14 April, 2021

Karsanbhai Patel, Nirma

Nirma surged past Hindustan Unilever and, for the better part of the 1980s, stayed ahead, courtesy Patel’s brilliance and business instincts.

Karsanbhai Patel, Nirma
  • Rs 3 per kg: launch price of Nirma detergent


Like any entrepreneurial genius, what Karsanbhai Patel did was to spot an unmet need—and he came up with a product that changed the way Indians do their laundry. It’s not necessarily a management degree that makes such stories, but insights gleaned from lived experience. As things stood, only a sliver of the Indian middle-class was used to buying detergent powder. Surf was the market leader, but it wasn’t everyone’s idea of how to wash clothes. For the majority, the traditional way was to scrub away with a rugged soda, fragrance-free soap that was harsh on skin.

Patel came up with Nirma (named after a daughter who had died in an accident) and proceeded to create a market where none existed. Launched in 1984, Nirma took no time to become a household icon—helped along by an ad that became a jingle hit, the little girl swirling in a squeaky-clean frock herself a pop symbol of the ’80s now. Patel was a homegrown price-war marketing wizard....

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