Brand Eveready pushed to the ropes: Can legacy, deep supply network help?

As Eveready Industries battles a string of financial woes and faces the wrath of auditors and shareholders, its flagship brand stares at a turbulent future. But experts say, Eveready can stave off the crisis by leveraging its heritage status and strong supply networks and importantly, by dipping into its own playbook for lessons on survival. 

Eveready has been under a cloud in the past too. Union Carbide, its previous owners caused one of the biggest human tragedies of the century during the Bhopal gas leak, and many wrote off its future at the time. But the brand survived and has since flourished under the B M Khaitan group that bought it over in 1994. 

The secret to its survival is that Eveready never went off the shelves, despite the turmoil in its boardrooms. And that ought to be its concern today as it is up against another crisis. “Till supply gets affected, retailers will continue to stock this brand and consumers will continue to buy it. It must also guard against quality slippages because consumers trust a brand not just because of its name and ads but because of quality. If these two parameters remain strong, I don’t think Eveready, as a brand, has anything to fear,” Harish Bijoor, founder of Harish Bijoor Consults said.

The last ads under the ‘Give me Red’ tagline aired on television during 2015-16 when Akshay Kumar was its brand ambassador

With 52 per cent market share, Eveready leads the category today. Its well-entrenched distribution network serves as a big barrier, it is present in 4,000 distribution points and over 4.5 million retail outlets and the company claims its brand has 70 per cent top-of-the-mind recall among consumers. The category has stalled in the past few quarters but business cycles are unlikely to fell the brand. 

Sandeep Goyal, founder Mogae Media says that the brand’s near generic status in batteries is its armour and believes that Eveready’s uninterrupted presence in the market will serve it well. “This is similar to what Maruti Suzuki was for the hatchback segment in the 1980s-90s,” he added.

The brand has also been an active advertiser, creating memorable campaigns and using celebrities to create popular jingles and punch lines. Under Union Carbide, the ‘Laal Eveready’ campaign in the mid-80’s landed many firsts. It used a colour as a brand identifier and animated effects to create a unique impact. This turned into the ‘Give Me Red’ campaign in the early nineties which helped the brand stay relevant among the youth as well as increased consumer recall. According to the company, this campaign was well ahead of its time and “it brought with it the MTV era into the country”. 

This series of ads gave Eveready the identity it has today, one that exudes power and energy. Goyal points out that what Eveready wanted to achieve as its brand positioning in a liberalised India, it did that in the 1990’s and this legacy stands by it even today, when it is no longer on TV. “People love the brand and that is why it has been able to sustain its market dominance in a challenging business environment. Their commercials are off air now but the slogan they created still echoes in the minds of the buyers,” K V Sridhar, founder and chief creative officer of Hyper Collective pointed out.

He believes that as a brand Eveready is more powerful than the company, which owns it because its visibility in stores was never impacted, despite the problems that its parents have run into. Its communication narrative has helped reinforce its heritage status and the brand is tough to dislodge from the position it holds today.

Eveready was born in 1905 under National Carbon with batteries imported from USA. In 1926, the company, then renamed as Eveready Company India, set up the first arc carbon factory at Canal Road in Kolkata. 

By 1934, Eveready Company was incorporated as a private company. After Independence, the brand went to Union Carbide post the merger between Union Batteries and Eveready Company. And when Union Carbide quit India after the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984, B.M. Khaitan bought its business in 1993 in a $ 96.5 million deal, the costliest deal at the time. It may or may not change hands yet again, but the question is whether the brand can keep going despite the challenges ahead.

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