June 16, 2024

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Clearing the air, Marketing & Advertising News, ET BrandEquity

6 min read

<p>Representative image</p>
Representative image

Vital, invisible, enveloping. Air is everywhere, but who gave it such serious thought before a pandemic, global warming, pollution and billionaire notions of inhabiting Mars?

The Covid-19 years — for which masked faces were a defining visual — have had a long-lasting impact. Ever since, people have begun focusing more on that ubiquitous entity — air. They have become especially conscious about the quality of what they breathe and the dangerous effects of viruses, rising heatwaves and free radicals.

But how are air solutions brands catering to a freakishly rising consumer quest for clean, sanitised air everywhere?

All are welcome

The customer base in this space is Gen X, millennials and Gen Z across demographics and geographies. “They are consumers who are looking at smart, premium appliances that can help redefine their living,” says Dhiraj Sharma, head of marketing and brand, Panasonic Life Solutions India.

When it comes to buying air cooling products, customers fall into two brackets: First-time buyers or the more evolved customers. “While the first-time buyer prioritises cooling efficiency as the main driver, the evolved buyer looks at value adds and additional features,” says Deba Ghoshal, VP and head of marketing, Voltas.

Overall, customers are inclined to choose cooling, comfort, convenience and innovation when it comes to their cooling appliances. They also want sleek, well-designed, aesthetically pleasing appliances that reflect their aspirational lifestyles. Ghoshal adds, “These customers seek intuitive and sustainable solutions that integrate into their lifestyles and offer savings on energy consumption.”

In FY 2023-24, Voltas recorded the highest ever AC sales — over two million units sold with a volume growth of 72% in the last quarter.

Scent sense

Customers want pure and fresh air, but they also want the air indoors to smell pleasant. The air freshener market’s estimated size — Rs. 1,200 crore as pegged by experts, growing at a rate of 32% and comprising home, bathroom, and car fragrances — points to a demand for fragrant surroundings.

Ashwin Moorthy, CMO, India, Godrej Consumer Products, with its Godrej Aer range of fresheners, observes that customers’ need to elevate their lifestyles and personal image has fuelled this growth. Gel-based bathroom fresheners and automatic aerosols are two of the most popular types of fresheners, mostly because they’re convenient and well-suited for households with compact bathrooms and toilets. “Consumers associate the presence of germs with unpleasant smells, making odour removal solutions highly sought-after,” he says.

Akshat Bhatt, principal architect, Architecture Discipline, points out, “Organisations are already exploring filtration systems that utilise ultraviolet bulbs to eliminate bacteria and viruses from the environment.”

Intuitive devices

Brands in the air solutions space are invested in making intuitive, tech-led products that can anticipate customer needs and go beyond.

“Our ambition is for our machines to become more intelligent, not only anticipating your needs but also having the ability to self-identify problems, troubleshoot and resolve them, all before you notice something is wrong,” shares Toby Godwin, design engineer at Dyson. Currently, the brand’s purifiers sense and capture pollution, informing owners about the air quality. This aids the company in future product development.

So when it comes to appliances, a simple device that cools or purifies the air might not cut it anymore. There’s a preference for ‘smart devices’. Mass-premium category fan brand Atomberg has fans that can be controlled by an app or voice commands. Arindam Paul, chief business officer, Atomberg, says it’s all about convenience. “A remote control/app-controlled fan has many use cases, like [remotely] changing speeds at night or early in the mornings,” he adds.

A bundle of purifiers

As consumers increasingly seek tech-savvy options for their living spaces, brands offer ACs that bundle smart features and IoT capabilities. Customers prefer units that have lower noise levels, easy temperature adjustments, tracking of energy consumption, compatibility with Alexa and Google Home and other features accessible via an app. Some, such as Voltas, bundle air purifying features — inhibiting the growth of bacteria, moulds and viruses, even minimising dust.

A Reliance Digital spokesperson says, “The AC category has seen many innovations, be it AI-enabled smart ACs with deep learning algorithms that deliver optimum cooling based on environmental conditions or smart connectivity features like voice control/app control to self-cleaning mode available at the click of a button.”

Even air fresheners have ‘smart’ variants. Godrej Aer’s Smart Matic is a mobile app- and Bluetooth-enabled fragrance diffuser, compatible with Android and iOS gadgets.

Experts point out, though, that humans are significant contributors to indoor pollution. An enclosed space contains a higher level of carbon dioxide due to respiration. In fact, indoor environments tend to be 40% to 60% more polluted than the outside. But Bhatt says, “Air filters and gadgets like electrostatic precipitators provide effective air quality solutions. Amidst the information overload, there’s often unnecessary panic.”

Demand patterns

Typically, the demand for air cooling products peak during summer. That’s usually February to June. The Reliance Digital spokesperson says that “ACs are increasingly becoming an all-season requirement, as customers prefer comfortable ambient temperature”.

“Tier-2 and 3 areas are emerging as promising markets with growing consumer aspirations and purchasing power,” adds Panasonic’s Sharma.

Consumers are hyper-aware, with terms like the Air Quality Index (AQI) entering common parlance. “Air purifiers are useful all year round. However, in the north [of India], demand peaks during winter due to deteriorating air quality,” says a Xiaomi spokesperson. The presence of pollen and free radicals in the air, not to mention smog due to construction in metros and towns, gives way to never-ending allergies. It’s perhaps why Xiaomi India saw a 200% YoY growth in purifier sales in November 2023.

The air freshener category, however, works differently. Moorthy says typical usage patterns tend to be occasion-based, typically arising once or twice a year. “The primary occasion for consumers is preparing their home space to welcome guests, which is high during festivals or special occasions. The second instance of relevance occurs during seasonal changes, such as monsoons, when damp and musty odours arise due to excessive moisture,” he explains.

The fans category, though, sells all year. “Yes, there is a spike during summers,” says Paul. “Pedestal fans, table fans and air coolers are more seasonal.”

Marketing air

So, how does a brand market something unseen like air? “Our [Voltas’s] focus has shifted from solely emphasising on cooling efficiency and energy conservation to highlighting the higher-order benefits — adjustable mode, air purification, silent operation and smart connectivity,” says Ghoshal.

Marketing strategies for AC brands also include a mix of promotional offers and regular engagement on social media platforms. Sharma says that owing to content consumption patterns changing from traditional advertising to digital, Panasonic has increased its marketing investments on digital platforms. “With Gen Z and millennials as our target set for communications, we now look at 360-degree campaigns covering owned, earned and paid mediums,” he says.

Godrej Aer, meanwhile, has a door-to-door program across metros to reach an untapped consumer base. Moorthy says that the brand is “associating the need for air care with the arrival of guests. This strategy targets the embarrassment of a bad smell when guests visit.”

AC makers clock two-fold jump in sales in May

Amidst the scorching summers, despite leading manufacturers grappling with delays in installing and replenishing inventories of the hot selling energy-efficient models, sales have jumped almost two-fold. While LG Electronics claims to have surpassed the last five years record, Tata group company, Voltas is confident of touching the two million mark in unit sales in the first six months of this calendar year.

ACs and fridges will only be getting more expensive

Consumers have to shell out two to five per cent more from this month to purchase electrical consumer goods such as refrigerators, washing machines, microwave ovens, fans, kitchen appliances, wires and pumps. The latest round of price hikes comes after almost nine months, following a high inflation rate of 20-25 per cent in key commodities such as copper and aluminium and increase in freight costs in the past two-four months due to the Red Sea crisis, besides rupee depreciation, they said.

  • Published On Jun 6, 2024 at 08:29 AM IST

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