Nirma has jumped into the ongoing cricket spectacle as the principal sponsor for the Virat Kohli-led Royal Challengers Bangalore to raise awareness and recognition for the cement brands it acquired after its purchase of the erstwhile Lafarge India’s assets in 2016.
For Karsanbhai Patel’s Nirma, the past is never far from its present efforts and businesses.
Especially as the detergent brand that challenged multinational giants Hindustan Unilever (HUL) and Procter & Gamble (P&G) way back in the 'eighties with its sharp marketing tactics and memorable advertising jingles gets into campaign mode for its cement acquisitions Duraguard and Concreto.
Nirma has jumped into the ongoing cricket spectacle that is the Indian Premier League as the principal sponsor for the Virat Kohli-led Royal Challengers Bangalore to raise awareness and recognition for the cement brands it acquired after its purchase of the erstwhile Lafarge India’s assets in 2016.
However, the new campaign seems to acknowledge the big challenge that Nirma faces today point experts.
An old brand looking to leverage its feisty and all-Indian identity in a new category that plays by a completely different set of brand rules.
Back in 2016, when the Nirma Group announced its purchase of Lafarge India’s cement assets, the general expectation was that the company would use the Nirma brand name to drive recognition and recall for the cement brands that were mostly known within the business-to-business community.
The group, however, chose a different path, creating a new brand Nuvoco for its cement labels while also retaining rights for the Lafarge brands.
Two years down the line, Nirma’s branding plans for cement seem to indicate that the company will go with a new set of names for its new business.
That is perhaps why, when in March this year, Nuvoco announced its association with RCB as principal partner and back-of-jersey sponsor for IPL 2018 it chose to put Duraguard on the jersey and not ‘Nuvoco’.
Madhumita Basu, chief of sales, marketing and innovation said soon after announcing the association: “Their (RCB) style of play is quite innovative and the squad is dynamic and charismatic with players like AB de Villiers, Yuzvendra Chahal, Umesh Yadav; not to mention skipper Virat Kohli.
"Their passion for the game coupled with a never-say-die attitude is appreciated universally; very similar to the promise inherent in Duraguard Cement.”
In a way the brand is hoping that consumers will associate the brand with the fighting spirit that Kohli is known for, on the cricket field.
The flip side is that Kohli is the face of so many brands that consumers are unlikely to recall his association with any single product.
“I think Nirma did the right thing by using Nuvoco (as the company name). While Nirma is a household name it is too closely associated with soaps and detergents and to use the name for cement would not have been wise.
"There are limits to how much a brand can stretch and Nirma would have had no credentials as a cement brand,” said Prabhakar Mundkur, senior advertising and branding professional.
Nuvoco came into existence in 2017 after Nirma sealed the deal for the purchase of Lafarge’s Indian cement assets.
The acquired cement business was named Nuvoco Vista Corp.
Nirma acquired the assets through its wholly-owned subsidiary Nirchem Cement at an enterprise value of over $1.4 billion in October 2016.
Experts had said at the time that the company may well keep the old name out of its new business, looking to make a clean break from the past.
So, why did Nirma not clean up the jumble of labels in its portfolio and opt for a single brand name, say Nuvoco, for its cement products?
Mundkur suggests that the reason is more strategic.
Duraguard may have been an easier option for the company given that it already has some recall and is an established label under the Lafarge umbrella.
“In Nuvoco vs Duraguard it would have been easier to establish Duraguard as a brand.
"Also, Duraguard seems to mean durability and protection whereas Nuvoco is a coined name that does not have any immediate associations,” he said.
However, Nirma is walking the tightrope between Nuvoco, Duraguard and Concreto to establish its identity in the cement business. It has adopted a dual approach, pitching Nuvoco as a corporate label and the others as consumer labels.
“Among other things, we have been told to inform customers that Lafarge is now Nuvoco,” said a central India based cement dealer.
The company has also released Nuvoco branded merchandise like wrist bands to be supplied to sales representatives, there is also more prominence being given to the Nuvoco label on dealer boards and on cement bags.
The company has launched television commercials around the Nuvoco logo, while promoting the Concreto label. The ads further reinforce the identity change by informing viewers that Nuvoco was earlier Lafarge.
Nirma is known for its astute pricing and marketing sense say dealers and that is evident even in the way they are building the cement business.
It is creating a premium identity for Concreto and a more mass-market identity for Duraguard.
“The price difference between Concreto and Duraguard has risen in the last one year. Among the two, Concreto is the higher selling brand and the company has made it more expensive than Duraguard,” the dealer added.
Mundkur believes that the Nirma group will be able to replicate its detergent success for its cement business.
“Establishing a new brand in a category is always a challenge but Nirma has had a successful run in branding and will no doubt apply all their learning in branding and marketing in the cement category,” he says.
The Nirma girl remains one of the most enduring images from the television ads of the eighties, but for the new brands to dethrone the ruling stars in the cement stack just as the detergent brand did, it will take more than a memorable jingle and smart sponsorship deals.
Photograph: Kind courtesy, BCCI.