Branding in Kerala from Early 30′s?

Often, when we approach our clients with the concept of branding and brand management, we are addressed with this idea of how, branding is totally alien to our state and it being a thing from ‘the west’. We were not convinced. Neither were we impressed. So we set out to dig in a little deeper into the whole thing.

We contacted a few traditional companies in Kerala and enquired whether they were aware of any branding practices taken up by their companies in the distant past. Dhanwanthari Vaidyasala, one of the oldest ayurveda hospital/ pharmacy groups in Kerala, were kind enough to get back to us and to contribute to our research.

The information we got was slightly short of ‘shocking’! We thought it’d be best to attach the original email we received, so that you could get a share of what we experienced – first hand.

Dear Mittu,

Read your piece on Branding. It is true that ‘Branding is all about the perception your potential customers have on your business activity’. I personally feel that the subtler your branding strategy, the longer its life. But in a crowded market like ours, I’m not sure how the subtleties are going to work. However that’s the challenge of the person assigned with the job.

My grandfather Vaidyan C.N. Namboothiri was the first person to brand Ayurveda in Kerala. Earlier, Ayurveda Vaidyas had used to prescribe medicines with their formulations and the patient himself had to prepare it. After that, some Vaidyas started giving medicines prepared by them. But C.N. Namboothiri created some ripples when he started opening branches without any Doctors or Vaidyas! He created a trend whereby the patients would consult a Vaidya, get the prescription and purchase the medicine from Dhanwanthari. Every other companies including Kottakkal had never ventured beyond their vicinity before that. So this was a trendsetter back then.

He was the first person to introduce OTC products in the segment. He advertised Chyavanaprasm and Dasamoolarishtam for the first time in India! Unfortunately, I haven’t come across any proof yet, to counter this claim by the older generation who used to work with him.

I think I should share some old methods done by my grandfather in 1940′s, when even the concept of branding was alien to our marketplace. He had four big delivery vehicles. Same blue colour, same model, but of a make that was totally unknown in the State. He would not write anything on it to denote the brand. He will make sure that all four goes as a caravan and this would be led by him in an imported Dodge car. Now, every month this caravan would pass through a particular place at a particular time. For example, it would pass Kottayam Town at about 10am on 15th of every month. He did this continuously for years.

The impact of this was that people would definitely notice this unusual spectacle. As nothing is there on the vehicles to give them a clue, they would have to ask somebody. That would become a discussion point there. Now human tendency is to pose knowledgeable. So naturally while explaining, the peer in the group would tell them stories of the firm and its founder as if he had first hand information. That was the making of a legend. Imagine, when he would have covered the entire length and breadth of the State in a month, how many curious faces he must have created. How many people discussing about it.. And how many stories..

There were many other tactics he had employed. Like being the first company to have introduced ‘complimentary calendar’ in Kerala, way back in 1930′s. The same advertisement on the same page, on a particular date of a month on dailies; different dates were allotted for each daily. And this was continued for about 50 years! In fact, this advertisement was featured as an exhibit for a Mathrubhumi event few years back, for its novelty. He was the person who started the ritual of mentioning the places in which he had opened branches. This had been done in Malayalam alphabetical order and  I still meet people who can recite them by heart in a typical tune! The signboard at our Head Office still shows ‘Thodupuzha, Thiruvithamcore’, and there are no questions raised about its tradition.

To be frank, in spite of old age, mismanagement and the crisis of the late 80′s, his branding wizardry instilled long life to the organization. When we took over the remains of the organization by the end of 90′s, branding was the only thing in our favour. People still remembered the name and its nature of business. We just had to tell them that we were alive and kicking once again.

Anyway, thank you for your interest in our branding history. You must be regretting it after seeing such a long reply!!


Anoop Namboothiri

Managing Director, Dhanwanthari Vaidyasala

P.S. We purposefully didn’t add any content after the letter, because we are genuinely interested in knowing what you are thinking right now. Go ahead, share your thoughts using the Comment box below.

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