Less than 10 days ago, GlaxosmithKline Consumer Healthcare announced the launch of Parodontax toothpaste, its global brand, targetted at customers with bleeding gums. The response of Colgate-Palmolive, the oral care market leader was swift and emphatic. Two days ago, it began advertising its own variant through full-page ads, claiming its product was the best.
Welcome back to the world of marketing wars and aggressive competitive advertising in the consumer goods market. After a lull of almost two years, high-decibel ad campaigns have made a comeback across categories ranging from toothpastes and biscuits to dishwashers and mobile phones. Consumer demand may still be subdued, but companies are hiking ad spends in the hope of stepping up consumption, garnering market share, and creating a buzz around their products.
Sam Balsara, chairman and MD of Madison, which buys media for tobacco-to-biscuits major ITC and telecom services provider Bharti Airtel, said there is increasing realisation among companies that they can't take growth for granted in a cautious economic environment and with more brands entering the market. "We see an escalation of ad spends, especially among consumer companies, this year," he said.
But do high-voltage ad campaigns work? "The cola wars of the 1990s did not help either Coca-Cola or Pepsi. What they did was create excitement in the category," said Santosh Desai, CEO of Future Brands. "While different brands would have different reasons to come up with competitive advertising, what it does is create either new categories as in the case of specialist oralcare or smartphones, or create excitement in existing ones as in the case of biscuits."
India is an underpenetrated and underserved market where advertising has traditionally been directed at consumers and not competition. But this is gradually changing. Reckitt Benckiser's Dettol Kitchen dish-washing liquid ad showed Vim up front and disparaged the HUL product. HUL has hit back with full-page ads saying 'antiseptic is for cleaning floors and wounds, not utensils', a thinly disguised attack on Dettol.