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Pepsodent fights on

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Hindustan Unilever has rolled out a new campaign for its , this time with , as it takes on the market leader, Colgate

Set inside a bathroom, the ad opens when a young boy asks his father, played by superstar Shah Rukh Khan, why he has to brush his teeth everyday. The father slips into a character, puts on a gruff voice and explains to his son that if he doesn’t brush his teeth, germs will attack it and his white teeth will turn black.

Making gestures with his hands, the father says that using just for two minutes will kill germs, which is why germs are scared of the toothpaste. Simultaneous, he tries to scare his son with a devious laugh. But when his wife enters the bathroom with her hair on her face, the plot falls flat and it is the father who ends up getting a fright. We hear SRK’s voiceover: 95 per cent germ-free in two minutes — Pepsodent Germicheck+.

That’s a lengthy explanation for a 35-second ad, but for Pepsodent this is vital. The message and the brand positioning are very clear: Pepsodent helps fight germs, and children should know which toothpaste to use. The dash of humour makes the serious message lighthearted. Pepsodent, after all, holds the key in Hindustan Unilever’s fight for a larger share of the Rs 3,000-crore per annum toothpaste market. While leads the pack with its brand, Colgate, with a 52.5 per cent share, Hindustan Unilever (Pepsodent and Close Up) is a distant second with 22 per cent.

A tooth and nail fight
Hindustan Unilever had launched Pepsodent in 1993 in an attempt to challenge Colgate. Hindustan Unilever, the country’s largest personal care company, had first come out with Close Up to take on Colgate. Experts say it was a little ahead of its time because it was positioned as a mouth freshener. “With Close Up on a weak wicket, the company needed a brand like Pepsodent which targeted children,” says one brand expert.

The pester power of children is well-acknowledged by marketers. Companies across categories like healthcare, personal care, newspapers and even computers have realised that the best way to enter homes is through children. Also, it is the best way to hook a customer early in his life.

Talking to children was fine, but Pepsodent needed a differentiator. The task was far from easy. Colgate is almost a generic brand. People in India still say Colgate when they want to say toothpaste. The company had cleverly positioned itself as the toothpaste which helps fight tooth decay.

So, Hindustan Unilever positioned Pepsodent as long-lasting protection from germs; it could fight germs for hours after brushing. By 2000, Hindustan Unilever had changed the brand communication. It no longer centred around the fight with germs; instead, it described the benefits of using Pepsodent. The move didn’t work and soon the original communication was brought back. By then, Pepsodent had tried every trick in the book. So much so, Hindustan Unilever aggressively marketed it in the rural market at Rs 10 for a 40-gram pack, though it was originally positioned as a premium brand. (Traditionally, Pepsodent has occupied premium price points of Rs 30 and Rs 54.)

Pepsodent had to do something really big to make its mark. Research suggested that mothers worry about what their kids eat, especially when they are away from them, and its impact on their dental health. Using that insight, Pepsodent launched the ‘’ ad that said: Let Pepsodent fight germs for you. Thus, the new campaign showed a young boy looking at sweets in a store, wondering which ones to pick. His mother sees him on the closed-circuit television and, instead of getting worked up, calmly picks up Pepsodent.

Finally, Hindustan Unilever had hit bull’s eye. Pepsodent’s market share went up from 10.96 per cent to 13.81 per cent in a matter of eight months. “Dishoom Dishoom was a very powerful idea with which Pepsodent really managed to take on Colgate which doubtless straddles the entire category,” says a brand consultant. Next, Hindustan Unilever came out with ads like Bachche jhoot nahin bolte (kids don’t tell lies) where a non-Pepsodent user is forced to lie to his mother about his eating habits. The ad didn’t strike the same chord with people. As a result, Hindustan Unilever’s market share has slipped 25 percentage points in the last one year. Aware of that, the company knew that something needed to be done.

Fresh take
Having spoken to customers extensively, the company backtracked on its previous stand of using the mother and brought in the father. “Everyone usually associates the mother with dental care, but we wanted to show the role of the father in grooming his kid,” says Srinandan Sundaram, Hindustan Unilever’s head for oral care.

Asked why the brand promise has been changed so frequently, Sundaram says: “We are not changing our positioning, we have always maintained that we are a germ-fighting brand; we’re only executing it differently.”

Considering that, the brief given to creative agency Lowe Lintas was to explore the father’s role while driving home the key message. Lintas’ work was made easier as the ad is a replica of Unilever’s global campaign for Pepsodent. The task was to find the right person to play the father’s role; the ad would otherwise fail to register any impact on viewers.

The choice was SRK, the most powerful communicator in India today. Sundaram feels he has a winner on his hands. “SRK was the obvious choice. We have always seen him take out time for his kids; besides, he’s got a lot of credibility. That makes him a natural fit and consumers believe in him.” But brand consultants aren’t so sure. “Whether SRK is the right choice, I don’t know, frankly I liked the positioning of the mother,” says one. Of course, SRK has endorsed other Hindustan Unilever brands like Lux in the past. For the first time, a man was shown using the soap which had always taken topnotch Bollywood heroines as its brand ambassador.

The ad broke on May 19 and will air across all channels. For now it is just a TVC, but Hindustan Unilever is working on other activities around the campaign as well.

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