For a lot of us who grew up in the India of yore, the Vicco jingle that plays even today in movie theatres is nothing short of a major nostalgic trip. A ubiquitous presence in every Indian household much before international beauty brands flooded the market, Vicco is one the country’s oldest beauty product manufacturers. Founded in 1952 by K.V Pendharkar, the Vishnu Industrial Chemical Company, or VICCO as we came to know and love it, saw thousands of ordinary Indians become loyal patrons of the Vicco Vajradanti, Narayani, and Vicco Turmeric Ayurvedic cream. From production units in Dombivli, Nagpur and Goa, the company went on to find a firm footing in the world.
A rise in popularity
In the years since its launch, Vicco positioned itself as a uniquely Indian beauty brand, carving out a niche for itself as a maker of high-quality Ayurvedic products. The flagship Vicco turmeric cream, for example, was targeted at the young Indian woman, soon to be married. Associating the turmeric cream with the natural Ayurvedic goodness of “haldi” – an essential part of every Indian wedding – helped Vicco brand itself not as a cosmetic brand, but one that developed natural alternatives based on indigenous knowledge. Vicco Turmeric, synonymous with its yellow colour and strong aroma of sandalwood was a hit in the country and even found its way to international markets.
As the first of its kind in a market dominated by the conventional ‘snow’ creams, it wasn’t immediately familiar. Customers were apprehensive that the turmeric might leave a yellow colour on their face. Special efforts were made to send salespersons with mirrors to apply the cream on the retailer’s face and bust the myth. Packed with the goodness of natural ingredients and marketed through advertisements whose jingles reverberate in our ears 50 years later, Vicco found immense success in the Indian and international market.
Challenges from India and abroad
Over the years, however, the arrival of internationally renowned brands and the mushrooming of several home-grown competitors like HUL, Dabur, Shahnaz and Himalaya would see the brand commence on an inevitable decline. In the face of the glitzy and glamorous positioning of newer brands, Vicco continued to hold assiduously on to its conservative branding, failing to keep pace with the changing demands of modern India. Stuck in a time warp of sorts, the company failed to invest in packaging, marketing and advertising, slowly losing the tremendous brand equity it had built over the years. The gradual fall of Vicco is ironic, considering the marquee brand that, during its heydays, revolutionised product marketing. This was achieved as Gajanan Pendharkar, the Chairman of Vicco Laboratories, pioneered the idea of sponsoring television shows in India – a clever ruse that took the homegrown brand to worldwide repute. The brand was also among the first to put its advertisements in video cassettes, a novel move in the days when movies were viewed on video cassettes and widely distributed internationally.
A lasting success
Today, the group’s annual turnover is estimated at Rs 400 crores. In a desperate bid to remain relevant and appeal to the country’s youth, the Vicco brand has today diversified into producing sun-screen lotions, shaving creams, and herbal face washes. While there were rumours in the market that the company, faced with ever-decreasing slices in the pie, was on sale, the Vicco Company today continues to remain a family-owned business.
For many of us Indians who may have moved on to more desirable beauty care options, however, “Vicco turmeric, Nahi cosmetic…” remains a small, warm part of a glorious past.