New Delhi: It’s a household name in India, as an ointment that provides relief in case of minor burns. But over the years, social media has turned good ol’ Burnol into a punchline.
Came up with a witty repartee to an irritant on Twitter? Found an online news report or opinion piece which strengthens your argument with the opposing side? It’s no longer #burn — that’s so 1999. It’s #Burnol.
Take the example of senior Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav’s speech in Parliament last week, in which he wished Prime Minister Narendra Modi a second term, which went against the anti-BJP coalition efforts of his son and party chief Akhilesh Yadav, and many other political parties. Suddenly, it turned into a ‘Burnol lagao’ moment on Twitter for opponents of the BJP.
Again burnol moment for gulams 😁🤣😂🤘 pic.twitter.com/nD5eY4anC8
— AdItYa 🇮🇳 ChAUhAn 😎 (@rulezz_breaker) February 13, 2019
Another example? While tweeting a news story titled ‘71.9 per cent of Indians say they will vote for Narendra Modi as PM again in 2019’, the IT and social media in-charge of BJP’s Mahila Morcha, Keya Ghosh, wrote that it was a “Burnol moment for many”.
— Keya Ghosh (@keyakahe) February 11, 2019
And if the hashtags weren’t enough, there are Burnol GIFs too — carved out of the last video advertisement released by the brand nearly five years ago.
— PRS™🇮🇳 (@praneethrohith) January 19, 2018
Just a simple search for the keyword ‘Burnol’ on Twitter throws up more than 15 handles, including ‘Burnol for Congress & traitors’ (@Burnol4Congress), Burnol (@Burnol4Free), Burnol factory waale (@troll2xpoz) and Burnol Janta Party (@BurnolJP). Most of them tweet and retweet political messages targeting certain parties.
No adverts needed for growth
Burnol was born in the family of Reckitt Benckiser, the makers of Dettol. The launch of the cream made sense during the 1960s, when Indian housewives cooked food on wood-based or kerosene-based stoves. The brand immediately connected with their woes of regular, minor burns.
In the 1970s, the company launched its popular punchline: “Hath jal gaya? Shukar hai ghar mein Burnol hai.” (Burnt your hand? Thank goodness there is Burnol at home).
But rather than a first-aid antiseptic cream, it became popular as a burn remedy.
The brand was acquired by Dr Morepen, an arm of listed pharma-cum-healthcare firm Morepen Laboratories, in 2001 for Rs 8.95 crore.
Soon, Dr Morepen earmarked Rs 2.5 crore for promoting the brand. But in 2002, Burnol clocked sales of Rs 4 crore in just three months, which was reportedly 80 per cent of the ointment’s total sales the previous year.
As mentioned above, Burnol hasn’t released a new advertising campaign in almost five years. And yet, it is the only ointment among the top three brands in the ‘burn’ category which is posting growth in sales year-on-year to the tune of 11 per cent. According to the data shared by the All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD), Burnol sold over 10 lakh units last year.
The other two brands, Meganano and Vaniza, have posted a fall in sales — Meganano sold 3.40 lakh units, down 3 per cent, and Vaniza 91,000 units, a fall of 6 per cent.
One of the reasons that makes Burnol a top-seller is self-prescription, say experts. “Patients with household or common burns rarely visit doctors. They generally self-prescribe Burnol due to its popularity and age-old brand name. They don’t need a prescription to buy Burnol,” says Dr K.K. Aggarwal, former president of the India Medical Association.
Is it any good?
The World Health Organisation’s advisory for first aid for burns actually states the patient should “avoid the application of topical medication until the patient is placed under appropriate medical care”.
It advises the immediate use of cold water. “Apply cold water or allow the burnt area to remain in contact with cold water for some time,” the WHO says.
Similarly, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) advises against using any ointment on the burn. “Do not apply ointments, toothpaste or butter to the burn, as these may cause an infection. Do not apply topical antibiotics,” it states.
Instead, it advises one to “immediately immerse the burn in cool tap water or apply cold, wet compresses. First-degree burns usually heal on their own without treatment from a doctor”.
Dr Aggarwal agrees with his foreign counterparts. “The use of plain water is the first aid for minor burns, which generally require no treatment. We may prescribe ointment Silvadene (silver sulfadiazine) if necessary,” he says.
Is it healthy for Burnol to be a Twitter punchline?
Burnol is milking its brand equity on social media, but the company needs to control its online narrative, according to Harish Bijoor, a brand strategy expert.
“Burnol has become a generic name for any medicine that cures burns. While the popularity of this ointment is massive and social media hashtags and memes are evident, I think it’s the right time for the company to take charge of the brand before it becomes associated with online abuses,” Bijoor says.
However, advertising guru Piyush Pandey says good or bad, the online audience is keeping the brand alive and kicking.
“Like Fevicol is another term to denote stickiness, Burnol is another term to describe the sensation associated with burning. Already, the market for normal burns is on the slide, so I believe these online narratives are keeping the brand alive, and the company is smart enough to know that,” Pandey says.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.