22 September 2018 15:41:33 IST

Malathy Sriram writes poems and short stories for children and adults, as well as book reviews and articles of general interest. She is a post-graduate in English Literature from Ethiraj College for Women, Chennai. Her work has been published in Indian Express, Deccan Herald, Mirror and Femina. She has edited website content and is the editor of The Small Supplement, an online magazine for children with articles on history, science, arts and culture, sports, technology, companies and brands, mythology and short stories. Reading, teaching English, listening to music (all genres) and singing complete her oeuvre.

A well-oiled success strategy

With strict control over raw materials and manufacturing, Keo Karpin is seen as the ‘healthy oil’

I must say I am intrigued by a brand that candidly admits on its website that it lost its way some time ago due to the competition. But now, as it confidently proclaims, it’s back!

Keo Karpin is manufactured by Dey’s Medical Stores (Manufacturing) Ltd. (incorporated in 1957, also popularly referred to as Dey’s). It was originally one of the entrepreneurial ventures that answered the call for indigenously manufactured products and was born out of swadeshi fervour combined with native intelligence in the 1940s in Kolkata.

The founder, Dr BN Dey, started a small retail medical store ‘Dey’s Medical’ in Kolkata in 1941. It soon became well known. During World War II, it reportedly supplied life-saving drugs and medical appliances to the medical profession to treat troops on the battlefield as well as civilians, establishing its name and earning the approval of the medical fraternity.

In 1956, Dey’s decided to enter the hair oil line with its product ‘Keo Karpin’, and the very next year, it set up a production unit to manufacture indigenous goods. But the focus remained on drugs and medicines and the company was moderately successful for the next two decades.

Two events marked a major shift in the product focus. One was said to be the drug price control notice introduced in the late 1970s by the government, which hit all pharmaceutical companies equally, forcing them to cut prices. The other was the change in the consumer perception of what constituted a good hair oil.

Earlier, it was a market saturated with thick oils which stood for nourishment and maintenance of hair; most of these oils were not advertised and, as ‘hair styling’ was practically unheard of, they were just right for the demure plaits and buns adorning women’s heads. There were many brands in the market but no clear-cut leader.

Relaunched for the 1980s and 90s

All this changed by the 1980s, as a young and fashion-conscious generation looked for alternatives to heavy, sticky oils that would ease styling processes. Dey’s was already facing some financial challenges; it recognised the opportunity just waiting to happen and took the first mover advantage. Keo Karpin was relaunched as a light, non-sticky hair oil that was just right for styling hair, pioneering the concept of hair oil as a beauty product.

With sleek advertising and high visibility on TV, Keo Karpin caught the imagination of the public in a big way. As fashion trends changed and different hair styles became more common, its sales increased and it dominated the light hair oil category that it had pioneered. Sales reportedly touched ₹20 crore in 1989.

Sales dropped in the early 1990s as coconut prices fell drastically and consumers started shifting to the much cheaper coconut oils. Keo Karpin was also faced with competition from other light hair oil brands, including coconut oil brands like Parachute.

A complete rethink in strategy was called for. Keo Karpin still had the ‘pioneer’ tag and an emotional bond with the consumers. The product came back strongly with an advertising campaign emphasising the brand’s presence in the different stages of a young girl’s life. (Over the years, it has reworked the concept to include motherly love, romance and the modern woman in its promotional ads.) The product was repositioned to include the ‘nourishment’ tag and the packaging was changed to a PET bottle with a pilfer-proof cap. (Recently, it introduced the first ₹10 hair oil in a PET jar.)

By the late 1990s, Dey’s had brought in other products like hair vitaliser and skin care, which were received very well by the public. With the hair oil promoted as a beauty product and the hair vitaliser as a therapeutic aid, Keo Karpin swung the market its way again. The ‘ Mera har din…Keo Karpin ’ slogan led the new campaign.

Relevant strategies

Keo Karpin has always created clever advertising strategies: the above slogan was followed by the memorable ‘ Hamesha Ready’ tagline that emphasised its lasting quality with added ingredients Vitamin E and Olive oil. The campaign that advised the consumers — Hair ka insurance karo - roz keo karpin karo — continues to hold its own. In addition to this, Keo Karpin has also gone in for promotions in a big way, sponsoring the music show ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’ and associating with cricket (it was the official sponsor of Kolkata Knight Riders in 2015 and 2016). The brand is now popular on Facebook and is regularly searched for on YouTube.

Keo Karpin ingredients include olive oil, vitamin E, arachis (peanut oil), wheatgerm and mineral oil. It was one of the first hair oil brands to realise the importance of adding perfume to hair oils (to remove the smell of the essential raw materials that add nourishment). It moisturises, protects and aids in hair growth. It is said to have been the first effective hair fall control, non-greasy/sticky and perfumed hair oil in India. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the unaided brand recall of the product.

The hair care segment in India today is divided almost equally between oils and shampoos. The hair oil market is reportedly worth about ₹8000 crore and, within this, coconut-based oils account for about 46 per cent, with amla, light hair oils and cooling oils accounting for the rest. Out of these, the maximum growth has been witnessed in the light hair oil category, which has today become so common that different hair oil manufacturers try to gain mileage through added features.

Amid this clutter, Keo Karpin has continued to maintain its position and quality, resorting only to marketing strategies like offering freebies and creating interactive rural activities like road shows and melas to promote the product.

Manufacturing, distribution network

Today there are four manufacturing units — three in West Bengal and one in Uttar Pradesh. It has state-of-the-art R&D labs and keeps strict control not only over procurement of raw materials and manufacturing processes but also over packaging and distribution. Other products include Keo Karpin Oil and two body oils — Herbal Body Oil and Olivoyl.

Its strong distribution network has been one of its greatest assets, but despite the consistently high quality of the product, it has limited international presence.

It has won several awards, the most recent ones being ‘India’s Most Trusted Hair Oil Brand 2015’ and the Superbrand status awarded in 2014-15 and 2016-17. The 2011-12 Consumer Voice Study gave it the number one brand position (based on ease of combing, hue, sensory appeal etc.). The Brand Trust Report of the Trust Research Advisory for National Top 1000 brands places Keo Karpin at the 618th position. The Brand Equity Survey of Economic Times named it one of the most trusted brands in the hair oil category for two years consecutively, in 2014 and 2015. It has been a consistently high-ranked presence in market surveys.

The name Keo Karpin has become synonymous with the ‘healthy oil’ tag. Interestingly, though it is perceived as a feminine brand, 42 per cent of Keo Karpin hair oil users are reportedly men!