Thursday, February 21, 2019

WLS : Live Natural

Brand: WLS ( Formerly Wills Lifestyle)
Company: ITC

Brand Analysis Count: 588

Wills Lifestyle was ITCs foray into Indian textile market. Launched in 2000, Wills Lifestyle initially was pioneering the premium fashion clothing market in India. The brand when it was launched was seen as an attempt by ITC to keep the equity of the cigarette brand Wills. Since cigarette brands cannot advertise, a clothing extension would be helpful in sustaining brand awareness. I viewed it as a case of surrogate advertising. 
Contrary to my assumption, ITC had other plans for the brand. Will Lifestyle quickly became successful as a premium clothing brand. The company expanded the brand franchise through retail stores across the country. In 2006, Wills Lifestyle became the principal sponsor of  India Fashion Week. Through this fashion event,  Wills Lifestyle became associated with fashion thus differentiating itself with the other clothing brands. However, the product was priced at a premium this restricting its scope into a niche brand.
Over a period of time, the clothing vertical became a laggard in the ITC portfolio and I presume that the company's foray into the FMCG segment had all the management attention. 

This year, the brand has a major restructuring. ITC has rebranded Wills Lifestyle into an acronym WLS. The brand also has a new positioning - sinless clothing which means 100% natural. 
With the rebranding, Wills Lifestyle has severed its ties with the cigarette brand. 
It is a very bold and risky move since at one stroke the brand has lost the source of its awareness. Now ITC will have to move the awareness of the older brand to the new brand name and that involves a whole lot of money. The new positioning of ' Naturalness ' is the buzz word in the FMCG space and ITC is hoping that the clothing market would also follow the trend. Also being natural is a good excuse to charge a premium!

WLS has adopted the tagline 'Live Natural ' to support the new positioning. The relaunch saw teaser ads across the print media. 

Wills is a powerful brand which has huge resonance among the male segment. Trading that powerful brand for an acronym does not make much sense in the marketing point of view. However, ITC may want to disassociate other businesses from the cigarette brand so that in future ethical questions can be avoided. 
A rebranding of this scale requires that the brand has to start afresh, right from identifying the source of brand equity to reworking all associated brand elements. With huge cash reserves, ITC does not have a financial issue in building awareness for WLS. What I am little skeptical is the " Natural " positioning platform of WLS. I don't see this as a compelling attribute, especially for a premium clothing brand. Time will tell. 

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