The two brands have been at war with each other over the property of germ protection..
Reckitt Benckiser’s Dettol brand appears to be the target of arch-rival Hindustan Unilever (HUL)’s Lifebuoy for the second time in a row, with a new commercial saying the latter is far more effective than the former.
In the line of fire is Dettol’s antiseptic liquid, whose heritage in India goes back almost 80 years. Dettol is the leader in the antiseptic liquids market in India with a share of 86 per cent, followed by Savlon from Johnson & Johnson at 8.1 per cent. This market, according to industry experts, is pegged at Rs 150-200 crore.
The new commercial for Lifebuoy Total shows a rather unwell child at the doctor’s clinic. The doctor says the cause for the child’s condition is germs and proceeds to ask the parent of the child what soap he uses during his bath. The parent says she puts antiseptic liquid in his water so that he can be free of germs. The doctor reprimands her, saying the antiseptic liquid is effective in killing germs in the bucket, but not on the child’s body. Germ protection can be best achieved with a Lifebuoy Total soap, he proceeds to say.
While there is no direct reference to Dettol in the commercial, advertising industry sources say the dig at the latter hardly goes unnoticed, given the equity it enjoys in the antiseptic market. “The Dettol brand has been built on the germ-kill platform, which began from its antiseptic liquid,” says a senior marketing executive with a soaps major. He declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter. “Lifebuoy has been looking to appropriate the germ-kill space occupied by Dettol. The latest is an attempt in that direction,” he says.
An HUL spokesperson said, “A study has shown that many consumers bathe with only antiseptic liquid diluted in water. The Lifebuoy Total television commercial currently on air is issued in public interest and seeks to inform consumers that bathing with soap and water removes more germs than bathing merely with antiseptic liquid diluted in water. The claim is substantiated by tests carried out in an independent laboratory. The television commercial does not refer to any product of any competitor.”
Officials at Reckitt, however, say HUL has been targeting Dettol for some time now.
A month ago, Reckitt had complained to the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), saying the voice-over in a commercial for Lifebuoy Clini Care 10 soap had claimed the product provided 10 times better germ protection than others around. This was misleading, the company had claimed.
ASCI’s fast-track consumer complaints council had ruled in favour of Reckitt, asking HUL to modify the commercial. HUL subsequently followed the instruction.
Reckitt’s spokesperson did not indicate whether the company would knock on ASCI’s doors again seeking a modification to the new advertisement. But experts say it would be inevitable, if the company sought to minimise the damage caused by the current commercial.
Lifebuoy enjoys a 14 per cent share to Dettol’s 8.2 per cent in the health segment of the Rs 10,000-crore soaps market. This segment is pegged at Rs 3,000 crore. The other big segment in soaps is beauty, pegged at Rs 5,000 crore.
Driven by brands such as Dettol, whose rate of growth is 20-25 per cent per annum, the health segment, say market experts, is growing faster than the beauty. Dettol has successfully managed to extend the germ-kill proposition from the core antiseptic liquids to soaps, hand wash and hand sanitisers. It has also priced itself at a premium to Lifebuoy in an attempt to retain its upscale identity. A 70-gram bar of Dettol soap, for instance, costs Rs 20, while a 60-gram bar of Lifebuoy soap costs Rs 10.