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Indians have been gravitating towards health and wellness over the past few years, driving a trend that has given rise to both big multinational and homegrown fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies launching products suited to these needs. The shift also spawned many a startup in the foods and cosmetics segments with a selling proposition based on “natural" ingredients and the goodness of Ayurveda, among others.

Covid-19 and the ensuing health crisis have only accelerated this trend. However, it can safely be said that the pandemic also pushed many companies—not necessarily in the food or beauty space—to use the health plank to peddle products. In many cases, the promise remains unconvincing.

In the past few months, an assortment of brands played on the benefits of Ayurveda to hardsell their launches. In September, Peter England, the menswear brand from Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd, launched a Neem Tulsi Collection as an innovation in wellness fashion. It said the apparel in this collection used fabric which was infused with the goodness of herbs with anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties that could last up to 20 gentle washes. It was not the only brand that pushed treating the fabric with the help of tech to make it virus-resistant. Among others, textile manufacturer RSWM Ltd (part of LNJ Bhilwara Group) also launched an anti-viral range under its Mayur fabrics brand.

One thought that with the arrival of 2021, some of these trends may subside. Yet, the New Year saw a new ad from mattress firm Sheela Foam Ltd for its brand Sleepwell. The ad, currently on digital platforms, talks of mattress hygiene with its revolutionary Neem Fresche technology.

Last week, Eureka Forbes launched a new product, Dr. Aquaguard with Ayurfresh technology. It has been positioned as “India’s only water purifier with the goodness of seven Ayurvedic ingredients in every glass of water". Its USP is that a consumer need not boil essential Ayurvedic herbs in water for health benefits. The new water purifier’s cartridge is loaded with herbs and spices, including cinnamon, black pepper, clove, cumin, cardamom, tulsi leaves and ginger, sourced from Kerala.

Clearly, companies are offering a modern take on Ayurveda to resonate with consumers.

Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting, says Ayurveda was enjoying a revival in India even before covid-19 struck, and this was evident in categories of nutritional supplements, cosmetics and personal care, with brands like Dabur, Himalaya, Organic India, Kama and Forest Essentials. They lent this ancient Indian healthcare tradition greater acceptability both in terms of credibility and aspirational value.

However, the pandemic also gave rise to opportunistic marketing initiatives by some brands to try and exploit the heightened health concerns of consumers—“the force-fitted association with Ayurveda being one such instance", said Sinha.

“While it does make sense up to a point to claim the health benefits of Ayurveda in edible and cosmetic products, or even in a water purifier for that matter, its extension to apparel and mattresses does stretch it to a level of ludicrousness," he said.

Branding requires consistency and patience to build a narrative and, therefore, brands should not try to latch on to every passing trend just for the sake of some dubious short-term gains. It also leads to a confused and incongruous narrative, he said.

Sanjay Sarma, founder, SSARMA Consults, a boutique branding and communication advisory, agrees that the anti-corona product proliferation with any and every brand force-fitting health and hygiene into their narrative, is, at best, a short-term strategy. “From your morning cup of immunity tea to the mattress that you sleep at night on, and everything else in between, everyone seems to be making unsubstantiated claims and pushing untested and unverified quality parameters," he said. It is opportunistic, thrives on fear marketing and the “vocal for local" clarion call, and won’t last beyond the pandemic, he said.

He says for bigger and more established brands and companies, it is a short-term strategic pivot for survival during tough economic conditions. But once regulations are in place and the panic subsides, most of these products and brands will be under greater scrutiny and find it difficult to survive.

He advises brands to rise to the occasion in tough times and, instead of using quackery, focus on their core values and purpose.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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