the marketing of agricultural inputs
and non-farm rural produce was considered as rural marketing.

Rural Consumers Profile

Rural consumers were different from their urban counterparts and were more inclined towards the value
offerings (Figures 2 and 3). As compared to the urban counterparts, who were ambitious and achievement
oriented, the rural consumers were high on emotional instincts and preferred those products which gelled
well with their emotional feelings.
The marketers not only educated the rural consumers about the product attributes and usage but also
provided free demonstration of the product to explain the utility/purpose served by the product. The vast
difference in customers attitude and buying behaviour had forced the marketers to rework on their
marketing strategies for the rural market. The key aspect considered by the marketers to sell their product
in the rural areas was to provide value offering to the rural consumers. Differentiation was an important
aspect to be successful in the rural market.

Pepsodent for the Rural Consumers

HUL aggressively pushed oral care brand Pepsodent in rural India in 2002, though before that it had the
nominal presence. It targeted selected villages in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and
Madhya Pradesh. Since the traditional products, such as salt, ashes and neem twigs, were used by the

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Bahal and Sahay 527

Figure 2. Income-Expenditure Profile2011 vs. 2010

Source: MART-Edelweiss survey 2010, NCAER-IRDA Survey 2011, MKC estimates.

Figure 3. FMCG-Consumer Insight

Source: MKC Primary Research, 2012.

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528 Global Business Review 16(3)

rural consumers for the purpose of cleaning teeth, thus, the penetration of the toothpaste was low in the
rural parts of the country.
The promotion of Pepsodent toothpaste was done via young dentists in the rural markets. 1500
dentists were involved in the promotion process, which targeted the male members of the household. The
company offered free dental check-ups and organized health camps to promote the product. Sales
promotion was done very aggressively, as free samples of the Pepsodent toothpaste were distributed to
the potential consumers along with discount schemes.

Challenges Faced by HULToothpaste Category

Prevalence of traditional products used for oral hygiene in the rural market.
The purchase of the toothpaste was a costly proposition for the rural consumers.
Colgate was the major competitor with the maximum market share in the rural market
Rural consumers were price sensitive and value seekers.

Opportunities for Penetration in Rural Market

The rural market was the powerhouse of opportunities, and thus HUL envisaged a tremendous potential
to grow in the rural market. It leveraged the following facts to penetrate in the rural market.

1. The income and the spending level of the consumers was rising (Figure 4).
2. The awareness about the personal hygiene was spreading amongst the rural masses because
of the increase in the literacy level.

Figure 4. Increase in Spending2011 over 2010 (%HHs)

Source: Primary Research (MKC).

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Bahal and Sahay 529

3. The media reach was increasing in the rural area, which made it possible to promote the products
to the consumers in the best possible way.
4. Since the consumers in the rural markets were price sensitive, the bottom of the pyramid approach
was the best suited strategic option available to the marketers for the product penetration.

Consumer Buying Behaviour

Rural consumers exhibited a contrasting buying behaviour as compared to their urban counterparts.
Consumers believed in the trial of the product before the actual purchase. Culture and social groups also
played a vital role in influencing the buying behaviour of the rural consumers. The enticing factors
influencing their purchase decision were price, promotional offers, colour scheme used in the packaging
and the availability of the particular brand. Retailers acted as the key influencers and the ongoing
promotional schemes helped to push the brand to the consumers. It has been noticed that dentists
recommendation on the ongoing promotional schemes of the toothpaste brand helped to sell the brand in
the better way, as they valued their recommendations and finally landed up purchasing the brand.
Consumer behaviour of the rural consumers has to be studied well by the organizations in order to grab
a stand in the market. There are lot of opportunities bestowed for retailers in the rural markets as the
result of increasing purchasing power of the consumers (Figure 5). Consumer preference has shifted
from toothpowder towards the toothpaste, and now they prefer national/international brands as compared
to local brands. Companies are adopting the 4 As Model (Affordability, Awareness, Availability,
Acceptability) in order to be successful in the rural market.

Figure 5. Share of Wallet Rural

Source: Tiger Roars BCG, 2012.
Note: Others include Personal care, Ceremonies and leisure travel

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530 Global Business Review 16(3)

HULPepsodent Distribution Initiatives

HUL was known for its strong distribution network and it leveraged the same for the penetration of the
toothpaste to the rural customer segment. In order to meet the customers ever-changing needs and grab
the market share, HUL developed the competence of product availability of all its products in all the
outlets at all the times. The company maintained favourable relationship with the intermediaries,
provided incentives to the retailers and worked towards increasing the customer demand for toothpaste
in the rural areas. In this context, various operations/projects were conceptualized and initiated by HUL.
They were:

Project Bharat
It focused on direct marketing and personal selling along with sales promotion at a very large scale. Each
household was provided a box for only ` 15 that comprised of small sachet of clinic shampoo, Pepsodent
toothpaste, Fair and Lovely cream and Ponds Dream flower talc (all of them being HUL brand). They
also provided information about the usage and the consumption of the above-mentioned products with
the help of educational leaflets, audio-visual demonstration and film songs. The total cost of this operation
came around to ` 13 crores that included the operational cost of running 160 vans across villages along
with the salesperson/promoter of the HUL products. The vans were equipped with television and VCRs
for the audio-video promotion of the products.

Project Streamline
The other project conceptualized by HUL was Project Streamline to extend the distribution network.
Under this, the following chain of operations followed:

The star sellers were the end retailers who sold all the products to the end consumer. Project Streamline
extended the market coverage for HUL and was a huge success, as it doubled the companys reach in
rural India in less than two years. Therefore, the distribution network covered 60 per cent of the villages
having population greater than 2000. Furthermore, to enhance its reach and coverage in the remaining
30,000 villages, HUL evolved a three-phase distribution system.
In the first phase, the distribution network comprised of wholesalers and large retailers. They placed bulk
order of personal product to HUL.
The second phase was more customer centric, as the efforts were routed to provide best quality product
to the end customers. In this, there was one registered wholesaler in each market who warehoused the
product and was considered the stock point of the products in that particular market. The registered
wholesaler was provided 1 per cent margin by the company in order to cover the cost of warehousing and
stock maintaining. The products were redistributed from them to the smaller intermediaries who in turn
sold to the end consumers. This helped in increasing the market coverage to a great extent.

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The third phase brought in the concept of Redistribution Stockiest (RS). They took over the registered
wholesalers. The RS provided the products to the companys salesmen who in turn were involved in
personal selling and direct marketing. The RS warehoused the product and kept adequate stock of the
products at his/her end. He/She was much involved in pushing the products sale in the market. This
eventually helped the company to eliminate and minimize stock-out situations. The cost was reduced at
companys end, and the bulk-breaking activity helped in maintaining the stocks and forwarding the same
to the companys salesman.

HUL Promotion
Since conventional media did not reach the rural masses, thus, the product knowledge and awareness
were very much confined and limited. Thus, in order to enhance the communication in the rural market,
HUL initiated Operation Harvest. Under this operation, the HUL vans and its distributors approached
30,000 villages and offered promotional packs to the consumers. In order to enhance the media coverage,
they showed HULs ad of toothpaste product along with others with the help of television and VCR
installed in their vans.
Another approach to enhance the coverage was the conceptualization of Cinema Van Operation that
was funded by the RS. These cinema vans covered various untapped markets/ territory of the rural areas.
They showed small films, songs, dance, etc., from the movie, which had HUL advertisements in between.
Thus, the awareness about the HUL products increased to a great extent. The cinema van also provided
services to the retailers.

Packaging for the Bottom of the Pyramid

HUL worked on the approach of lower price product to get to the bottom of the pyramid. It launched
40 g Pepsodent toothpaste for ` 10, specially targeting the rural consumers compared to the 200 and
100 g packs that were priced at ` 60 and ` 30, respectively, for the urban counterparts. Along with that
HUL launched a low-priced toothpaste brand Aim targeting at rural customers only, which was withdrawn
from the market just two years later in order to promote Pepsodent, which is the toughest competitor to
Colgate in the urban market (Table 3).

Strategic Moves of Pepsodent

HUL understood the consumers psychology before invading the rural market in the toothpaste segment
with its brand Pepsodent. It positioned its brand differently by involving the dentists to promote the oral
care and hygiene through the well-designed oral care awareness programme.
The campaign strategy of HUL for Pepsodent toothpaste named Khushiyon ki Doli was a grand
success. This campaign not only helped in creating brand awareness but also facilitated in product
demonstrations to the rural masses. Four set of dolis (Palanquin) having LCD TVs, DVD player and a
small generator were moved around the village with the purpose of showing the commercials of the
toothpaste brand to the rural masses. In order to make the process more interesting, games were organized

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532 Global Business Review 16(3)

after playing the commercial. The winners were offered discounts on the products or given free samples
of the product as the prize. The campaign constituted a three-step process. Creating awareness about the
company, its product and oral hygiene among the rural consumers constituted the first step of the process.
Thus, a team was constituted to create brand awareness among the rural consumers by organizing events
in local language. The team members prompted the masses to meet at the common point termed as
Mohallas (an area of a town or village; a community). It was during the meeting that the villagers were
informed about the brands, their benefits and details about oral hygiene with the help of the commercials
played on the LCD/TV. In the next step, the team members visited the individual household and promoted
the product by offering free trails and demonstrations. The third stage focussed on ensuring the availability
of the brand with the local retailers.
Khushiyon Ki Doli literally signifies the palanquin (Doli); it is used for promoting the toothpaste
brand through TV commercials. The commercials are played using the audiovideo devices, which
are carried in palanquin from one village to another in order to spread awareness about the brand and
connect with the masses in an effective manner. It was launched in 2010 in three statesUttar Pradesh,
Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtraand was a grand success. Through this initiative, more than 1 crore
(10 million) consumers were contacted directly in more than 28,000 villages across these three states
in 2010. Through this initiative, about 170,000 retailers were also contacted in these villages in 2010. In
2011, HUL extended this initiative to five statesWest Bengal, Bihar, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and
Uttar Pradeshthereby covering around 70000 villages, 25 million consumers and 4 lakh retailers.
According to HUL chairman Harish Manwani, Rural markets are a scattered lot and their connectivity
to the urban centres is poor, creating access and distribution challenges. Through its various rural
initiatives and brand-specific activities, HUL is not just trying to create long-term goodwill but also
establishing a new rural strategy. The promotion strategy of the competitors is given below:

Colgate Dabur
The strategy adopted by Colgate was value for It believed in customized communication
money proposition for the consumers. strategy and also adopted regional dialects in its
Colgate believed that effective communication advertisements and changed its product name in
strategy has to be laid out to build its brand order to meet regional differences. Daburs Lal
in the rural market. Thus, Operation Jagruti Dant Manjan was renamed as Dabur Sivappu Pal
was launched in 2001 in order to promote oral Podi (meaning red tooth powder in English.)
hygiene and educate the rural masses about the **They had bottom of the pyramid strategy
conventional methods of brushing teeth. understanding the fact that the rural consumers
Colgate entrusted free samples of the toothpaste are primarily daily wage earners. Its small packages
and promoted free trials in order to generate and sachets concept was a success in the rural
awareness about the brand. market.

Pepsodent ventured into the partnership with Indian Dental Association (IDA) with a motive of
increasing awareness about oral care. The prima focus of the partnership was to promote oral health
through free dental check-ups, audio-visual demonstrations and distribution of the educational materials.
It involved the school teachers and the rural self-help groups to educate children about the benefits of
rural hygiene. In the words of Priya Nair, Oral Care, Category Head, Hindustan Unilever:

Were very excited about working with our partner, the IDA. Both the organisations are committed to making a
sustainable difference in communities all across India. Weve already had some fantastic successes in a number
of oral health projects that have been running for several years.

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Bahal and Sahay 533

Thus, in order to overcome the distribution problems and penetrate the rural market, HUL came up
with Project Shakti in 2001. Project Shakti empowered the rural women from the self- help group and
also helped the organization to expand its distribution reach.

The Colgate Way!!

Colgate believed in working on their unique selling proposition, which was converting the non-users
into users. Colgate promoted its product aggressively in the rural market by spending approximately
` 4 crore per year. It used promotional vans to cover villages. Promotional films were used to create
brand awareness. It took up sales promotion very aggressively by offering a free toothbrush with
the Colgate toothpaste and used an integrated communication mix to enhance their reach in the
rural market.
Understanding the market needs and tapping them at the right time helped Colgate to have the highest
market penetration of 62% . This in turn led Colgate to be No. 1 player in the rural market for the oral
care segment (Figure 6). It was the first in the category to launch the white toothpowder that hit as a huge
success in the rural market. It had a first movers advantage in the rural areas, as it was focused on
enhancing the reach of its product by reaching the bottom of the pyramid. Thus, they launched the
sachets of both toothpaste and toothpowder at a very low price, that is, ` 2 for 15 g, ` 1.25 for 10 g and
30 g tube was priced at ` 9, which came along with a free toothbrush. Its customer-centric approach led

Figure 6. Market Penetration (%)

Source: MART (2011).

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534 Global Business Review 16(3)

to its success in the rural market. The company believed that the marketing approach for selling the
toothpaste to the rural consumer was unique, as toothpaste could not be sold in the same way as any other
FMCG product.
Understanding the nature of the industry and sentiments of the rural consumers would make the
companies more successful in the rural market. The marketers are required to be more customer centric
in their approach of selling the products to the end consumers. The offering should be utility driven and
should be compatible with the emotional aspirations of the rural consumers.
In fact, HUL really had to pull hard in order to beat the No.1 player in the toothpaste category in
the rural markets. The new strategies had to be formulated in order to increase consumers trust in
the brand. HLL category head, Pradeep Banerjee, was burning midnight oil to develop a marketing
strategy to fulfil the dream of his Chairman. He was wondering which marketing mix is likely to give the
desired result!

The authors are grateful to the anonymous referees of the journal for their extremely useful suggestions to improve
the quality of the article.

Table 1. Oral Care NBO Company Shares by Value 20082012

% Retail Value of Respective Company 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012

Colgate-Palmolive India Ltd 44.0 45.9 46.1 45.8 46.2
Hindustan Unilever Ltd 20.6 20.0 19.2 18.8 19.4
Dabur India Ltd 10.6 10.3 10.7 10.8 10.8
Gillette India Ltd 3.0 3.6 4.2 4.7 5.1
Amway India Enterprises Pvt Ltd 2.9 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3
Anchor Health & Beauty Care Pvt Ltd 2.8 2.9 3.0 3.1 3.2
Johnson & Johnson (India) Ltd 0.3 0.8 1.1 1.4 1.6
GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare Ltd 0.7 0.8
Elder Health Care Ltd 0.0 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1
Hindustan Lever Ltd
Pfizer Ltd
Balsara Hygiene Products Ltd
Others 15.8 13.4 12.5 11.3 9.5
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Source: Euromonitor International (from official statistics, trade associations, trade press, company research, store checks,
trade interviews, trade sources).

Table 2. Population Distribution in India

RuralUrban Urban Rural

Population 2011 377.1 million 833.1million
% of total population 31.16% 68.84%
Source: Census 2011.

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Bahal and Sahay 535

Table 3. On the Retail Shelves

Brands SKU Range (g) MRP (In `)

Colgate Dental Cream 100, 150, 200 & 300 28, 42, 54 & 82
Colgate Cibaca 200 g 27
Colgate Total 12 75 & 150 33 & 62
Colgate Sensitive 50 & 100 35 & 58
Colgate Active Salt 100 & 200 29 & 54
Colgate Advanced Whitening 75 & 150 26 & 50
Colgate Herbal 100 & 200 30 & 55
Colgate Fresh Energy Gel 80, 150 & 200 30, 50 & 63
Colgate Max 80 & 150 29 & 50
Colgate Kids Pink, Blue 40 24, 22
Promise (90 + 90) 28
Dabur Red 100 & 200 29 & 54
Meswak 100 & 200 30 & 56
Babool, Babool Neem (190 + 190), 185 46 & 35
Neem Active 100 & 200 28 & 49
Neem Active Whitening 150 40
Pepsodent Center Fresh 150 52
Pepsodent 2 in 1 80 & 150 30 & 50
Pepsodent Complete 80, 175 & 255 25, 53 & 69
Pepsodent G 150 60
Pepsodent Decay Protection 40, 80 & 175 12, 23 & 46
Pepsodent Sensitive 100 55
Pepsodent Whitening 80 &175 30 & 50
Pepsodent Superman 80 45
Pepsodent Barbie 80 45
Pepsodent Tom & Jerry 80 45
Close Up Lemon Mint, Red 150 50, 53
Close Up Tingly Red 80 32
Close Up Milk Calcium 80 & 150 32 & 57
Close Up Menthol Chill 150 53
Close Up Luscious Lychee 150 58
Close Up Tangerina Burst 150 58
Himalaya Dental Cream 40, 100 & 200 15, 40 & 70
Anchor White 200 35
Source: Company, Edelweiss research 2011.
Note: *At the time of collecting data, it was understood that Oral-B of Proctor & Gamble was planning to enter Indian Market.

1. Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) is the subsidiary of Unilever, known for its quality Fast-Moving Consumer
Goods (FMCG) in over 100 countries. It is the largest FMCG company in India having its presence for 80 years.
It has 35 brands in its kitty, spread across various categories/segments, namely, shampoo, skincare, tea, coffee,
packaged food, etc.
2. The premiumization concept originated almost 5 years ago in the drinks industry. The concept signifies the
introduction or the repositioning of the existing brand in the premium segment. In this, the brand is pushed high
in quality and price to enhance customer experience. Murray Ben, June 17, 2013, Branding Is

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536 Global Business Review 16(3)

3. MART, a leading knowledge-based consulting firm, was started in 1993 with a focus of providing wide range
of services in the area of research, consultancy, strategy implementation and innovation. It covered different
industries including agriculture, consumer goods, technology, etc., primarily catering to the emerging markets.

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