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Dettol's new gamble

This is the first time that the brand, strong in the personal care space, has moved into kitchen and utensil cleaning. Despite Reckitt Benckiser’s traditional strengths in the area, will the latest

Vivean Susan Pinto  |  Mumbai 

The comparison has set tongues wagging. Taking a leaf out of rival Hindustan Unilever’s manual, British consumer goods major Reckitt Benckiser (RB) launched an ad last week that compared its latest Dettol extension — a product for kitchen and utensil cleaning- with market leader Vim.

HUL was quick to respond to RB with an ad and a court order (See box: Lemons vs antiseptic). But RB officials informally say the attempt was to create a stir in a low involvement category such as kitchen and utensil cleaning. This category is estimated to be approximately Rs 500-600 crore in size. HUL’s Vim has a turnover of Rs 300 crore, according to market estimates. Jyothy Laboratories’ Exo and Pril, meanwhile, are some of the other players in the space together clocking a turnover of Rs 250 crore.

With players such as HUL and Jyothy already well-entrenched in the segment, RB quite literally had to make consumers sit up and take notice of it. That’s why the hardhitting ad shows more germs on the plate washed with Vim in comparison to the one where Dettol was used.

The question is: Are consumers really impressed?

Dettol is the fourth largest soap brand in the country after HUL’s Lifebuoy, Lux and Wipro Consumer’s Santoor with a share of around 8 per cent. It clocks a turnover of around Rs 1,500 crore, and is growing at a clip of around 20-25 per cent per annum. This is largely due to its positioning as a germ-killer, which it has extended into categories such as handwash, hand sanitizers, body wash, shaving creams and hand plasters.

Its move to get into kitchen and utensil cleaning while logical since germs are found everywhere, is still its riskiest extension so far. That’s because the movement into home care could quite simply erode its brand equity in personal care. The head of a soaps company puts it simply, “I am not sure how successful this product will be because it is bound to create some confusion in people’s minds. Here is a brand that you use for your body and also for cleaning utensils and kitchen surfaces. Now how sensible is that? This extension could drive consumers away from the core category of personal care. That could be dangerous.”

But Chander Mohan Sethi, senior vice-president, Reckitt Benckiser, South East Asia, says, “Dettol is a trusted name and has been adapted worldwide into diverse formats. The extension into the kitchen doesn’t compromise in any way its promise of germ protection in personal care. It further reiterates the brand’s commitment to our purpose of delivering innovative solutions for healthier lives and happier homes.”

Incidentally, India and Korea are the first two markets where the new extension has been rolled out indicating the British major’s seriousness of making a success of the product. “Health & hygiene have been issues that emerging markets such as India have been looking to address thanks to epidemics such as swine flu that have plagued people in the last few years. Kitch encleaning as a segment is not as cluttered as personal care is as a category. It made sense then for Dettol to take its germ kill proposition to this space, since that would give it scope to grow,” says Anand Ramanathan, associate director, KPMG Advisory.

Sethi says, “Kitchen is one of the germ hotspots in the house with invisible germs present on dishes and other food contact surfaces. It made complete sense to extend this promise of Dettol’s protection to the kitchen by providing a single solution for a truly healthy kitchen.”

While RB has been expanding its home care portfolio in India with a string of international brands such as Vanish, Easy off Bang, Harpic, Lizol and Colin,these products are not as huge as Dettol is for the company.“Globally, RB is big in household care and using Dettol to strengthen this portfolio in India is a clever move,” says Pinaki Ranjan Mishra, partner & national leader, retail & consumer practice, Ernst & Young.

RB’s India revenues are in excess of Rs 2,000 crore. Dettol is the largest brand in the company’s portfolio here. According to market sources, RB proposes to look at more areas in home care where Dettol can be taken, one such being floor cleaning.

Lemons vs antiseptic: HUL hits back
Hindustan Unilever (HUL) is a fierce combatant. After a week’s silence, it has finally hit back at Reckitt Benckiser’s TV ad comparing its utensil cleaner Vim with the latter’s latest launch – Dettol Kitchen Cleaning Gel. The maker of Dove and Lux released a huge print ad on Sunday 24) saying this: A Harsh Antiseptic or The Power of 100 Lemons. The body copy says: An antiseptic is for cleaning wounds and floors. Would you use it to clean the utensils your family eats from? Reminding readers of Dettol’s roots – it was launched in India in 1933 as an antiseptic liquid and remains the largest player in that space – HUL has posed a simple question: Which one would you choose to clean your child’s tiffin?

Interestingly, HUL has steered clear of taking the name of Dettol in the ad. That is because, say persons in the know, it does not want to land itself in a controversy after having pushed RB to modify the Dettol commercial by moving the Kolkata High Court last week. In its petition to the court, HUL had said the TV ad lowered the goodwill of Vim. Consequently, the Kolkata High Court passed an order on February 22 asking RB to remove the portion where the two brands were blatantly compared.

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First Published: Sun, February 24 2013. 22:29 IST