In 2010, after a year of reviewing products from beauty brands such as The Body Shop and Lakme, Anamika Sureka decided to experiment with something different.
The Delhi resident and beauty blogger behind wiseshe.com picked up ayurvedic brand Patanjali, promoted by yoga guru Ramdev. She chose their aloe vera gel and became an instant fan. Little did she know that in a few years the brand would become one of India’s favourites, evoking queries from thousands of her readers looking for advice on how to make its chemical-free herbal products work for them.
Over the years, this craze for natural remedies, increasingly popular among India’s middle-class consumers, has helped transform Patanjali into a booming business group with a turnover of Rs 5,000 crore.
So, 32-year-old Sureka began featuring more tips and tricks on Patanjali’s range of hair oils, shampoos, creams, and gels on her blog, alongside reviews of high-end brands. Soon, she had company, as other beauty bloggers joined in.
Today, many even take to YouTube to rave about, or rage against, Patanjali’s products.
In Ramdev we trust
With its fairly unattractive packaging and indigenous ingredients, Patanjali, which has been around since 2007, is an unlikely candidate for new-age Indian beauty blogs that usually feature foreign brands such as Maybelline, Revlon, Kiehl’s, and Vichy. However, over the past two years, the ayurvedic brand has gained widespread awareness. That’s thanks to prime-time television, Patanjali shops popping up in neighbourhoods across the country, and the company’s ever-expanding product portfolio that offers everything from baby oil to rice.
Lisha Batta, who blogs at heartbowsmakeup.com, found that many of her 35,000 followers on Instagram were asking about Patanjali’s shampoos and hair oils in her comments section.
“Since 2015, Patanjali has gotten really popular among Indian consumers,” the Delhi-based blogger said, citing both the brand’s advertisements and its popular products, including its atta (wheat flour) noodles, that have piqued consumer interest. So the heartbowsmakeup.com team decided to test some its top products, including the Saundarya facewash, Divya Kanti Lep (a face-pack), and Tejus beauty cream. The resultant post became one of their most-read pages of 2015.
Patanjali’s appeal lies in its claim of using natural ingredients and apparent ayurvedic benefits, rooted in ancient Indian traditions, resonating with young Indian consumers looking for alternatives to the chemical-loaded products.
It helps that its promoter, Ramdev, established himself as a yoga guru before setting up the company.
“Patanjali as a brand has a mass consumer base; a lot of Indians are convinced when trust is involved… and Ramdev has created that kind of trust,” wiseshe.com’s Sureka said.
What’s more, its products are usually at least 20-30% cheaper than those of competing firms such as Hindustan Unilever and Dabur. For instance, Patanjali’s shampoos cost just Rs75, while prices of facewashes start at Rs45, making it easy for anyone to try them out.
“I think the price factor is a huge motivation,” 23-year-old Batta said. “Everyone loves a good deal, especially young teenage girls.”
Despite its popularity, the bloggers are divided over the real benefits of using Patanjali’s products. Many have severely criticised the brand for not delivering on its promise.
For instance, Prachi Agarwal, who manages the video-blog superWOWstyle on YouTube, trashed its Saundarya Swarn Kanti fairness creams in August 2016, calling them overpriced and ineffective.
“Honestly, I don’t even think they contain half the things they claim to contain,” Agarwal said in her review, which attracted over 1,39,000 views and comments from over 350 followers who had a mixed reponse to the product. “(The) ingredients of these creams say they contain aloe vera and vitamin E and all sorts of things which are supposed to do all sorts of good things to your skin and then it does nothing.”
For Sureka, the claims of natural ingredients in many of the products are far-fetched. She was particularly disappointed with the fairness cream, for instance, but still swears by the aloe vera gel.
Batta agrees, noting that while the soaps and toothpastes on offer are satisfactory, Patanjali pales in comparison to other herbal brands such as Bengaluru-based Himalaya.”When it comes to their personal care products, it’s a hit and miss,” she said. “The quality isn’t good across the board, and they all don’t work well.”
And that’s something advertising watchdogs have observed, too. Of late, Patanjali’s advertisements have come under the scanner for making exaggerated claims and running down the competition.
Consumers, though, can’t seem to get enough of Patanjali. So the bloggers keep the reviews coming.
This article first appeared on Quartz.