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Sebamed Vs HUL: Understanding Comparative Advertising

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

You can also listen to the podcast of this same blog post, here


If you have been following The Marketing Empress content regularly, you must have come across me, mentioning comparative advertising.

Many believe, that comparative advertising in India is frowned upon and cannot be considered as an option.

But well that’s not exactly as simple as that, in fact, multiple layers decide whether a brand can indulge in comparative advertising or not.

While comparative advertising has been there for quite some time now, the recent Sebamed soap ads, managed to take the entire concept a notch higher.

And kudos to the team who decided to take this bold step and talk about ‘facts & research’

So what exactly happened when Sebamed decided to portray their products to be better than famous HUL soaps?

Watch the YouTube Video



In this blog post, we cover all about that controversy and try to analyze whether the approach taken by Sebamed can lead to the success of the brand in the long run.


But before we do that, watch the commercial below, if you haven’t already seen it.

That’s some ‘break the clutter’ advertising indeed!


So without further ado, let’s analyze these ad campaigns


1. Advertising Background

These ads were aired back in the second week of January, when the Sebamed marketing head, mentioned that the ads were aimed to promote ‘evidence-based advertising’ and not disparage another company.

The ads clearly spoke about Sebamed soaps being better than Pears, Dove, Santoor, and the likes.

One of the ads even compared the ph level of Lux with that of a detergent bar ‘Rin’. (both from HUL)


2. Advertising Objective

The soap category at present is extremely competitive, and the major market share is of course consumed by HUL’s brands.

In a situation like this, it gets very difficult for any new soap brand to enter and make a mark.

Soaps, I believe is also a loyalty-driven segment, especially when it comes to brands like Dove.

Consumers who have been using the brand for a while now, wouldn’t want to change, unless extremely necessary.

This ‘Extremely necessary’ need was the objective, planned by Sebamed.

The objective was to highlight that Sebamed soaps contain the perfect ‘Ph level’ that’s needed for sensitive skin.

However, they could communicate this through two routes

a. Sebamed soaps have the perfect ph level for sensitive skin

b. Other ‘sensitive soaps’ do not have the perfect ph level.

They decided to go ahead with the latter, let’s look at the execution!


3. Advertising Execution

When it comes to soaps, generally we do not see an authoritative figure, like a doctor who will recommend usage or something in that regard.

But Sebamed decided to introduce this, and because their overall communication was based on highlighting the importance of Ph level, this worked in their favor.

Across the ads, we see three girls about to have a bath, dressed in an ancient/classy looking attire, asking the viewers if they know about the ph level of famous soap brands.


Normally, brands tend to blur the names of the soaps to avoid controversy, but Sebamed decided to be bold and highlight it in every way they can.

The product window of the litmus strip checking the harshness of soaps has been done before, but here the brand names were clearly visible.

Another unique or rather daring part of these commercials was the tagline ‘Filmstars ki nahi, Science ki suno’, which further strengthened their claims of research.


4. HUL’s reaction to the advertisements

HUL has always been into the comparative advertising space themselves.

In fact, they were the ones to introduce the issue of ph levels in bathing soap, where they targeted ‘ITC’s Vivel’.

This time around, however, they were at the receiving end of it.

HUL filed a lawsuit against the German brand, without any prior notice to Sebamed.

However, by releasing advertisements over a large scale on a weekend, Sebamed had already managed to grab a lot of eyeballs.

Finally, the HC barred Sebamed ad, that compared Lux and Dove to a detergent bar.

But the other ads were allowed to air with minor tweaks.

It’s important to note though, that the ads were misleading to some extent, since they did not highlight other formulations of the brand, and only focused on the ph level.


5. Advertising Learnings

While comparative advertising is not new, the form keeps changing, and more often than not we see brands trying to stir things up to benefit from it.


My top 3 learnings from this ad campaign are as follows:

1. The switch from a ‘prescribed product’ to a ‘consumer product’ does take some effort

It’s important to note that these ads did not introduce Sebamed soaps, they have been in the market for a while now, however, they operated in the space of ‘prescribed products’.

The brand wanted to enter into a consumer-driven product category through these ads, and the switch is definitely a difficult one.

And I call it difficult because it’s a tough choice for a brand to bring in the medical angle to a product category that has been focussed on beauty.


2. Comparative advertising definitely generates the much-needed attention

While comparative advertising is a tough nut to crack, more so because multiple things can go wrong, but very few that can go right.

And even more important, is the fact it requires you to have ample data and research to back the claims that have been made in the commercial.

However, the best part is, these ads can guarantee the much-needed buzz around your brand.

Before the court hearing, in the case of Sebamed, the brand had already managed to grab the attention of consumers, the damage was done.


3. Effects of comparative advertising may be short-lived

Often the brands may have to choose between coming up with a regular campaign that can go on for longer, or introducing a comparative ad campaign, that may be short-lived.

But it’s a gamble at the end of the day, you may choose to do comparative advertising if you have strong claims to support your research, and get the attention.

Maybe then you can move on to something else in the long run.


Conclusion:

Whatever may be the case, Sebamed definitely managed to get the attention and now has the mindshare of the consumer.

So it proved to be a win-win situation for them.

Do let us know your thoughts on the same, in the comments below!

 

Also read: Top 10 Indian Advertisements from the 90s



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