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Our experience is that advertisements have a far bigger impact on children: Saumitra Prasad, CMO, Kokuyo Camlin

How often have you seen ads from this brand? Not much. Best Media Info spoke to Saumitra Prasad, Chief Marketing Officer of Kokuyo Camlin, to find out about the plans of the company, advertising strategy and challenges from the unorganised market

Saumitra Prasad

Camlin, the well-known stationery brand, has touched the lives of most Indian. Be it pens, pencils, wax colours or the classic yellow coloured geometry boxes – we have all enjoyed, flaunted and used Camlin products in our school days. While fountain pens are where it all began for the world of writing and for Camlin, the company has recently launched its brush pen which is a combination of the four – the brush, the colours, the palette, and water.

The company has also been advocating mechanical pencils for a long time – so much so that it was the first one to launch ‘pen-pencils’ in the country. How often have you seen ads from the brand? Not many, we must agree. Best Media Info spoke to Saumitra Prasad, Chief Marketing Officer of Kokuyo Camlin about the plans of the company, its advertising strategy and the challenges from the unorganised market. Excerpts:

The company has earlier expressed concerns on how mechanical pencils had a start price of Rs 30 and hence fighting with a Rs 5 wood pencil was getting tough. Wasn’t the price point supposed to come down?

You are right. Price used to be the only barrier for mechanical pencils. While we would promote that the first time you buy one Rs 30 mechanical pencil, the next time you only have to buy the lead. But there will always be a barrier ‘why should I buy the more expensive pencil?’ But now we have brought the price down to Rs 10, and in the coming month, we are launching a Rs 5 mechanical pencil in a triangular shape. This will remove the price barrier completely. So if children want a mechanical pencil, the price factor won’t stop them.

What would the sales figures be like of mechanical versus wooden pencils?

We have sold more mechanical pencils than wooden ones and we are the only players to do that, as that is also good for the environment and for children too. The sales divide must be around 60-40 in favour of mechanical pencils. We do supply the wooden pencils because there is a market for them and we don’t want to deny them but the industrial promotion is going towards mechanical pencils because we want to be a responsible marketer.

How has the journey been after six years of the Kokuyo partnership and 80 years of Camlin’s existence?

We have been present since 1931 when there was no other Indian brand of stationery in the market. Our journey started with fountain pens and ink pots; graduating from there, today we are the only brand which markets each and every part of stationery. No one else makes and markets the entire range of stationery products.

So who is your competitor?

We have many competitors – different ones for different categories: ITC (Classmate) for notebooks, Pidilite for adhesives, Hindustan Pencils for pencils category, and Faber Castell, which largely focuses on colour products. But we are competitors to everyone! Being the oldest player, we have been the first movers in almost every category and have dominated those categories, except a few like notebooks. We are recent entrants there but that is also being strengthened with the tie-up with Kokuyo, which in Japan is the oldest stationery brand and their forte is notebooks. They have Campus as a B2C brand and Kokuyo which is the institution segment. In the Indian market, we have introduced Kokuyo as a brand.

Don’t Kokuyo and Camlin both have a similar, hence competing, product range?

We have a very niche segment strategy for Kokuyo products. These are very innovative, premium quality products, but expensive. In the mass segment, we are going to further grow Camlin on a large scale while Kokuyo is getting established in India as a premium range. This is how we are managing these two brands.

Camlin has served generations of school goers. What difference do you see in marketing over the years? Also, Camlin started ATL quite late. Why so?

You are right that there are generations who’ve used Camlin but for today’s generation, it’s ‘not cool’ to use the same products that ‘my father’ used. This generation considers it to be negative and they want to move away from the previous generations’ brands. They want the products and brands of today. This has been a little challenging for us. In last four years, we have been consistent in building our positioning as ‘Making Learning Fun’. That’s how we are planning to get the children of today.

Instead of talking only about products, we wanted to look at a bigger objective by not only developing new products but also doing a lot of engagement activities in schools for good causes like tree plantation, environment conservation, painting the Pune Railway Station and others.

Camlin does not really advertise on TV much. In fact, we don’t remember having seen a lot of films of the brand. Why are you so dependent on BTL?

Earlier, the brand did not invest much in mass media. They would rather invest in product development, making better products, following the best of norms of various certifications so that quality is never compromised. Also, the stationery industry has always been driven by huge investment in trade which is much higher than categories like FMCG. Marketing in trade has been very crucial for the stationery industry, and so also for Camlin.

In the last four years, however, we have started increasing the investment on brand on ATL front and we have some effective advertising campaigns – one of those being for the mechanical pencils. We have been consistently advertising for the last three years about this product. We have a very strong idea of conversion rate from wooden to mechanical pencils because it is not only better from an environmental point of view but it is also superior for the children because it helps them write faster and introduces them to pens quicker. In the long run, it is economical also.

There is another campaign for oil pastels in the crayons category which we started last year on TV. It was more of an awareness campaign since a lot of people including children don’t know the different forms of crayons beyond wax crayons – oil pastel crayons, plastic crayons, gel crayons and washable crayons for toddlers. We found the need gap for toddlers because much before a kid holds a pen or a pencil, crayons come into their hands and they are not restricted to writing on the paper. Walls become their canvases!

Is your marketing spend on BTL still higher than ATL?

The number of activities is more on BTL but in terms of investment, it is still a very low number, thanks to social media which helps in amplifying the BTL activities. So the activity on the walls of Pune Railway Station is not restricted to Pune but is amplified to the whole world. When we launched our Facebook page, in just one year we got about five lakh fans and that too for a ‘children’s’ brand. Achieving this within a small time was very impressive because a lot of adult brands also don’t have this kind of loyalty.

While Facebook has a restriction of age, children today are naturally accepting digital and social media because they are growing on it. They are investing more time. Hence, it’s time that marketers leverage that instead of treating digital as a threat.

So, we spend about 60 per cent on TV, 30 per cent on digital and about 10 per cent in BTL activities, including school newspapers. The Hindu and The Times of India have special newspaper editions prescribed by the schools and students.

On television the kids’ genre plays a very important role for us. However, we also look at reaching out to teachers and parents, through GECs and news. We are also looking at entering the branded content segment. We are currently trying to create awareness and upscale our brand, especially expanding into the smaller towns. We are looking at reach now.

With reach of advertising and promotions, you will also be required to fill the gaps in distribution channel. Are you prepared for that?

Being a very old company, the distribution is very much in place. We are very strong in South and Maharashtra already. Comparatively, it is weaker in North and West, but work is on. I feel that advertising will help because in the North our passive distribution is very strong, which is through wholesalers. This type of distribution is governed by demand and hence, we are sure that awareness will drive distribution growth. If you get down to numbers, out of the total nine lakh channels where we distribute, a mere 90,000 are stationary channels (active distribution).  Rest are grocery or non-specialised channels, wherein stationery is coming only because there is demand.

Three years ago, you had expressed concerns about the weak links in the business, office and artist segments. Are you still struggling on that end?

You will be very surprised to know that we are the number one brand for markers in India – whiteboard marker, permanent, dvd, multi-purpose and paint markers. Nobody realises this because Camlin is associated with colours and stationery products. People consider us as a ‘children only’ brand but actually in most offices and mass retail shops it is Camlin markers that are used. We are the market leaders in markers. We see a flourishing growth there because schools are shifting from blackboards to whiteboards and so are coaching classes. As marketers we realise this and we have a whole plan to encash it.

Another segment is artists where we have a monopoly because there is no other Indian brand in the organised sector selling these high-end fine art products. Only the imported brands have this quality and consequently they are about 5-10 times more expensive. Also, the best global brand in fine-arts products – Winsor and Newton – is marketed by us in India. So, about 80 per cent of the artists use Camlin products. In the premium segment, we offer Winsor and Newton, which is the world’s best brand.

In fact, our old product, the classic yellow coloured ‘scholar geometry box’, was the only brand back then from an organised company and it also made schools prescribe it to children. In terms of quality it was very strong and enduring. A lot of adults who are nostalgic about their school days still have their boxes. This was one of those memorable things from childhood that Camlin has given to a lot of our customers.

Is paper and notebooks still a pain point for you?

In the two to three years, we had ensured that we have national level presence. South is still our strong point. In states like Kerala, which are heavily captured by the unorganised sector, we have about 10 per cent market share. The only other brand available in the market is Classmate by ITC, who were the first ones to enter the market. We have grabbed a decent 10 per cent quite quickly because Camlin has a lot of expertise that we have brought in from Kokuyo Japan, who are the pioneers of notebook manufacturing in Japan.

How bad is the unorganised sector?

While notebook still has majority chunk of the unorganised players, in the other categories the unorganised category has been reducing extensively in last few years. In last five years, the change is very drastic with players like ITC coming in, our expansion with Kokuyo partnership, Faber Castell and other global companies. We are seeing change happening. In most categories except notebooks, in urban India about 80 per cent is still the organised market, while in notebooks, this number can be as low as 50 per cent because of a lot of local manufacturers playing field.

Does it really matter for children which brand they buy?

Today children are very well informed; they even influence the brand of car that their father should buy, so they can influence the stationery that they are going to use themselves. Because they are the ones who actually watch television, especially the advertisements that adults tend to ignore and flip channels. Our experience as marketers is that advertisements have a far bigger impact on children. So, yes, the brand name plays a role, but of course there are other factors also like teachers’ influence. There are a lot of factors. For example, when we were advertising mechanical pencils, we found that children responded well to them but the teachers didn’t know what the mechanical pencils were and thought that they will spoil the children’s handwriting and so disallowed them. So we are now working on educating teachers on how these pencils are actually good for handwriting. That’s why it is important to connect to all the shareholders with influence.

Do you think that over time tabs and computers will take over stationery items and crayons and colours and even the paper and pen culture?

We ourselves had an app which enabled children to use colours on the tablet or phone. It is a huge success; we even won an Abby for that marketing campaign. But the point you made has been a concern for the stationary companies for at least the past five years as digital is becoming a part of our lives. However, surprisingly the stationary industry in India and outside is actually growing. There can be two reasons – India has 76 per cent literacy rate. Education has a long way to go and hence, there is a lot of scope for stationery to grow. The second thing is that even premium schools, where both school and children can afford to have tablets, prefer physical notebooks. People have realised that physical pen/ pencil paper writing is very important for the development of the child. So, I do not see a threat to stationery.

Along with tie-ups with schools for BTL activities, does it also drive institutional sale?

Yes. The segment is emerging. Nowadays schools have become smarter customers – big schools have outlets called duck shops which also have our products. There is a business opportunity. Today it may be confined to only 10 per cent of the schools in the country tying up with us, but it is growing and we have connected with these schools. Institutional sales for us are about 10 per cent, but this number is increasing fast. These schools mostly buy at the start of the back to school season while the students are left out to replenish based on their need. Our school network is the biggest in the country. We have about 10,000 schools that participate in our Camel art contest every year.

Is the Google Doodle campaign the most popular one from Camlin?

It is one of the most popular campaigns because it was Google changing its logo for the first time and it had crayons and it was done very smartly. But we have had quite a few interesting campaigns in the last three to four years.

How’s the ecommerce part of the business placed?

We do sell on almost all the platforms. Today ecommerce is the best place to shop but at present the categories which dominate are not the ones like stationery, but it can change over time. The fine arts products which carry a large ticket size and maintaining the logistics of inventory is cumbersome, makes it an easy target for e-commerce. Our fine arts category has 2,500 different products. So, for shops to store them is a challenge and the artists are spread all over the country. We hope to see a big change happening there since people have really switched from offline to online shopping. But today, it’s very small for us. We are still present there because we know that change can happen any time. Amazon has been interacting with us regarding the challenge, so hopefully it will grow very fast.

There is a new trend of having character driven articles like your Chhota Bheem and Frozen ranges. Do you have tie-ups of that sort?

We do have tie-ups. It’s just like how you use celebrities in the world of marketing to connect with consumers. The challenge here lies in that you cannot use just one character because all the children are different and they want variety. On one hand we have tie-ups with Indian brands like Chhota Bheem which have a lot of mass appeal in small towns, but on the other hand we have tie-ups with international brands like Pokemon or Justice League with Batman and Superman, and also Harry Potter. We have used quite a few earlier too, like Shrek for fountain pens. Their popularity helps, because they are the celebrities for children.

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