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Thursday 27 October 2011

Lookin’ good A cosmetics section of a shop at a Gurgaon mall. The personal care cosmetics market is estimated at over Rs 20,000 crore.
Diva-Dandy Republic
A gargantuan cosmetic market tempts a looks-obsessed young India

It’s a conversation that Mumbai-based advertising executive Geetika Talwar wishes she had never had. Six months back her college-going daughter, Tanya, 18, came up to her and asked her to fund a surgical procedure. She wanted to get her nose fixed. “I couldn’t understand how or where she’d come up with the idea, but she’d done her research and was adamant she knew what she was doing. All I could think of was that I had failed her in some way because she was insecure about herself,” she says.
Several sessions with a psychologist later, Talwar has resigned herself to the fact that she will not be able to change her daughter’s mind. There may be some underlying self-esteem issues, but Talwar knows this is Tanya’s way of asserting her individuality. For now, the mother has managed to convince her daughter to defer the procedure. “We are living in a highly competitive society, where skill-sets are getting evened out, grooming—looking good, being articulate and confident—are all becoming key differentiators,” says Madhukar Sabnavis, country head (Discovery & Planning), O&M.
Every brand is eyeing the purse bulging with disposable income that hangs on a youngster. The marketers know how label-conscious the youth in cities today are, how they splurge without any guilt and how they are always just a few steps away from organised retail. “Vanity is definitely a big part of it. Now it’s the norm that if you look good you will feel good, whereas earlier it was the reverse. It’s the western ethos that if we take care of the externals the internals would feel good too,” points out Harish Bijoor, marketing consultant. It’s definitely a growing trend. Young Indians in the age group of 18-25 are getting more aware of, even obsessed with, the need to look good. For this impatient generation, the ability to access quickfixes as far as their appearance is concerned is paramount. “It’s no longer enough that you are well qualified. You may be an MBA or have a PhD, but if you don’t look good, you won’t go far is the attitude most young people have,” says a brand manager.
This pre-eminence of appearance in the scheme of things is what fast-moving consumer goods firms are after. The personal care market—organised players in skin and hair care, fragrances and deodorants and cosmetics segments—is estimated at over Rs 20,000 crore. It’s a high margin-high growth field—average growth rates are pegged at 20 per cent, in some categories it zooms to 40 per cent. With over 50 per cent of India’s population aged below 25, it’s unsurprising that marketers are geared up to exploit this potential. Last year alone, according to TAM Media Research, there was a 37 per cent increase in TV advertising in the haircare segment during January-November, compared to the previous year and a 40 per cent increase in skin care TV advertising during the same period.

MBA student Aarushi gets a tattoo. (Photograph by Apoorva Salkade)
The explosive marketing potential for grooming products crosses the gender divide. Although still a small contributor, products and services for men are becoming an important part of the mix. Young males are keen to be well-groomed, and willing to spend money for it, aiming for a metrosexual makeover. There’s more opportunity in creating niche markets beyond the fairness creams—products like under eye gels, hair serums, blackhead removal face-washes and services like permanently shaped eyebrows. The phenomenon shows up beyond metros and small towns. Rural India shows equal interest in products like deodorants and hair gels. In fact, marketers say if firms get the product and price mix right, there is a larger potential in the rural market. “The current trend is definitely demand-led. Glamour has entered everyday life,” says Sabnavis.
Then there’s the unorganised service end of the market, including cosmetic dentistry, tattoo parlours and nail spas. The cosmetic dermatology market alone is estimated at Rs 4,000-5,000 crore. This includes cosmetic surgeons, neighbourhood beauty parlours, spas, skin-care specialists. Neeta Patel, a cosmetic surgeon in Mumbai, says she sees a steady stream of young patients walking in with parents to get procedures done. The most common—nose jobs, acne treatments, breast augmentations and liposuction. “A lot of my patients come to me before they’re getting married.... But then there’s the lot that is simply dissatisfied with their appearance and want to make a radical change,” Patel says. While some of her patients who are earning can afford the procedures, many depend on parents to fund them, from anywhere between Rs 15,000 and Rs 1 lakh-plus.
For skin-care brands like Kaya, which runs 82 clinics across 26 cities, procedures for acne treatment, laser hair removal, botox and derma fillers for the lips are key businesses. In the laser hair removal segment, for instance, Kaya has seen the average customer age fall from 24 years two years back to 18 years. And it doesn’t come cheap: a full body laser hair removal treatment costs roughly Rs 1.6 lakh. “If you consider the average cost of waxing over three years, our offer of a lifetime’s freedom from temporary hair removal makes complete sense,” adds Suvodeep Das, marketing head at Kaya.
The Axe effect, so to say, is trickling down to younger age groups as well. Ten-year-old children want to buy deodorants, spend on trendy hair cuts, want manicures. All this may make the marketer rub his hands in glee and may populate a new generation of good-looking and nicer-smelling people, but there are worrying aspects too. For Harish Shetty, consultant psychiatrist at Hiranandani Hospital, the rising trend of insecurities and self-esteem issues leading to depression, eating disorders, fractured relationships and over-dependence on retail therapy is cause for concern. “I get at least five young patients every month who have been caught stealing from their parents to meet some materialistic demand. Patients brood in front of the mirror constantly and magnify every little flaw in their appearance to such an extent that it becomes an obsession.” Agrees Bijoor, “As values become hollow, it leads to customers needing a brand crutch. The more hollowness in values, the more solid the brand’s profit.” But others in the field point out that looking good has always been part of Indian culture, that there are references to shringar in many early texts. It may once have been the preserve of the elite, and is now trickling down on to the masses. What is clear is there is no stemming the rush towards catching the eye: for now, sheer indulgence is winning.

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