The Sebamed ads triggering a pH war were nothing short of brilliant. And executed with such strategic precision over the weekend, that they were amazing. HUL is so used to being the aggressor, that the sudden-ness of the attack on their brands, and clarity of the pH claims certainly took Lever by complete surprise. Normally, a company as well connected as HUL would have been made aware by some leak somewhere – an outdoor vendor, a media partner, just someone. But Sebamed managed to keep it very hush-hush. And for once, the predator became the victim!
“Did you know the pH of Pears is the same as Rin?” The visual scale showed both Pears and Rin at 10; and Sebamed at 5.5. The sign-off simply said, “Perfect pH 5.5 for sensitive skin”. And the campaign was everywhere: print, outdoor, digital. Almost the same ad was repeated with Lux at pH of 10. Dove was shown to have a pH of 7. The slug-line across the campaign remained the peg of pH at 5.5 which is ‘perfect’ for skin and anything not 5.5, implying the ads are just not good for sensitive skin. The comparison with Rin was actually the cleverest stroke: most consumers were quite dumbstruck by that empirical nugget!
The Sebamed case where the German company was the aggressor kind of caught HUL off-guard. USV (the Indian distributor of Sebamed) calculatedly broke its campaign on a Saturday: when there were no courts open to grant relief to HUL! Over the two days of the weekend, Sebamed ruled the internet with social media going crazy, especially Twitter. The large press ads were very noticeable, and select outdoors further acted as force multipliers. Lever did respond. But that was on Sunday morning. Its ad tried highlighting the trust of dermatologists on its soap bar Dove though it did not name Sebamed in its ad. But it was not vintage HUL stuff. Neither aggressive, nor hard-hitting. It was a rebuttal for the sake of a rebuttal.
As expected, when the courts opened on Monday, HUL managed an ex-parte order from the Bombay High Court. HUL submitted that the ad campaign denigrates its brands, and does not take into account the full formulations of the products, besides misleading consumers only on the basis of pH. The ad’s purpose was not to promote a product by Sebamed, but to discourage the consumer from purchasing HUL’s products, which is not permissible, the company argued. The shoe for a change was pinching HUL!
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