Sebamed ad targets HUL brands Lux, Dove & Pears

Nandana James Mumbai | Updated on January 10, 2021

Dove hits back; social media awash in soapy discourse

Personal care companies Sebamed and Hindustan Unilever have got embroiled in a war of soaps. It all started when the German skincare firm likened HUL’s beauty soaps to their detergent bars in an advertisement. “Did you know the pH of Lux is the same as Rin?” it asked in a print campaign.

HUL promptly got into a lather, hitting back with an ad from Dove saying it was strongly recommended by dermatologists. Notably, it refrained from naming Sebamed.

However, a company spokesperson put out a statement, “HUL products and claims are backed by strong technology and underpinning science, clinical evidence, and decades of expert and consumer-backed testing, enjoying strong brand loyalty. We will take suitable action as we deem fit.”

Will it wash?

Advertising experts said that Sebamed has made a smart move to get the brand noticed, whilst pointing out that both the companies’ target audiences vary.

“Sebamed has been noticed and heard in one stroke,” said Sanjay Sarma, founder SSARMA Consults, calling it a focussed and factual campaign. “More importantly, they have got the market leader to react. For a challenger brand to make a claim that takes the leader head on and puts them on the back foot is half the battle won,” he said.

Ambi Parameswaran, former chief executive officer of FCB-Ulka Advertising, identified Sebamed’s move as an effort to expand the reach of the brand and induce trials. “They have gone aggressive. But price (Sebamed’s cleansing bar is priced around ₹189) is a big barrier. Also, the ad is not clear why pH is so important. What about other benefits like foaming, perfume, melting, etc?” he questioned. Naresh Gupta, co-founder and chief strategy officer, Bang In The Middle, said that while the campaign is clearly aimed at shocking consumers, the core audience of Sebamed is not the consumer of Lux.

Copy book moves

Till now, both the companies have been adhering to standard, copy book moves, said Parameswaran, pointing out how a market leader like HUL has not “unnecessarily called attention to a small brand”.

“More moves are expected. Print is used to build credibility but this is a case where a long copy ad may have worked better. That said you need to disturb inertia to gain market share,” he added.

Even if HUL manages to get a stay order against the competitor from putting out the ads, the damage is already done. “And the objective achieved, for the challenger brand,” concludes Sarma.

Published on January 10, 2021

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