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The story of Burnol in India offers some unique insights. Available in a yellow tube, this burns-relief ointment has
been around for six decades long enough to become generic to the usage category (only to be expected, given the name).
Originally, the yellow ointment was a breakthrough idea, at least partly because it resembled turmeric paste, the traditional
household burns-relief application in India.
Recently, the brand was acquired by Dr. Morepen, a fully-owned subsidiary of Morepen Laboratories Ltd. from Reckitt
Piramal. It is not often that one of Indias strongest brands changes hands. According to Sushil Suri, C & MD, Morepen
Laboratories Ltd. Burnol still has a recall of over 90% in India even amongst below 25s.
Two other facts worth mentioning are that Morepen is the brands third owner, and that the brand was sold for
Rs.8.95 crores. The market for such ointments has been stagnant for years. Revival teams have even tried to widen the
brands usage to secure growth, but in vain. Yet, Morepen feels that the brand holds potential. Could it be right?
Burnol was first launched as a cream to soothe & heal skin burns, in India around 60 years ago, by Boots Pure Drug Co.
(India) Pvt. Ltd. which was importing it from its parent in U.K. Domestic manufacture started in 1948. With J. Walter
Thompson (JWT) as the ad agency, it was launched at about a Rupee per 25 gm pack, available only on prescription. It
was only in 1960 that Burnol started being sold over-the counter (OTC), when Boots started expanding its distribution
By the mid 1960s, Burnol had become an integral part of the Indian housewifes life, as much of it revolved around
either wood-fed or kerosene cooking stoves. The first attempt to broaden its appeal was made in 1967 when Boots started
highlighting the fact that its active ingredients served just as well as any other antiseptic for cuts & wounds. It didnt
work. So Boots contented itself with selling a burns ointment, a market in which it had a monopoly.
In 1972 came competition, when SKP launched Shield, a rival cream. It was followed by Medigard from J.L.
Morrison. Burnol saw both off. By 1974, Burnol was being advertised on Doordarshan, with a commercial showing a
mother using Burnol on the arm of a daughter who springs on to her mother in the kitchen and gets splashed with hot oil.
The voiceover: Haath jal gaya? Shukar hai ghar mein Burnol jo hai
The 1980s saw Burnols sales stagnating. Boots resorted to advertising on the back of matchboxes and wall
paintings in rural areas. But still, it was no help. In 1987-88, it hired IMRB to conduct a product usage & awareness study.
The results indicated that for 98% of the respondens, the spontaneous solution to any burn was Burnol, but only 60% said
they had the product, a figure that fell to 20% when IMRB conducted actual checks.
Burnols turmeric was also becoming a liability, since it was seen to stain clothes. So, Boots changed the cream
from deep to non-staining light yellow and relaunched it in tubes of 12gm (Rs.4.50) & 30gm (Rs.7.80). The new ad
campaign urged people to keep the product in easy reach. The results: a short-lived blip in sales. Sales stayed at around
5.4 million tubes.
By the early 1990s, Burnols sales were crawling along in low single digits. To get larger volumes. Boots again
decided to try repositioning Burnol as a wide-appeal multiple usage antiseptics. The brand was relaunched as antiseptic
Burnol 3in-1. Its colour was made even lighter, disassociating it from turmeric, and was given a new perfume. But alas,
the brand could not dent the established brand equity of other OTC antiseptic creams like Boroline & Dettol. In the
average consumers mind, the brand remained where it had always been in the burns spot, firmly anchored. The name
was such, Ironically, its very strength had trapped it into a stagnant market.
Frustrated, in July 1997, Boots sold Burnol to Reckitt Piramal, a JV for OTC products between Reckitt Benckiser
& Nicholas Piramal, for Rs.12.5 crores. The new owner renamed it Burnol Plus and repositioned it as a First Aid Cream,
as was printed on the pack. With HTA as the ad agency, Reckitt Piramal went for an ad blitz. In 2000, Burnol registered a
turnover of Rs.6.2 crores after years of steady decline. Before this figure got a chance to rise, the Reckitt Piramal JV came
apart, leaving Burnol orphaned. It was unavailable for almost half of 2001 till Dr. Morepen decided to buy it. The deal
was sealed in late 2001 & the new owner intends to relaunch it. The burns market is placed at Rs.39 crores including
hospital dressings, which is much, less than the antiseptic market of Rs.210 crores.
1. Explain how the brand Burnol was created?
2. What made it a successful brand?
3. Do marketers have the freedom to reposition a brand?
4. What do you think Dr. Morepen should do with the brand at present?