CASE: IV DELVING DEEP INTO USER'S MIND
Whirlpool is an American brand alright, but has
succeeded in empowering the Indian housewife with just the
tools she would have designed for herself. A washing machine that doesn't expect her to get 'ready for
the show' (Videocon's old jingle), nor adapt her plumbing, power supply, dress sense, values, attitudes
and lifestyle to suit American standards.
That, in short, is the reason that Whirlpool White Magic, in just three years since its launch in 1999,
has become the choice of the discerning Indian housewife. Also worth noting is how quickly the brand's
sound mnemonic, 'Whirlpool, Whirlpool', has established itself.
As a company, the US-based white goods major Whirlpool had entered India in 1989, in a joint
venture with the TVS group. Videocon, which had pioneered washing machines in India, was the
market leader with its range of low-priced 'washers' (spinning tubs) and semi-automatic machines,
which required manual supervision and some labour. The brand's TV commercial, created by Pune-
based SJ Advertising, has evoked considerable interest with its jingle ('It washes, it rinses, it even dries
your clothes, in just a few minutes...and you're ready for the show'). IFB-Bosch's front-loading, fully
automatic machines, which could be programmed and left to do their job, were the labour-free option.
But they were considered expensive and unsuited to Indian conditions. So Videocon faced competition
from me-too machines such as BPL-Sanyo's. TVS Whirlpool was something of an also-ran.
The market's sophistication started rising in the 1990s and there was a growing opportunity in the
price-performance gap between expensive automatics and laborious semi-automatics. In 1995,
Whirlpool gained a majority control of TVS Whirlpool, which was then renamed Whirlpool Washing
Machines Ltd (WMML). Meanwhile, the parent bought Kelvinator of India, and merged the refrigerator
business in 1996 with WMML to create Whirlpool of India (WOI), to market both fridges and washing
machines. Whirlpool's 'Flexigerator' fridge hit the market in 1997. Two years later, WOI launched its star
White Magic range of washing machines.
Whitemagic was late to the market, but WOI converted this to a 'knowledge advantage' by using the
1990s to study the Indian market intensely, through qualitative and quantitative market research (MR)
tools, with the help of IMRB and MBL India. The research team delved deep into the psyche of the
Indian housewife, her habits, her attitude towards life, her schedule, her every day concerns and most
importantly, her innate 'laundry wisdom'.
If Ashok Bhasin, vice-president marketing, WOI, was keen on understanding the psychodynamics of
Indian clothes washing, it was because of his belief that people's attitudes and perceptions of
categories and brands are formed against the backdrop of their bigger attitudes in life, which could be
shaped by broader trends. It was intuitive, to begin with, that the housewife wanted to gain direct control
over crucial household operations. It was found that clothes washing was the daily activity for the Indian
housewife, whether it was done personally, by a maid, or by a machine.
The key finding, however, was the pride in self-done washing. To the CEO of the Indian household,
there was no displacing the hand wash as the best on quality. And quality was to be judged in terms of
'whiteness'. Other issues concerned water consumption, quantity of detergent used, and fabric
care—also something optimized best by herself. A thorough wash, done with gentle agility, was what
the magic was all about.
That was the break-through insight used by Whirlpool for the design of all its washing machines,
which adopted a '1-2, 1-2 Hand Wash Agitator System' to mimic the preferred handwash technique.
With a consumer so particular about washing, one could expect her to be value-conscious on other
aspects too. Sure enough, WOI found the housewife willing to pay a premium for a product designed
the way she wanted it. Even for a fully automatic, she wanted a top-loader; this way, she doesn't fear
clothes getting trapped in if the power fails, and retains the ability to lift the shutter to take clothes out
(or add to the wash) even while the machine is in the midst of its job.
The target consumer, defined psychographically as the Turning Modernist (TM), was decided upon
only after the initial MR exercise was concluded. This was also the stage at which the unique selling
proposition (USP)—'whitest white'—was thrashed out.
WOI first launched a fully automatic machine, with the hand-wash agitator. Then came the deluxe
model with a 'hot wash' function. The product took off well, but WOI felt that a large chunk of the TM
segment was also budget-bound. And was quite okay with having to supervise the machine. This
consumer's identity as a 'home-maker' was important to her, an insight that Whirlpool was using for the
brand overall, in every product category.
So WOI launched a semi-automatic washing machine, with 'Agisoak' as a catchword to justify a
10—15 per cent premium over other brand's semi-automatics available in India.
The advertising, WOI was clear, had to flow from the same stream of reasoning. It had to be
responsive, caring, modern, stylish, and warm, and had to portray the victory of the Homemaker. FCB-
Ulka, which had bagged Whirlpool's account in March 1997 from contract (in a global alignment shift),
worked with WOI to coin the sub-brand Whitemagic, to break into consumer mindspace with the
The launch commercial on TV, in August 1999, scored a big success with its 'Whirlpool, Whirlpool'
jingle...and a mother's fantasy of her daughter's clothes wowing others. A product demonstration
sequence took the '1-2, 1-2' message home, reassuring the consumer that the wash would be just as
good as that of her own hand. The net benefit, of course, was an unharried home life.
Sadly, the Indian market for washing machines has been in recession for the past two years, with
overall volumes declining. This makes it a fight for market share, with the odds stacked against
Even though Whirlpool has sought to nudge the market's value perception upwards, Videocon
remains the largest selling brand in volume terms with its competitively priced machines. Washers have
been displaced by semi-automatics, which are now the market's mainstay (in the Rs 7,000-12,000 price
range). In fact, these account for three-fourths of the 1.2 million units the Indian market sold in 2000.
With a share of 17 per cent, Whirlpool is No. 2 in this voluminous segment.
Whirlpool's bigger success has been in the fully automatic segment (Rs 12,000-36,000 range). This
is smaller with sales of 177,600 units in 2000, but is predicted to become the dominant one as Indian
GDP per head reaches for the $1,000 mark. With a 26 per cent share, Whirlpool has attained
leadership of this segment.
That places WOI at the appropriate juncture to plot the value curve to be ascended over the new
According to IMRB data, Whirlpool finds itself in the consideration set of 54 per cent of all
prospective washing machine buyers, and has an ad recall of close to 85 per cent. This indicates the
medium-term potential of Whitemagic, a Rs20.5 crore on a turnover of Rs1,042.8 crore, one-fifth of
which was on account of washing machines.
The innovations continue. Recently, Whirlpool has launched semi-automatic machines with 'hot
wash'. The brand's 'magic' isn't showing signs of wearing off either. The current 'mummy's magic'
campaign on TV is trying to sell Whitemagic as a competent machine even for heavy duty washing such
as ketchup stains on a white tablecloth.
The Homemaker, of course, remains the focus of attention. And she remains as vivacious, unruffled,
and in control as ever. The attitude: you can sling the muckiest of stuff on to white cloth, but sparkling
white is what it remains for its her hand that'll work the magic, with a little help from some friends... such
1. What product strategy did WOI adopt? And why? Global standardisation? Local customisaton?
2. What pricing strategy did WOI follow? What, according to you, could have been the appropriate strategy?
3. What lessons can other white goods manufacturers learn from WOI?
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