Comfort, the common man and a coup of the innerwear market — Rupa is one brand whose jingles and visuals have etched themselves in the collective memory of most Indian households.
Its tagline – ‘Ye aaram ka maamla hai’ (it’s all about comfort) – has played repeatedly in countless movie theatres and in between cricket matches, and these days the strong visuals of Ranveer Singh or Siddharth Malhotra hit you when Rupa ads graze your eyes.
No matter which generation somebody belongs to, a thread runs through which takes us back to this innerwear brand, which even if one has ever worn, is still an intimate part of our lives. Perhaps, because Rupa’s advertising history allowed it to wade through a sea of other competitive brands.
The brand, which is a giant conglomerate today with a Rs 1,500 crore turnover, started out in a stiff market of solid brands such as Dora, VIP and Lux. A family-owned enterprise that is now endorsed by big names like Ranveer Singh, did not have such a glamorous start. But with solid marketing practices in place, Rupa climbed the ladder of success and went on to dominate the market.
The company is the brainchild of three brothers from Kolkata, Prahlada Rai Agarwala, Kunj Bihari Agarwala and Ghanshyam Prasad Agarwala, who founded Rupa in 1968.
In the late 60s, when the founders tried to sell Rupa to shops in Kolkata, “no one would even allow us to sit in their shops lest they be seen with a competitor,” one of the co-founders Prahlada Rai Agarwala had stated previously, talking about how Dora dominated the market space. But things changed drastically for them in five years when their company turnover hit a crore.
And when they dipped their toes into the world of advertising, they really found a way to take hold of the market. With nationwide ad campaigns, Rupa gained quick momentum in the 1980s, and then received a further boost in the late 90s, when they began running ads on the TV channel Aaj Tak. Cut to the present, in 2020, they found a Bollywood endorsement in ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’, becoming a fictional yet integral part of the storyline. After the lead protagonist (played by Aamir Khan) starts a business of men’s innerwear, he renames it Rupa (the name of Kareena Kapoor’s character), who was his childhood friend and love interest in the movie.
Appealing to the common man
Rupa has astutely marketed itself by pushing the theme of simplicity and thereby managing to set itself apart from the rest. Their philosophy of ‘comfort for the everyday person’ has made it tangible to all.
“In the markets of Uttar Pradesh & Bihar, this innerwear is actually outerwear, as it caters to a certain segment,” B.L. Mittal, ex-financial advisor to Rupa and founder and executive chairman of SastaSundar, told ThePrint.
“Even signing Govinda in 2000 as a brand ambassador helped Rupa foster a connection with the common man. After seeing those ads, people from the northern states would relate to him and dance like him,” he added.
Fast forward to 2022, Rupa Frontline’s new ad starring Ranveer Singh keeps the brand’s momentum high. Sameer Sojwal, creative head at Sideways Consulting who created the very campaign, told ThePrint, “Ranveer’s energy is infectious. Through his natural persona, we could easily play up the effortless style that Rupa stands for. Rupa is a brand leader and through its communication, we want to reinforce its stance in an interesting way.”
From Rs 10 crores to Rs 1,500 crores
Even though for the longest time, Rupa’s focus was on the common man, they did not linger there for too long. The brand eventually launched Macroman, a premium segment of innerwear to create an upper-value chain. Analysts say that these ‘intelligent” moves by Rupa while straddling the mass-, middle-, and premium classes at once ‘can be quite a task’.
Moreover, to expand its reach among the masses, Rupa has refined, evolved and reinvented itself over the years to attune to the changing times. With a new logo in 2017, the brand shifted its gaze to the millennials. The logo gave Rupa a more modern look. Now, it wasn’t just limited to representing the common man anymore, it had become a lifestyle brand.
While announcing the launch of the new Frontline logo, the brand’s president, Mukesh Agarwal, had stated, “Frontline was introduced as a men’s innerwear brand. However, gradually it evolved into a lifestyle brand catering to the various needs of the consumers with superlative products known for their quality and price. The revamped logo efficiently projects the brand’s forward movement, while still retaining its authenticity and heritage.”
And this has certainly proved beneficial financially for the company. “I’ve seen this company grow from a Rs 10 crore turnover per year to now Rs 1,500 crores. And for such small MRP items, they have done extremely well,” said Mittal.
Sticking to family values while adopting modernity
Rupa’s advertising trope has stayed in the same lane for a long time – handsome hunks who go about their regular life wearing ‘comfortable’ Rupa innerwear while looking conventionally attractive.
And the same theme permeates through in the recent advertisement featuring Ranveer Singh as well. “In this latest campaign with Ranveer, we’ve really played up style. This has helped us connect with the younger audience while still remaining true to the brand’s DNA,” Sojwal said.
This freshness combined with Rupa targeting the upper middle class worked out well for the company for some time.
But the rise of competitor Jockey for the past couple of decades did pose some challenges to Rupa Frontline. In the face of Jockey, “Adapting Rupa from common man to Macroman, was a wise decision but still somewhat challenging for the company,” BL Mittal underlined.
“But despite competition, one thing I can confirm is that this family-owned business is very spiritual-minded and ethical. In the face of any competition, I salute them for how ethical and positive they were in their approach,” he remarked.
However, that did not mean that Rupa was a coy brand that was not willing to take risks.
Speaking on Rupa’s advertising history, Sojwal said, “Rupa has always done brave and bold work. This has helped create a niche for itself in a category that often plays it safe.”