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What an idea, Sirji!

india Updated: May 24, 2009 00:14 IST
Mini Pant Zachariah

Hrithik Roshan is splashed across the city in an advertisement for Macroman briefs. But there was a time, in 1983-84, to be precise, when undergarment dealers in India rejected the VIP Frenchie because it was not considered manly enough.

“It looks like a female panty” was the specific reason for the trade to reject a product, which has now become the generic name for male briefs. And unbelievable though it may seem, Avinash Kishor, marketing manager for Maxwell Industries, the Mumbai-based makers of VIP range of undergarments in India, says that the product was sold as an undergarment for women.

Like many ideas ahead of their times, the male brief would have died unsung if it was not for the ‘daring’ advertisement of a hero saving a damsel in distress (see pic). http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/images/VIP-FRENCHIE.jpg

“Frenchie has become a generic name for a product, much like Surf for detergent or Dalda for vanaspati ghee. Clearly, it was an idea ahead of its time,” says Kishor.

Though men's brief was popular abroad, the distributor and the retailer who dictated what would or would not sell in the market in the pre-liberalisation era, rejected it in India.

But that was also the time when the angry young man phenomena become popular in Bollywood. “So, when the highly dramatised advertisement was telecast and flashed in print, people started asking for the product by name,” recalls Kishor. The rest, as they say, is history. All men's undergarment brands introduced the brief.

Below the beltHrithik Roshan lends his body to a pair of briefs, a product once rejected as the female panty
Beyond underwear

If lack of direct consumer contact almost did the Frenchie in, another idea that was ahead of its time was Bisca, the cup noodles introduced by the Parle Agro Private Limited. The instant ready-to-eat noodles that needed only hot water to be added to them, didn't find favour with the public. Ironically, Maggi 2-minute noodles were a hit spawning many clones by then.

But 2008 was a different story when Nestle developed and launched Maggi Cuppa Mania, as “a trendy ally of the emerging multitasking generation” according to Shivani Hegde, General Manager, Foods, Nestle. “Consumer needs change with time. Today’s generation is continuously on the go. And there is a need for products that offer taste, nutrition and convenience out of home.”

While the rushed lifestyle of the urban young has helped some companies cash in on an idea, some other pioneering ideas are falling by the way because people do not have time for it.

For instance, Bata India, was the first to introduce the services of a pedicurist in its stores in the early 50s. It was part of the objectives of the company. According to a senior employee of Bata India, “Founder Thomas J. Bata was the sort of man for whom consumer comfort was paramount. We still provide the service in two of our stores — in Delhi and Kolkatta — but it is not our primary business concern now.”

Others in the footwear business explain why, “When a person goes to buy a shoe, he does not have the luxury of time for a foot massage. He would rather go to a foot spa or a parlour for that where he can relax.” That's an idea.