Shubham Sharma, a chain-smoker for four years, has grown a new addiction since last year. A software developer who works from his north Delhi home, he makes multiple trips every week to a chaiwallah’s shop two kilometres away merely to check if his box of candies has arrived.
“My stock finishes in three days,” Sharma said, “but I don’t get more than two boxes a week” despite the willingness to pay 40% above the stated price. “The tea seller forces the vendor to give him more boxes, but he justifies the high price by saying the supply doesn’t match the demand.”
Sharma’s hypothesis is that the middlemen are making a quick buck since people are willing to pay more for the confection. “It’s just a candy,” the exasperated 26-year-old said, without a trace of irony.
Inexplicable as it may appear, Sharma isn’t alone in harbouring an odd obsession with the mango-flavoured candy.
Social media presence
Pulse, a hard-boiled candy with a raw mango flavour and a tangy inside, was launched in mid-2015 and has since notched sales of over Rs 100 crore. It comes from the stables of DS Group, a Noida-headquartered conglomerate that also makes Baba chewing tobacco and Rajnigandha paan masala.
A report in Mint says the candy, priced at Re 1, was introduced in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Delhi in a “test-marketing drive”, but demand was off the charts from the start. “What has made Pulse popular is word of mouth, supported by DS Group’s strong distribution network,” Mint said, quoting unidentified company officials.
The popularity has been a self-propelling phenomenon – the more Pulse finds admirers among the internet generation, the more mentions it gets on social media. The greater visibility it gets on social platforms, the bigger the cult around it grows, online and offline.
This is perhaps what sets Pulse apart from the popular candies of earlier times, whether Poppins, Mango Bite, or Phantom sweet cigarettes. Nobody was creating video reviews of Parle Poppins in the 1980s.
There are many videos on YouTube in which Pulse is being earnestly appraised. In the video above, an occasional product reviewer talks about the candy’s tanginess that gives it the taste of “chaat masala”.
Akhil Katyal, a teacher of English Literature at the Shiv Nadar University, was so taken with that masala taste that he wrote a short ode to it in Hindi.
On the question-and-answer website Quora, a user penned a 1,224-word response to the question “Why is the candy Pass Pass Pulse so popular?” The write-up, viewed nearly 50,000 times, attributes Pulse’s success to its flavours, pricing and packaging. On Facebook, there are dedicated pages, with thousands of likes, and a rash of memes. On the photo-sharing platform Instagram too, there are several posts on Pulse.
Not surprisingly then, given this vast social media presence, the candy’s popularity is often put to the brand’s clever marketing.
“There is just a little difference between taste of Pulse and Hajmola candy,” wrote Adhar Sharma on mouthshut.com, a crowd-sourced review site. “Maybe they popularized it by targeting social media and paid advertisements where most got in the illusion that this is the best candy available in the country and everybody [is] liking it.”
In western markets, where internet penetration is deeper, many brands have created a loyal following and a recognisable identity by marketing intelligently on social media. As this industry report says, in the US, social media “now plays almost as large a role in purchasing decisions as TV, and 57 percent of consumers say they’re influenced to think more highly of business after seeing positive comments or praise online”.
A detailed report on the marketing and advertising website Afaqs.com says DS Group – buoyed by the success – has roped in a professional marketing firm to do outdoor and online marketing.
Shashank Surana, vice president (new product development), DS Group, told Scroll.in that the candy has got people hooked because the flavours suit Indian taste buds. "It is a category breaker in the hard-boiled candy segment," Surana said in an email. "It carries a different mouth feel from regular candies, which could be the reason for the [claims of] pulse addiction."
But a management communications student studying Pulse for her dissertation had another theory. She told Scroll.in on condition of anonymity that the candy is popular “solely due to grocers who refuse to tend loose change”.
“The candy shouldn’t have been this popular if it wasn’t forced on people through their purchases,” she claimed. “Now, it has replaced chewing gum as the default thing people get when they want to have something in the mouth. The addiction people talk about is basically behaviour moulded through habits.”