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Emerald Emerging Markets Case Studies

Costly moves: a strong brand, Dentonic loses its power

Shahnaz Mohammad ali Meghani
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Costly moves: a strong brand, Dentonic
loses its power
Shahnaz Mohammad ali Meghani

Shahnaz Mohammad ali Syed Amiruddin Alavi (Mr Alavi), Director and Founder of Ala Chemicals, mused over the
Meghani is an Associate recent changing trends in the dental care business and its impact on his brand Dentonic,
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Professor based at the indisputable leader in the tooth powder category for almost five decades, and its
Department Marketing, extension strategy into the toothpaste category.
Institute of Business
Management, Korangi While Dentonic powder and its relatively recent line extension Dentonic Plus were highly
Creek, Karachi, Pakistan. successful until the year 2000, and proved to be cash cows for the company, Dentonic
toothpaste does not seem to have made the same impact on the market.
Dentonic powder had been so successful in the 1990s that it had become a generic name
in the tooth powder category (CEO, Ala Chemicals), and Mr Alavi had been, therefore, very
confident that the same pattern would be observed in the case of Dentonic toothpaste.
Market acceptance, he thought, would logically be as smooth for the paste as it had been
for the powder.
However, the story that unfolded for Dentonic toothpaste was far from what Mr Alavi had
visualized. Dentonic toothpaste was not met with much success. In fact, some premium
stores discontinued providing shelf space to the brand, and those that did agree to stock
it were unwilling to carry the complete product portfolio – only the larger packs of Dentonic
toothpaste (125 and 200 g) were accepted (random retail audit,2013, Class A & B Stores,
Mr Alavi was baffled, as the quality of the toothpaste was comparable to any premium
toothpaste brand in the market. He could not understand what had prevented Dentonic
toothpaste from achieving the success the company felt it deserved. He wondered why the
strong brand equity of Dentonic tooth powder did not immediately rub-off onto Dentonic
Mr Alavi recalled the time when he had first launched Dentonic tooth powder in 1961 and
This case study is published
in partnership with the Asian
the boom period for Dentonic tooth powder from 1963 to 1996.
Society of Management and
Marketing Research (ASMMR) Evolution of the brand Dentonic
as part of the 2014 ASMMR -
Emerald EEMCS Teaching
Case Competition.
Mr Alavi recalled that, back in 1958 when he, a young man of 25 years, he had been
suffering from a severe dental disease called gingivitis. His father had tried all remedies
available and had even consulted several qualified dentists but to no avail. He spent
Disclaimer. This case is written
solely for educational sleepless nights because of the severe pain in his teeth and his bloody gums.
purposes and is not intended
to represent successful or At that time, Mr Alavi used to work for a sugar mill in Bangladesh and that is where he
unsuccessful managerial
decision making. The author/s
came across his savior – a humble dentist who gave him a powder to use. After using
may have disguised names; it for about a week, he saw a significant difference in his condition and within a matter
financial and other
recognizable information to
of months he was completely cured of the disease. It was then it occurred to him he
protect confidentiality. could market the powder as a branded product, as it had so efficiently cured his

DOI 10.1108/EEMCS-08-2013-0172 VOL. 4 NO. 5 2014, pp. 1-15, © Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 2045-0621 EMERALD EMERGING MARKETS CASE STUDIES PAGE 1
gingivitis and felt good for daily use as well. The dentist was a generous man, who saw
the spark in Mr Alavi’s eye, and agreed to part with the formula and Mr Alavi wasted little
time in having the formula patented. That was the beginning of the journey of Ala
Chemicals and the Dentonic brand.
Ala Chemicals started on September 26, 1963, with an initial capital of only Rs.6,000. Mr
Sagheer’s vision was to facilitate the masses with quality oral care and Dentonic tooth
powder was marketed at an affordable price, but at first Dentonic tooth powder was only
bought by a few people. Other tooth powders available in the market at the time were
Dentogene marketed by the Dentogene Laboratory and a brand, by the name of Tibet,
marketed by Kohinoor Chemicals, but neither seemed to draw many consumers. People
were not accustomed to using tooth powder for oral hygiene, and instead used home-made
dental cleaning powder made out of powdered charcoal or dandasa, a chewing stick
plucked off a neem tree (May 19, 2010, Oral Care Market Report, Pakistan).
Dentonic tooth powder was positioned as a superior teeth cleaning agent. Advertising of
Dentonic tooth powder was based on an emotional appeal used humor. In fact, the
company was the first to use an animated cartoon character in its advertisement for tooth
powder. The advertisement, initially produced in the USA, remains as an icon among
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advertisements used in the country. The same character was used on billboards, posters
and print advertising and on Dentonic packaging as a part of its legendary composite logo
The tagline Mr Alavi chose was based on his company’s mission “to provide good dental
hygiene to all segments of the society at an affordable price”. It read as: “Sabse behtar
sabse aala – Dentonic” (Dentonic Ad, company Web site).
A poster in Sagheer Alavi’s room had a bold caption which declared: “Dentonic for a
beautiful healthy smile!”
Dentonic powder continued to grow from strength to strength and became the oft-quoted
success story among local brands. The product was also endorsed by independent
bodies. Two prestigious dental hygiene institutions, the Hamdard Dental College and
Altamash Institute of Dental Medicine, reported on the basis of tests they conducted that
the use of Dentonic powder showed a significant reduction in plaque accumulation and
gingivitis. Dentonic was also the first tooth powder company to be ISO 9000 certified and
the product has been approved for use by the Dental Association of Pakistan.

Shifting market trend in oral care

Dentonic powder successfully held 80 per cent of the market share during the 1990s. Their
competitors in the 1990s, Khaas and Trident brands, each had nearly 10 per cent of the
market share (CEO, Dentonic). The reason Dentonic dominated the dental powder market
was that it was a high-quality product, very effective for oral care and had a strong heritage.
Mr Alavi was very satisfied with the turn of events, but by 1996 a shift in market preference
was observed by him.
It came to Mr Alavi’s attention that the young middle and lower income users were
becoming inclined toward toothpaste rather than tooth powder, as they perceived that
the foam generated during the use of toothpaste helped clean teeth better. Based on
this observation, Mr Alavi had a new variant of Dentonic tooth powder developed with
a foaming agent added to it. The product was launched under the name of Dentonic
Plus and its foaming action was communicated as its “value proposition”. The product
proved to be an instant success, particularly among younger consumers because when
they used Dentonic Plus Tooth powder the effect was the same as having used a
toothpaste. However, aspirations for a better lifestyle characterizes most consumers –
and that notion held true for Dentonic powder users as well. The youngsters
representing the lower end of the market once again started to shift toward toothpaste.


Mr Alavi continued to keep a close eye on consumer behavior and developments in the
dental care product category.

The birth of Dentonic toothpaste (May 2002)

Toward the end of the 1990s sales of Dentonic tooth powder were beginning to stagnate
although the dental cleaning category continued to grow at a steady rate (Danish, 2010).
When Mr Alavi probed further he discovered that a shift had started, especially among the
young users, toward inexpensive toothpaste and they were substituting tooth powder for
toothpaste. This was considered a more modern practice and the powder had begun to be
perceived by a large majority of the middle and lower classes as an old-fashioned method
for cleaning teeth. Mr Alavi realized that if he continued to rely on tooth powder alone and
stay away from toothpaste, it would be at his own peril. The writing was clearly on the wall –
his product portfolio had a major gap that had to be filled if he wanted to capitalize on the
market trend. He still believed that tooth powder had potential, particularly in the
price-sensitive dental care lower-end market. But then toothpaste brands, such as English,
were priced at Rs.10 for a 40-g pack and had become a direct threat to his tooth powder
priced at Rs.10 for a 45-g pack. One of them had even started using the slogan: “Powder
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ki qeemat mein toothpaste” which translated as “Toothpaste for the price of tooth powder”
(CEO, Dentonic).
Mr Alavi felt that the time had come to enter the toothpaste market. Ala Chemicals R&D
went to work and produced a high-quality toothpaste. Tests confirmed that the toothpaste
they had created compared favourably with any premium toothpaste in the market. They
saw their competitors, such as Colgate, Pepsodent, Close up and other premium brands,
catering to the upper middle and upper classes. Ala Chemicals were ready with a premium
toothpaste and Dentonic toothpaste was launched by 2002.

Competition in the toothpaste market

The toothpaste market was dominated by a small number of large firms, such as Colgate
Palmolive, P&G, GSK and Unilever – their brands were Colgate, Crest, Aquafresh, Close Up
and Pepsodent; there were some lower price brands including English, Sparkle, Shield and
Doctor White. The market had been growing during the first 10 years of the millennium at
a compound annual growth rate of 3.1 per cent (Danish, 2010).
According to Gallup Household Consumer Panel, toothpaste penetration is 60 per cent in
urban Pakistan and tooth powder is 15 per cent and the rest comprises homemade
Among the growth drivers for toothpastes, were whitening toothpastes, multifunctional
toothpastes such as mouth fresheners, anti-cavity, total solution providers and specialized
products such as herbal formulations and sensitive teeth toothpastes. Plain fluoride, very
popular at one time, no longer seemed like an attractive proposition.
The premium segment was dominated by brands such as Colgate with 40.5 per cent
market share and a host of brands such as Close-Up, Pepsodent, Maclean’s Aqua Fresh,
Sensodyne and some imported toothpastes. The mid-segment was catered to by brands
such as Sparkle and Forhans. Lower priced brands included Dr. White, Natural and
Every brand had a Unique Value Proposition for the core product as well as other line
extensions. For instance, Close-Up was known for “fresh breath”, Colgate as the “total
solution provider”, Maclean’s as a “whitener”, Crest as “anti-cavity”, Sensodyne for
sensitive teeth and Medicam as the remedy for a variety of gum diseases. The multinational
brands were aggressively promoted.
Most brands were promoted on TV and through print ads and billboards. The premium
brands and their line extensions were also prominently displayed in outlets.


Marketing strategy for Dentonic toothpaste
Target market and positioning
When Dentonic was launched in May 2002, it was targeted at upper income households
(SEC A and B) and was positioned as top-quality premium toothpaste “that not only cleans
teeth, but also gives consumers the confidence to smile” (CEO, Dentonic). The rationale
behind it was that Dentonic toothpaste was very high in performance quality.

Product strategy
The quality claim was supported by the fact that Dentonic toothpaste contained:
Monofluorophosphate (Chemical formula: Na2PO3F) (MFP) fluoride with calcium,
Glycerophosphate (Chemical formula: C3H9O6P) (GP) that helped strengthen teeth and
effectively protected teeth against cavities and triclosan, a clinically proven antibacterial
agent for healthier gums and teeth. These benefits were encapsulated in the advertising
sign-off which said: “Ab khul ke muskurein hum”. This meant, “Smile with full confidence”.
It had been decided to leverage the brand name Dentonic, as it had a strong heritage and
a name in the dental care market among a large audience across cities and towns.
The toothpaste pack sported a combination of blue, red and white colors. The words
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“fluoride toothpaste” were written on the top of the panel, whereas the brand name stood
out in white against a blue background. A visual of water splashing on a “brush-head” with
toothpaste on it created a feeling of freshness. The Pakistan Dental Association (PDA)
approved mark was prominently displayed on the pack as well.
In the word-mark “Dentonic” the letter “O” was replaced by the Ala logo or “smiling face
caricature” that appeared on all Dentonic products. At the bottom of the panel words to the
effect of “anti-plaque, mouthwash, lesser cavity, brighter teeth, and mint flavor” were

Price strategy
The price of Dentonic toothpaste was kept at 10 per cent below Colgate (Rs.18 for a 50-g
pack compared to Rs.20 for a Colgate pack of the same size) as Colgate was the premium
toothpastes in the market. The two other pack sizes, 75 and 100 g, were priced at Rs.25
and Rs.30, respectively. At the time of the launch, Dentonic was available in just the three
sizes mentioned, after two years Ala Chemicals added two more sizes: 125- and 200-g
packs. At the time English toothpaste was available for 40 g at Rs.10. There was a marked
difference between English and Dentonic toothpastes, as they were positioned for different
market segments.

Promotion strategy
The company strongly supported the launch of Dentonic toothpaste and spent Rs.10 million
in the first year on advertising, 50 per cent of the budget in the first three months. TV
accounted for 70 per cent of the advertising budget, as this was considered necessary in
anticipation of a strong response from established brands, such as Colgate, Close-up and
Macleans, players in the strategic group to which Dentonic belonged. In fact, the support
for Dentonic toothpaste by Ala Chemicals was so strong that the tooth powder was
overshadowed. The company spent just 10 per cent of the promotional budget for their
tooth powder and the rest was allocated to toothpaste (CEO, Dentonic).

Toothpaste launch advertising

At the time of the launch of the product, the TV advertisement for Dentonic toothpaste
showed a family of four – husband, wife and two children – posing for a family photograph.
As the photographer encourages the family to smile expressions on everyone’s faces
change. Animated action then follows in sync with a lively song in the background.
Problems of yellow teeth and cavities are highlighted, promptly countered by suggestions


that the use of Dentonic would make their teeth sparkle, their breath smell fresh and leave
a minty flavor in their mouths. In the closing sequence, the scene returns to the opening
shot, flash-guns light up and the film closes on a freeze-frame of a smiling family – literally.

Distribution strategy
Distribution in the first year focused more on mid-sized general merchants, namely grocery
stores (kiryana stores in popular jargon) and selected premium stores – the latter to
establish an upscale image for the brand. Trade was also incentivized in the belief that a
combination of push and pull strategy would generate trial and get the product going.

Sales performance
During the first year (2002), toothpaste sales remained on target aided by a push strategy
and an effective distribution strategy, on the strength of the Dentonic brand name. A total
of 10 million units were sold. In the following year, however, sales dropped to 8 million.
Despite efforts to push sales and a re-run of the launch campaign, there seemed to be little
response from the trade or customers.
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Relaunch of Dentonic toothpaste

By 2005, retailers reported that the product Dentonic toothpaste did not have an offtake
from the shelves. The price appeared to be high and consumers did not find value for
money. Something drastic had to be done and Mr Alavi decided to relaunch Dentonic
Mr Alavi, therefore, set about developing a new strategy. The first step taken was to reduce
the price of Dentonic toothpaste across the board. The drastic price reduction, he knew,
would have an impact on revenues and margins. Mr Alavi decided to keep his advertising
costs low and revert to what had previously been Dentonic tooth powder’s traditional
advertising platform and execution.
The new TV commercial for the toothpaste was therefore an adaptation of the old Dentonic
tooth powder’s commercial and placed a toothpaste pack between two packs of tooth
powder on either side. This time the objective was to return to the core Dentonic customers
and upgrade them from powder to toothpaste. The slogan used over many years for
Dentonic tooth powder – “Dentonic twice a day, everyday [. . .] especially before going to
bed” – was incorporated in the campaign. The campaign was aired on GEO TV over a
six-month period, and cost a total of Rs.3 million in 2005.
In terms of product, several line extensions of the toothpaste were introduced. These
included Dentonic Ultra-whitening Gel in an attractive green and white packaging with
Dentonic branding in blue. Apart from the benefits of fluoride and anti-cavity toothpaste, the
gel included a “micro–whitener” for stronger whiter teeth. A combination of eucalyptus and
mint were added to leave the mouth feeling more refreshed.
Three variants of the product were introduced in 140- and 70-g packs – “Refreshing Lemon
Mint” in a yellow and white packet design, “Refreshing Peppermint” in blue and white and
“Refreshing Cinnamon” in red and white. Dentonic toothpaste for sensitive teeth was also
introduced in direct competition with the more pricey Sensodyne toothpaste.

Impact on sales
In 2005, the year that most of the new toothpaste variants were introduced, sales hit a
record high of 14 million units. However, in the very next year (2006), the figure dropped to
11 million. Despite below-the-line promotional efforts at the trade level, sales remained flat
at about 11 million between 2006 and 2009 and dropped further down to 10 million units in


Dentonic looking for help
Mr Alavi wondered what had gone wrong over the years. How was it that, despite offering
a large portfolio with a large variety, Dentonic toothpaste showed no sign of carving out a
place for itself in the toothpaste market?
All the ingredients were in place, he thought – the packaging was attractive, the quality was
as good as any, prices were competitive and a new advertising campaign had replaced the
old campaign.
In spite of this, an independent retail audit of premium stores showed that Dentonic
toothpaste was placed either on the lower shelves or behind the other toothpastes, whereas
the top shelves stocked premium brands and prominently displayed them with all their full
line ups. The explanation given for this placement by the retailers was that the only reason
Dentonic toothpaste was carried was because upper class customers bought Dentonic for
their servants. For themselves, however, they preferred Colgate, Aqua Fresh, Macleans or
Sensodyne (Retail audit, 2012).

Present scene 2013

Premium stores do not carry all sizes of Dentonic toothpaste packets but just carry the
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larger sizes of 125 and 200 g and these are not visibly displayed on the shelves. The stores
catering to the middle- and lower-end price-sensitive segments carry brands such as
English, Shield, Soda White, Touchme Minto and Sparkle, based on better turnover and
consumer demand. In the toothpaste segment, Dentonic is not sought after. In the lower
end of the toothpaste segment, English is the leader in terms of market share, both in
toothpaste and tooth powder.
Was the new jingle used in the new ad campaign for Dentonic toothpaste its swan song?

Case study questions:

 Should Ala Chemicals have ventured into the toothpaste market or just marketed their
tooth powder in various parts of the world? They are already exporting tooth powder to
Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, England, Saudi Arabia, Republic of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan,
Madagascar, South Africa, Australia, France and Germany.
In other words, would they have been better off following product specialization as a
targeting strategy?
 Should Ala Chemicals have chosen to focus on the premium class and joined the
strategic group which catered to the premium class or should other segments have
been targeted?

Keywords:  Was the reason for the low consumer response for the toothpaste a lack of a big
Brand extension, advertising budget and the non-continuation of huge sums in advertising?
Segmentation,  Could the brand have been a victim to the phenomenon of over positioning?
Growth strategy,
 Was brand extension a viable strategy in this case or should Ala Chemicals have
Repositioning, entered the premium segment with a new brand?
Targeting and positioning,  What recommendations would you have for the management of the Dentonic brand in
Targeting and positioning terms of their strategy for the future?

Danish (2010), “Pakistan oral care market report”, available at:
05/19/pakistan-oral-care-market/ (accessed 19 August 2013).

Further reading
Colgate Marketing Report (2011), available at:
(accessed 19 August 2013).


Kotler, P. and Keller, K. (2012), Marketing Management, Pearson Education, Delhi.

Toothpaste Industry Overview in Pakistan (2014), available at: (accessed

19 August 2013).

Exhibit 1

Figure E1 Dentonic toothpaste (7 oz/200 gm)

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Exhibit 2

Figure E2 Product variants (tooth powder)

Dentonic Tooth

Regular Dentonic Plus

Source: Ala chemicals


Exhibit 3

Figure E3 Product variants (tooth powder)

Dentonic Toothpaste

Reguar Ultra-whitening Sensitive teeh

Mint Lemon Mint Cinnamon Peppermint

Source: Ala Chemicals

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Exhibit 4

Figure E4 Relative market share Dentonic toothpowder

10% Dentonic


Source: Ala Chemicals


Exhibit 5

Figure E5 Oral care volume share by brand

Mr.. WHITE, 1.2% 10.5%


NATURAL, 1.6% COLGATE, 28.8%

DOCTOR, 1.9%
MINTO, 2.4%


COSE UP, 6.6%

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ENGLISH, 12.2% MEDICAM, 15.7%

SPARKLE, 13.0%



Source: Ala Chemicals

Exhibit 6

Table EI Price: year 2012

Dentonic tooth powder Sizes (grams) Prices

45 Rs.12
90 Rs.20
180 Rs.36
Dentonic tooth paste Sizes (grams) Prices
Regular 50 Rs.22
75 Rs.30
125 Rs.65
200 Rs.90
Sensitive 50 Rs.40
75 Rs.50
Gels 70 Rs.40
140 Rs.70
170 Rs.120
Miswak 70 Rs.45
170 Rs.130
Source: Independent market survey (visited 20 shops in the Defence and Clifton areas of Karachi)


Exhibit 7

Table EII Price

Colgate Close up
Price Grams Price Grams

Rs.20 30 Rs.80 125

Rs.35 50 – –
Rs.55 75 – –
Rs.68 100 – –
Rs.95 150 – –
Source: Independent market survey (visited 20 shops in the Defence and Clifton areas of Karachi)

Exhibit 8

Table EIII
Medicam Forhans Doctor
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Price Gram Price Gram Price Gram

Rs.35 40 Rs.50 70 Rs.40 40

Rs.80 100 Rs.80 150 Rs.50 70
Rs.100 150 - - - -
Source: Independent market survey (visited 20 shops in the Defence and Clifton areas of Karachi)

Exhibit 9

Table EIV
Sparkle English
Price Gram Price Gram

Rs.40 140 Rs.15 35

Source: Independent market survey (visited 20 shops in the Defence and Clifton areas of Karachi)

Corresponding author
Shahnaz Mohammad ali Meghani can be contacted at:


Title – Costly moves: a strong brand, Dentonic loses its power.
Subject area – Marketing Management.
Study level/applicability – BBA Students of Marketing Management.
Case overview – The brand 佧Dentonic” by Ala Chemicals was originally launched as a tooth powder
meant for the middle and lower socioeconomic classes. The tooth powder was a hugely successful
product. Dentonic tooth powder held the highest market share in the category at 80 per cent in the
1990s. However, the tooth powder market in the urban areas is declining and consumer preference is
slowly moving to toothpastes. Although tooth powder is still used in the rural areas, some toothpaste
manufacturers have extended their reach at the lower end of the market offering consumers “value
propositions” in the shape of toothpaste at the comparable price of tooth powder. The market for dental
cleaning products has seen a shift in terms of young consumers switching from powder to the
lower-priced toothpaste brands. The company Ala Chemicals did not want to sit back and face a
declining tooth powder market. Therefore, they launched a premium quality toothpaste by the same
brand name, Dentonic, and made efforts to penetrate the premium segment of toothpaste. However, the
marketing strategies did not have the desired effect and the company was unable to get consumers to
accept Dentonic as a premium toothpaste. Although Ala Chemicals indulged in promotional spending,
using social media, offering a high-quality product and making it accessible with competitive prices,
somehow they were unable to create the required pull.
Expected learning outcomes – This study provides an example of how “over positioning” of a brand
can be an impediment in the case of a brand extension, especially when a lower end brand is positioned
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as a premium brand. It is also meant to show that the product concept alone cannot lead to marketing
success and consumer acceptance. It also exposes students to the requirement of creating a Unique
Value Proposition in a brand and the difficulties of pursuing a segment invasion, without considering the
entry barriers, and the marketing strategies/positions of competitors.
Supplement arymaterials – Teaching Notes are available for educators only. Please contact your
library to gain login details or email to request teaching notes.