Trupti Haldankar

ACC Cement: From bags to riches

How to command a premium for a product that’s actually a commodity? How to bring the purchase decision back from the dealer to the individual home builder? How to make vertically stacked cement bags in warehouses communicate with home builders, labourers and masons alike? How to command a premium for dusty bags of cement? How to take this conversation out of warehouses without escalating advertising spends?

To find answers, we decided to focus on the entity that was at the heart of it all: The cement bag. And as we tracked its journey from procurement, to weaving of bags, to supply chain railway rakes and trucks, to further smaller units of carts, to handlers, to dealers, to individual home builders, to contractors and masons, we discovered a holistic relay of “industry convention” errors that needed to be addressed by design thinking as opposed to redesigned packaging.

For starters, the variants of the cement were incomprehensible or hidden in the jargon of factory speak. Like, how many human beings do you know who understand the meaning of Slag cement or Portland cement? So we substituted this age-old technical categorising of cement variants with a naming convention that was less daunting for Earthlings. Faster setting cement, water resistant cement, roofing cement, stronger bonding cement, you get the drift.

To avoid any loss in translation with the mason or his uncle, we created large, simple mnemonics to spell out each variant’s end-use in sign language. But then again, these bags were being stored vertically, one on top of other, where you could only see their sides. So, not only did we make the variant apparent on the bags’ sides, we designed a vertical tesselation pattern, where each bag played its part in creating a whole ACC brand wall visible from even 40 feet. Quite like a Mexican wave, and almost as euphoric.

We also created smaller mock-ups of ACC’s variants to to educate people about their different uses. But tracking the cement bag’s journey had also revealed some other areas of stress. Like oozing bags, due to iron hooks used by loaders. We prototyped solutions ranging from rubber ended hooks and clamps. We identified that lack of regular servicing of filling valves was a leading source of bag bursts and dust on bags. The ACC team ensured a revised servicing schedule to prevent clogging and to avoid bursting of cement bags.

Now the bags were not only communicating better, but also looking a lot more spiffy. Then we created a new brand architecture to spell out a better quality of cement; the premium range was named ‘Gold’ and regular ‘Silver’, signifying the ACC quality.

With the constant backing of ACC’s CEO – Neeraj Akhoury, this was just one of the many conventions of the cement industry that we disrupted. First, we demystified the category and then we used colours and design to reflect the positive, almost auspicious significance of home building.

It was this shifting of perspective from product focus to human centredness that resulted in an EBITDA impact of 19 crore for ACC in one region, in one quarter alone. And to think, it all began with an original brief to redesign the packaging of their cement bag.