03 November 2017 14:17:53 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.

Boroline: Soothing skin since 1929

The brand was way ahead of its time and has managed to remain the market leader since inception

To many people, the Boroline jingle ‘Khushbhudhar (scented) antiseptic cream – Boroline!’ is a portal to another time; of scraped knees and sun-browned skin due to cricket/football played on the streets, and the liberal application of Boroline at night to heal the wounds. Apart from finding favour with the common man, it’s used by achievers too. A woman scientist, who was part of the 1983 Antarctica Expedition and a soldier posted high up in the Himalayas have hailed Boroline for helping them in hostile climes.

Make in India, pre-Independence

Boroline is a product of GD Pharmaceuticals Ltd., launched in 1929, in Kolkata, by Gourmohan Dutta. He was a rich merchant who traded in imported goods. But when he joined the Swadeshi movement, he entered into the principle of it with zeal and began manufacturing medicinal products to compete with the foreign ones. Dutta was a patriot but also a practical man who realised that by manufacturing indigenous preparations that would be equal in quality to their foreign counterparts, not only was he cocking a snook at the British but also taking advantage of the nationalistic fervour.

The company’s flagship product Boroline consisted of antiseptic boric acid, zinc oxide and anhydrous lanolin. The name ‘Boroline’ is derived from the ingredients antiseptic ‘boric’ powder and the Latin word for oil ‘oleum’. Initially, the product was prepared and stored at the founder’s residence in North Kolkata; the place has since been known as ‘The Boroline House’.

A lot of thought went into choosing the logo: the elephant was chosen to signify strength and steadiness; and being an auspicious animal, to bestow ‘luck/success’ on the new product.

This perfumed cream, which soon became a panacea for almost all skin problems, caught the public’s imagination with its undeniable and consistent quality. Soon it became a household name; even copycat products could not stand up to it.

It was a matter of pride, in those days, to choose the indigenously-made Boroline over other products. In fact, the day India attained independence, Kolkata newspapers carried an ad announcing that Boroline would be distributed free of cost at two outlets on that day to celebrate the event. More than 1 lakh tubes were reportedly given away.

The product continued to grow in strength over the decades. There was a short spell of two years in the early 1990s when it almost completely disappeared from retail stores, due to a slowdown in production caused by stagnant pricing. But it returned stronger than ever, with consumer recall doubling its sales in no time.

The company has two fully-automated production units — one in Chakbagi, West Bengal, and the other at Mohun Nagar Industrial Area, Ghaziabad. Warehousing facilities at over 16 regional centres across the country allow it to store its products; distribution is taken care of by about 650 channels pan-India.

Ahead of its time

This octogenarian brand, used by three generations of Indians, was years ahead of its time when it came to advertising and promotion. When sponsorship was not even thought about, Boroline made its presence felt at sports fixtures and festival celebrations. (The Jawaharlal Nehru Invitation International Football Gold Cup, now called the Nehru Cup, has been sponsored by Boroline since 1982). It went in for newspaper and magazine advertisements, radio spots, and even outdoor publicity in a big way. The brand image was promoted even in rural areas, which is perhaps the reason it is recognised there as the haathiwala chaap cream or ‘elephant mark/brand’ cream even today.

The product has woven itself into the very fabric of people’s lives by intelligent positioning and achange in taglines — from being promoted as a ‘tender face cream’ in the 1950s, it became a must for skincare in the 1960s. In the next decade, it cleverly worked its ‘indispensable’ image into the copy by saying ‘Boroline has no substitute’; went on to emphasise its trustworthiness by calling itself the ‘hardworking cream’ and surged ahead to dispose of copycat versions by calling itself the ‘original’. The manufacturers claim that customer feedback actually helped them with the taglines.

The 1990s saw competition build up, but Boroline did not change either its packing or image to counter the challenge, trusting its reputation for quality to keep it on top. (In order to protect its image, the company even refused to use the ‘free gift’ gimmick to sell the product.)

One of the reasons for this was the huge rural market, most of it illiterate: people in rural areas had already identified the haathi brand and the green and white packing as a source of comfort. Any change in logo or packing would cause problems (a market research study confirmed the company’s concern). This is why even brand extensions were not considered.

Today’s scenario

The antiseptic skin care market in India today is said to be worth around ₹450 crore, of which Boroline reportedly has a 25 per cent share. It remains an important part of first-aid kits as it is considered suitable for all skin types, for all ages, and in all weather conditions. Not only does it heal dry and rough skin, sunburn, itching and skin infections, but also baby diaper rash, cracked heels, and even operation stitch scars. While the quality has remained consistent over the decades, the pricing also has been reasonable.

Other products from the company are Suthol antiseptic liquid, Eleen hair oil, Glosoft facewash and Penorub Red pain relief cream (these don’t have a national presence yet). The company claims to use only natural ingredients in all its products.

Market watchers feel that the product does not appeal to younger generations because of its oiliness (the manufacturers call it density and richness) and its old moss-green packaging (recently, a tub has been added to the tube). They feel that though there is very high brand recall, it has not led to higher convertibility.

But the numbers belie this assumption. GD Pharmaceuticals’ turnover in 2015-16 was reported to be around ₹150 crore; Boroline’s contribution was 60 per cent. Not only that, Boroline also won the award for India’s Most Admired Brand in 2015-16. More admirable is the fact that it has made it to the ‘Indian Superbrands’ list continuously since 2003!

Giving back

The company has striven to remain environment-friendly by using only recyclable packing materials. The waste produced is bio-degradable. Effluents released during the production process are pre-treated before allowing for bio-degradation in a water reservoir maintained by the company. It is also contributing to plantation projects for maintaining green cover. The Boroline Herbal Garden is a state-of-the-art research facility in Kolkata.

Its CSR activities focus on providing financial aid to underprivileged patients (adults and children) for operations and corrective surgeries. Boroline is also associated with the arts – it sponsors the music festival Sahaj Parav. Boroline recently sponsored Amazon India Fashion Week on the basic premise that while fashion enhances beauty, Boroline maintains beauty.