Unwilling to let up after the first round of its tussle with Hindustan Unilever which it claims to have won, Sebamed is now gearing up for a second go at India’s largest FMCG player.
The German skincare brand has refused to budge from its strategy of comparing its cleansing bar with that of Hindustan Unilever’s Dove and other bathing bars. In fact, it has already started airing a new ad campaign along much the same lines.
In conversation with Moneycontrol, Sandeep K Rathod, General Counsel and Vice-President – Legal, Sebamed India/USV Private Limited, said that the Bombay High Court (HC) is backing comparative advertising which has scientific evidence.
“Such comparative ads will also make other people open to information-sharing to customers. Plus, the court (HC) has said that there is no harm in mentioning names of competitors. But it has been suggested that use of negative language should be avoided. So, instead of saying Dove is not perfect, we can say Sebamed is perfect.”
Sebamed had launched an advertising campaign on January 8 in which it compared the pH value of its own product with that of HUL’s soaps like Dove, Pears, Lux and even with detergent bar Rin. HUL took the legal route and obtained a restraining order from the Bombay High Court on Sebamed’s ad campaign.
However, in its latest judgement, the Bombay HC passed provided Sebamed some relief, permitting it to continue its advertising campaign, albeit with a few changes.
Rathod said the court has said that Sebamed cannot compare detergent bars with bathing soaps. In its new ad campaign, Sebamed is now comparing its cleansing bar with Dove.
So, with few minor changes in its advertising campaign, Sebamed will continue with comparative advertising.
“We wanted to educate customers about pH value (pH value refers to the acidic level in a product. Lower pH means the soap is less acidic). And comparative advertising was an easier way to put it in the minds of the consumer about pH value. We wanted to create a new vocabulary in the personal care market which is driven by emotional or make-believe concepts,” said Sebamed Country Head Shashi Ranjan.
He added that it was not soaps alone, but an entire personal care portfolio including anti-hair loss shampoo and anti-ageing cream, among others that has pH 5.5 benefits.
Moneycontrol had reached out to HUL but received no response to email queries till the time of writing this article.
But a question remains: If this was only about giving right information to the consumer, why did Sebamed only compare products of HUL, the country’s largest soaps maker?
Ranjan says it’s not about a particular brand or company. “We wanted to say that pH is an important factor for your skin and every customer has a right to know. It was more about educating the customer.”
But Vibhav Sanzgiri, global vice-president, research and development, skin cleansing, for Unilever, and site leader, R&D India as well executive director, HUL in a recent interview to Business Standard, said that only focusing on pH value is an unhealthy precedent that is being set by companies.
Ranjan points out that while pH is not the only criteria, “it is an important determinant when consumers make their purchase decision, especially in the current times when health and hygiene has become so important.”
But is Sebamed only looking at the pH value? What about pricing?
Sebamed’s cleansing bar (100 gm) is priced at Rs 99, which is steep when compared to HUL’s premium soaps such as Dove and Pears which are available for around Rs 48 and Rs 41 respectively.
This means that even HUL’s premium soaps are more cost-effective than Sebamed’s cleansing bar.
So, what’s Sebamed’s strategy for pricing?
Ranjan said that while they are creating a niche for the brand, they will look at different variants and different price points depending on the market they are entering.
Sebamed, which is currently present in 47 cities, is planning to ramp up expansion to 3x in the next two years and will take the market count to 100 by this year, said Ranjan.
In the Rs 22,000-crore soap market, which is increasingly getting competitive, Sebamed is aggressively looking to capture market share and has already captured consumers’ attention.
Ranjan said that the number of enquiries around Sebamaed’s cleansing bar as well regarding pH value have increased after the advertising campaign on print and television.
While he did not share any data regarding increased traction for Sebamed’s soap, he said that on e-commerce platforms, where sales can be tracked much faster, they saw a multiplier effect.