Over a hundred years ago toothpaste came not in squishable plastic tubes but in glass jars; much like those used to store jams and pickles today. And one of the primary ingredients in the toothpowder from a century ago was soap. That’s right, soap. Not alarming at all if you consider what the Egyptians and even the Greeks and the Romans used to clean their pearly whites. Try ashes of ox hooves, burnt egg and snail shells and crushed bones among other things.
In India oral hygiene meant munching on a piece of bark or root and a quick gargle afterwards, an ancient but somewhat effective method nonetheless. As astonishing as it might seem this is not a history lesson on tooth cleaning. Today, Indian consumers have multiple brands and flavours and product features to suit every dental need – cherry colour (and flavour), pastes for kids and even high-end toothpaste for temperamental teeth. We’ve come a long way indeed, baby! Now here we are, with countless brands on shop shelves and over a decade after Brand Equity’s Most Trusted Brands came into being.
It was a mere four years ago, in 2008 when a toothpaste brand lost its place at the very top of the charts that too after four years of absolute domination. But four years is a long time – time during which Colgate never once relinquished the No 2 spot. And with the right moves and thanks to a few mistakes by the other contender, it has led to the opportunity of a new reign for brand Colgate.
So how do they do it? How does a brand over years, and multiple onslaughts from competition, not only maintain its place, but make a dramatic comeback? The answer is intriguingly simple and comes straight from the global chief, who has been with the company for well over three decades. Ian Cook, CEO and president, Colgate-Palmolive Co, says, "Our goal in every country where we do business is to have relevant offerings to meet the needs of consumers at all levels. We have strived to use our emphasis on basic oral care awareness in rural and urban India to build a bond with the consumer and with dental professionals. By doing this we believe the brand has shaped the oral care category in India, taking it beyond just cavities and expanding it with a product portfolio that now addresses a wide array of consumer oral health needs."
Cook refers to initiatives like Oral Health Month which started in 2004 in partnership with the Indian Dental Association (IDA). And to programmes like Colgate’s Bright Smiles, Bright Futures initiative that has reached over 95 million school children.
Its goal is to educate kids about basic oral care; for instance, why it is important to brush twice daily.
But for now, the biggest challenge of course has been and will be the task of making Colgate products available in millions of outlets across the length and breadth of the country and that is absolutely critical says Cook.
Therefore, the company works closely with thousands of small shop owners and local wholesalers to ensure greater availability of its products everywhere.