FMCG giant Hindustan Unilever (HUL) has once again joined a bitter ad war against arch rival Reckitt Benckiser which had sounded the bugle barely three weeks ago with a commercial that showed its Dettol kitchen cleaning gel superior to HUL's Vim liquid dishwash. Now, HUL has launched a print ad that claims its Lifebuoy liquid soap gives better germ protection than the rival's Dettol anti-septic formulation.
There have been skirmishes between the two rival European multinationals in the past with both fighting the battle in the courts but any direct attack at each other's products was avoided.
Earlier, acting on a petition filed by HUL, the Calcutta high court had directed Reckitt to remove portion of the ad that claimed that its Dettol dishwashing liquid is better than Vim in killing 100% germs.
Industry sources said HUL's print advertisement is an extension of a TV commercial that the firm had launched last year. Taking an obvious dig at Dettol, HUL had aired a TV commercial claiming that Lifebuoy was a better germ killer than "an anti-septic liquid" while avoiding any direct reference. The claim was substantiated by tests in an independent laboratory, an HUL spokesperson claimed.
The commercial was challenged by Reckitt, after which HUL had successfully defended itself, a source said. "It is clear that FMCG companies are adopting all sorts of gimmicks to target consumers. Whether this ad is withheld or not, the effect will already be made by then," said Bejon Mishra, member of Consumer Complaint Council of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI).
Asked about the latest HUL ad, a Reckitt spokesperson said, "We have taken note of the advertisement and internally evaluating the same."
Experts say that while one advertisement may not adversely impact Dettol's dominance in the anti-septic liquid category, HUL's intent to pit two well-established brands against each other will create some excitement in a mature market. "It is a well thought out move to create some buzz in the segment. In the end, it is a need-based category and brands have to find ways to gain attraction. After all, it is not like people are not aware of these brands," said Ankur Bisen, vice president, retail and consumer products, Technopak.
According to industry estimates, Dettol is a leader in the Rs 150-Rs 200 crore antiseptic liquid market, with close to 86% of market share. But Lifebuoy enjoys a 14% share in the health segment of the Rs 10,000 crore soaps market against Dettol's share of close to 9%.
"Often old brands try to rejuvenate themselves. From the point of view of the two warring brands, HUL is attacking a well established brand from the Reckitt stable," said Arvind Sharma, chairman, ASCI. On what could be the expected next move by Reckitt, Sharma said it will be decided based on what arena the two brands intend to choose.
However, so long as the claims are supported by facts, the advertisements cannot be held up for breaking any codes, said Sharma, who is also the chairman of advertising agency Leo Burnett.