At the Goafest, one of India’s top DJs, set the dance floor ablaze by playing a remix of the Nirma jingle. Truth though is he would have been better off playing a remix of the Wheel jingle that was inspired by the 1960s, Shammi Kapoor hit song Dekho Dekho Dekho from An Evening in Paris. That commercial, set in motion a Wheel that would roll on over the decades to become the blockbuster brand in the Lever stable.
Today with sales of over Rs 2,000 crore Wheel is ‘Brand No 1’ in the HUL portfolio not to mention the world’s largest selling detergent in volume terms. If Wheel were to be a standalone company it would rank 228 on the ET 500. CEO, HUL, puts it rather succinctly when he says that every second Indian is a Wheel consumer.
Relevant consumer insight, optimum supply chain and wide distribution reach together have delivered a winning proposition. Yet, few had imagined in 1987 that Wheel would one day serve half the country or earn half a billion dollars.
The company did try and take on Nirma with clever advertising for Surf — the famous ‘Surf ki khariddari mein hi samajhdari hai’. Both the marketer and the agency decided that this stance could harm Surf. They needed a fighter brand to fight Nirma on its own turf. Using Surf in that battle could affect its equity. Other options like using Sunlight to take on Nirma also did not work as Sunlight had an appeal that was restricted to the east.
And a number of firsts were achieved by Levers for the same. For the first time, the company used third party manufacturers as a primary source of production. Then while the entire portfolio of HLL had a stable pricing, Wheel opted for a dynamic pricing. For example, depending on local tax structures, extent of competition in each state and other such factors, the pricing would differ from state to state.
It also helped that the competition was not spread evenly. Wheel’s success has been driven by its ability to leverage HUL’s distribution strength to reach consumers in even the most remote parts of the country.
Communication was the other big challenge since in those days Lever advertising for detergents was templated always showing housewives in white saris. Nirma broke that template with young people singing, dancing and leaping to a catchy jingle. Everyone thought Karsanbhai must be a very modern man, given that all these people in the ad were dressed in short skirts and pants.
It was decided that the advertising for Wheel would break the template. So in order to combat Shiamak Davar’s dancers swinging to Washing Powder Nirma, Levers came up with the classic ‘Dekho Dekho Dekho’ jingle, a riot of colours and wild choreography. That jingle was a big hit.
While the brand did reasonably well, it yet had to hit the high notes and this came when HLL zoned in on a compelling consumer insight and the agency produced a great commercial. The insight was that many Nirma users complained of burning hands. Research picked up the insight that Nirma was not kind on hands because of its high soda ash content. Still it was not an easy task, because consumers felt if a powder burns it washes well.
The insight resulted in the “Maine maangi thi safaai, aur tu ne di haathon ki jalan” commercial, which took the battle straight to Nirma’s turf. This was the take off point and suddenly it edged closer to Nirma.
Since then the brand has constantly innovated with variants like Blue Wheel, Wheel for colored clothes and Wheel Active Gold. Today it has a 11% share nationally followed closely by Nirma with 10% and Ghari at 9%. In value terms however, the gap is large with Wheel having a 17.6% share followed by Ghari at 12.3% and Nirma at 11.7%.
For Wheel the battle is anything but over. According to HUL estimates, there are 450 brands across the country competing in this space. To engage with its audience, for the last few years Wheel has brought the homemaker to the centre stage through its program Wheel Smart Shrimati. From being a part of commercial breaks to becoming the program, Wheel has come a full circle.