India represents a fertile opportunity for beauty marketers. However, it is a country where consumers have to be persuaded to use beauty products on a daily basis.

That’s been the major hurdle for the country’s largest beauty manufacturer to tackle. And tackle those notions it has. Today, Lakme Ltd., which was launched in India in the early Fifties, has a 48 percent share of the country’s cosmetics market, according to Anil Chopra, vice president of the Lakme Lever Division. Lakme was acquired by Unilever India eight years ago and is now a division of Hindu Sun Lever.

“So it’s [Lakme], and it’s been there all this period of 50 years and has held the Indian woman’s hand through all these years,” Chopra told the audience at the summit.

There’s no denying India is a market on the upswing. The population tops 1 billion, and there is a shift from poor rural markets to an improving economy. “A large consuming class is now coming alive,” Chopra said.

He said India’s economy totaled $300 billion in 1995 and will hit $700 billion this year. The market is undergoing seismic changes, including an expansion of Baby Boomers with huge expectations. By 2025, India will have the fourth-largest economy in the world, ahead of the U.K., France, Germany and Italy. It will be a time of great investment, growth and optimism, he said. There will be an income explosion at every level; the top 10 million households alone will have a purchasing power greater than four times the turnover of Unilever and P&G worldwide.

Chopra said the Indian woman’s needs will change, and she’ll be looking for pampering products and will be more willing to try new things. The way Indians shop will be altered. “This is our time to shine,” said Chopra.

Today, India has more than 6.9 million stores, and that’s expected to swell by 25 percent in the next few years. Chopra said there will be robust growth in shopping malls. Three years ago, there were only three malls in the country. Today, there are 354, and a major petrochemicals company is diversifying into retail and plans to build 14 million square feet of retail space in the next five to seven years.

This story first appeared in the May 26, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

And in the last 10 years, 15 million people have moved out of poverty. In the next five years, there will be another 40 million. Despite the improvement in economic status, Chopra said, Indian women are still looking for value for their money and like single-use packs at low prices.

“Unilever India produces 20 billion single-use packs which are sold in the Indian economy. When a country moves from below poverty level, getting into the consuming class [and] wants brands, wants products, [they buy] the single-use packs that cost between 2 cents and 5 cents a pack. As these people start moving into the consumer classes, they buy brands and will move up and up and then [to] the top end of the market,” Chopra said.

Lakme has made dramatic inroads in marketing to the women of India, especially since that market is fragmented. There are lower socioeconomic groups in rural areas that are obliged to forgo purchasing beauty products at this time. They are very religious and suspicious of change. But there is an emerging group ready to embrace styles from around the world. There are also groups divided by age, with younger women being bolder and women 30-plus still adhering to older customs.

As a company, Lakme has had to change perceptions about beauty products. “The Indian woman is deep-rooted toward her family, her friends and her relationships — these are the most important. And I think that marketers who get a good understanding of this are able to communicate much, much better,” he explained.

Lakme research revealed that Indian women had a lack of knowledge about makeup. To allay their fears, Lakme created a campaign to get them comfortable with makeup. For example, it used the headline “Is It Bad to Look Good?” in an ad campaign. “And it talked about how if you use makeup properly, subtly, the right way, it’s not that it’s going to get the wrong type of attention,” he said. “Another tag line was, ‘Do Men Look Down on Makeup?’ And finally, ‘Is Makeup a Difficult Art to Learn?’ This campaign really reinforced Lakme’s leadership in the cosmetics business, because we spoke in the language of the consumer. We spoke to her about her biggest fears,” he said.

Research also showed that lipstick is the most commonly used product, but that Indian women tend to wear it only on special occasions. “So a woman on average purchased only two lipsticks a year. So if you are the market leader, it doesn’t make a difference, because you have a very small market because there is no consumption,” Chopra explained. “And, again, here the campaign was to encourage women to wear lipsticks fairly often or every time they step out of their homes. And the campaign was very specific — use lipsticks because you never know who is watching your lips today.”

Creating the Lakme experience is paramount to building the brand, he continued. There are currently two major initiatives: the Lakme beauty salons and the Lakme fashion week.

Lakme got into the fashion business to make the brand more holistic. “You get an opportunity for consumers to actually interact with the brand and have service,” said Chopra. These efforts helped transform Lakme from a brand known for quality to one also known for a contemporary positioning. The brand had been labeled “My mother’s brand.” “And hence, the imagery needed to undergo a major change,” Chopra said. “But it was very important that when we changed the image that we maintained this unique understanding to the Indian woman, because the Indian woman always says, ‘I want the best quality in the world, but I am an Indian and I am proud of it.'”

Chopra pointed out one warning about India: Changes are putting pressure on the infrastructure. “It is under a huge strain, and that is India’s biggest bottleneck for moving up fast. But barring that, it is a green light for India’s growth. It is our time to shine.”