Answer: Dove (Image: Facebook)
In the brand war between Sebamed, a skincare brand from Germany, and the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) major Hindustan Unilever (HUL), the one question on everyone's mind is whether such a strategy is right?
While in an order dated January 11, the Bombay High Court restrained Sebamed commercial from all mediums, brand experts say that the damage for HUL is already done.
"In this case, HUL is looking real bad because the data seems so damaging to them," said Sandeep Goyal, Chairman, Mogae Media, a media consulting firm.
If you are wondering what the Sebamed commercial was all about, the ad compares the pH value of various HUL products in the soap category with Sebamed's soap bar. pH value refers to the acidic level in a product. So, lower pH means the soap is less acidic and better for the skin.
Such type of an ad in advertising terms is called comparative advertising.
"While Sebamed has to discontinue its advertising from now on, the damage is already done and social media conversations will ensure that this battle will continue even if the communication is no longer in play," said Sunit Khot, Chief Strategy Officer, Network Advertising.
But was it the right move by Sebamed?
Brand expert and Founder of Harish Bijoor Consults In, Harish Bijoor said that this is a proven tactic. "When a smaller brand wants to take on the biggest in the space, it exhibits a yen to be bigger than the rest. It attracts eyeballs. It attracts the eyeballs of everyone who consumes the bigger brand, in this case a whole clutch of HUL brands."
Adding to this, Goyal, said, "HUL is the big bully of the FMCG business with enormous market shares. Any competitor trying to take on HUL has to be gutsy and capable of inflicting some quick hits before HUL lumbers into defense. So, the direct ads are brave and hit hard. There is no ambiguity in the claims, and HUL has been put on back foot defensive."
He added that the ad which aired last week during the weekend further paralysed HUL. "The earliest rebuttal was possible only on Monday, giving Sebamed all the space and leeway to make its point."
But can Sebamed's ad impact sales of HUL's soap brand Dove?
"In the case of SebaMed, a relatively niche and premium brand, given the huge price premium it commands, this is not likely to result in much conversion," said Khot.
A 100 gm Sebamed's cleansing bar ranges between Rs 99 to Rs 189 whereas a Dove costs around Rs 48.
However, brand experts pointed out that Sebamed, which is a new player in the soap category has achieved a quick spike of interest and enquiry and that may result in some sales which will make a difference considering the brand has a smaller base in India.
Santosh Patil, Associate Director, Key Accounts, TheSmallBigIdea, a marketing agency said that in recent times, comparative advertising has gained popularity amid advertisers for its ability to create noise and drive narratives.
He added that those who support comparative advertising believe it brings a healthy competition to the table. "However, the detractors feel it hampers the brand's reputation and could result in loss of goodwill for the brand," he added. As for Patil, he thinks that such type of advertising helps consumers to make better buying decisions.
Will this tactic be enough for Sebamed?
Bijoor said that such a tactic has a small lifetime. "Once the grabbing of the eyeballs is achieved, one needs to witness the brand-strategy rollout. That needs to have a longer life. I am waiting for that now from Sebamed. A tactic is never enough to create a strong brand in the marketplace."
Khot agrees. He said, "one feels that Sebamed could have worked on building its own equity given its premium and clinical skincare heritage. A direct comparison brings the brand down to a lower battleground, rather than carving out its own place at the top of the price-value pyramid."
Has this happened before?
Brand experts pointed out many examples when brands took on competition directly through ads.
"Though not rampant, this is hardly the first instance of direct comparative advertising in India. There are examples like Maruti versus Hyundai, Horlicks versus Complan, Tide versus Rin, and many more. The point is that none of these managed to get any long-term advantages beyond a flurry of discussions before the public moved on to the next big thing," said Khot.
In fact, HUL has also done something similar in the past.
In one of its previous ads for its detergent bar Rin, HUL had come up with a commercial where a pack of Tide, a laundry detergent brand by Procter & Gamble
(P&G) is in the background and the ad plays a voice-over saying, "Tide se kahin behtar safedi Rin."