The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lever does a General Motors, but only halfway

Mumbai, May 26: “What is good for America is good for GM, what is good for GM is good for America.”

Charles Erwin Wilson put General Motors before America. M. S. Banga almost went down the same road, but stopped a little short. If the roles were reversed, cars and soaps would never be the same again.

Echoing the former GM chairman in his 1952 grandiloquence was the Lever helmsman as he told shareholders about his vision of the company: “What is good for India is good for Hind Lever.” He did not venture any further. Wilson was best followed halfway.

Banga’s remarks come at a time when the once formidable Lever sales machine is sputtering, prompting the company to do something it never did before — cut prices to win over bargain-hunting customers.

So, premier Power Brands, like Surf Excel, Pepsodent and Close-Up, Lux and Ponds and Sunsilk, are now going for less so that more Indians can buy them.

There is a resonance to this: the US Senate, worried by GM’s stranglehold, said: “Wouldn’t America be better off if General Motors reduced the price of a Chevrolet to make it more affordable for the working man'” Lever did not need a Parliament prod to cut prices.

The Rs 10,000-crore fast moving consumer goods major is no GM, which sold half of the cars made in the America of the 1950s, but it realises it must reach the other half of India which cannot buy the best it dishes out.

Jagdeep Kapoor, managing director of Samsika Marketing Consultants who has helped smaller rivals nibble at Lever’s share, agrees with the way Banga is betting. The policy, he says, brings out three key attributes: Lever’s ability to adapt to local tastes and preferences with products specifically designed for India. Now, it is even scoring on affordability.

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