In his book Then We Set His Hair On Fire, advertising veteran Phil Dusenberry speaks about the film crew almost setting fire to Michael Jackson’s then wonderful mane during an ad shoot for Pepsi. Obviously, they did have insurance cover.

India’s hair care market is on fire and has become the hot new battle ground for cosmetic brands.

Some years ago men used to go quietly to their favourite barber shop for their monthly ritual. Barbers were, and still are, garrulous people and while we got our hair cut we were captive audience to their tirade about rising prices, the Indian cricket team’s performance and the problems with our economy. In fact, even kings of yore would listen to their barber quite tamely; it pays to be nice to someone running a razor over your throat.

Today the good old barber shop is no more. It is a salon. And some have even become unisex. Shelling out Rs100 is no longer the norm; for special care you often spend more than 10 times that amount. Even global hair salon brands are making their presence felt.

How did all this happen? The seeds of change were sown by the hair dye industry. Hair dye was rebranded “hair colour" and was finally out of the closet. In addition to masking grey hair, hair colours became a style statement. Smart hair colour marketing companies invested heavily in training the local barbers. Special classes were held to teach them how to do “streaking" and many other exotic things to your hair. Lo and behold, the hair dressing business became very profitable.

Central Mumbai, where I live, has seen the mushrooming of hair parlours, one more fancy than the next. I counted at least five of these within a 100 square metre radius. Most are less than five years old. In developed markets, hairdressers charge a fortune and so the trend is towards getting it done at home, by yourself. Fortunately for Indian men and women who want to get their hair coloured, the neighbourhood hair dresser is still a cost-effective solution. So this business is going to continue to grow, thanks to well-planned missionary selling by cosmetic companies.

If hair colour is a booming industry, what about hair creation? Hair loss management or what is called Trichology, is the newly- minted science of studying hair loss and hair repair. So, just as barber shops have become hair parlours, some smart dermatologists have grown new wings (or hair) to become trichologists. Many actors and cricketers have opted for hair transplants and now sport a rich mane where there was none. Gone are the days of quietly slipping off to Dubai for a treatment; today you can get the same treatment in any of the top 50 towns of India. I am sure venture capitalists are also fuelling this craze with easy money. Chances are, innovative Indian doctors will figure out a way of transplanting hair at a fraction of what it costs anywhere in the world —just as they did for cataract surgery.

Finally, facial hair has become cool with young Indian men. Electric shavers have been reborn as facial hair trimming devices, with multiple length settings. If facial hair is cool, can cosmetic brands be far behind? We have seen a spate of new offerings for men’s facial hair. There are the perfumed hair oil for the smart beard, moisturizers, facial hair shampoos, and more. In fact a large company recently acquired a start-up operating in the facial hair space.

The hair care industry is booming with a variety of products for various types of hairs. You can get shampoos in more than 10 variants, conditioners, hair serums, hair tonics, hair gels, hair sprays... the list is endless. Add to this list specific Indian concoctions such as hair oils of varied hues. The list is indeed any marketing professional’s dream. In addition to consumer packaged goods companies, appliance makers too have jumped in. What was once just a hair dryer market is today splintered into many dozen types of products, for facial hair, for hair straightening, for hair curling and more.

What next in hair care, I wonder?

Last month I spotted a lady who had a few strands of golden hair interwoven into her black hair (which was probably coloured anyway). Is that a new trend? Can you imagine real gold and silver strands woven into hair?

Dusenberry was probably prophetic when he said, advertisers are setting people’s hair on fire.

Ambi M.G. Parameswaran is brand strategist and founder of Brand-Building.com, a brand advisory. He takes a look every month at emerging trends in marketing, advertising and consumer behaviour. The views expressed are his own.

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