Rin versus Tide: As white as it gets

By Devina Joshi , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | March 03, 2010
Rin's latest commercial takes an open potshot at competitor, Tide Naturals, in what can perhaps be construed as 'washing linen in public', pun notwithstanding. A report on whether the brand managed to create the 'shock and awe' effect for itself

Debating over it in advertising hallways is one thing; but when one overhears strangers in a public place bonding over a discussion on 'that ad on TV last night' and 'how shocking it was', one knows that the advertising has done its job.

& #BANNER1 & #For television viewers, it was hard to miss the now infamous Rin commercial, which was unleashed on Indian television screens last Thursday (February 25, 2010). Perhaps bombardment would be a better word: the high-voltage TVC was supported by a media plan that included primetime slots across all major GECs and news channels, in an effort to deliver maximum impact over the long weekend.

The ad shows two mothers waiting at a bus stop for their children, who are returning from school. They spot each other's shopping baskets - one woman's basket sports a packet of Rin, while the other has purchased Tide Naturals. The Tide lady looks proudly at her purchase and brags about Tide's 'khushboo aur safedi bhi' offering (fragrance combined with whiteness). The Rin lady simply smiles.

When the school bus rounds the corner and drops off the two children, the Tide lady's boy is wearing a visibly dull shirt, while behind him emerges a boy clad in a spotless white shirt, who runs past the shocked Tide lady, over to his 'Rin' mother. To make things cheekier, the boy asks his mother, 'Aunty chaunk kyun gayi?' (Why is aunty so shocked?), where the word 'chaunk' could easily be a reference to Tide's punch line, 'Chaunk gaye?'

The voiceover concludes that Rin is 'behtar' or superior to Tide, when it comes to whiteness, and at a 'chaunkane wala' price of Rs 25, at that. A super, 'Issued in the interest of Rin users', completes the commercial.

Comparative advertising is, quite obviously, not a new phenomenon by any standards. Every other brand has dabbled with it at some point, while it is almost formulaic for some categories. However, to make comparisons with competition involves discretion in execution, such as air-brushing or pixelating a competitor's brand name/pack shot, and most definitely, keeping away from referring to rival brand names.

With this ad, however, Rin seems to have broken every rule in the book. But what may seem like a publicity stunt to some, is, in all probability, a well-thought out strategy on the part of Rin's makers, Hindustan Unilever (HUL). afaqs! investigates.

Legal eagle

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has, over the last few days, received several complaints from customers/viewers, who feel that the comparison is "not fair". According to the ASCI spokesperson, "We are writing to the advertiser concerned about the complaints received and are seeking a response."

In order to make comparatively superior claims, an advertiser has to keep the following ASCI Code in mind, which states that advertisements containing comparisons with other manufacturers or suppliers or with other products, including those where a competitor is named, are permissible in the interests of vigorous competition and public enlightenment, provided:

It is clear what aspects of the advertiser's product are being compared with what aspects of the competitor's product.

The subject matter of comparison is not chosen in such a way as to confer an artificial advantage upon the advertiser, or so as to suggest that a better bargain is offered than is truly the case.

The comparisons are factual, accurate and capable of substantiation.

There is no likelihood of the consumer being misled as a result of the comparison, whether about the product advertised or that with which it is compared.

The advertisement does not unfairly denigrate, attack or discredit other products, advertisers or advertisements directly or by implication.

While no official confirmation could be obtained at the time of filing this report, sources reveal that there are sufficient grounds for HUL to be taken to court over this matter.

On being contacted by afaqs!, an HUL spokesperson justifies the commercial, stating, "Rin is a household detergent brand and is used by millions of consumers across India for its promise and delivery of superior whiteness since its launch in 1969. The latest advertisement of Rin brings alive the superior whiteness delivery of Rin, vis--vis competing brands in the market."

Further, HUL adds that this advertisement reinforces the promise to consumers that Rin delivers superior whiteness. "This claim is based on laboratory tests done through globally accepted protocols in independent third party laboratories," the spokesperson adds, to substantiate the claim made in the TVC.

Bharat Patel, chairman, Procter & Gamble (P&G, the makers of Tide Naturals), was unavailable for comment on this matter.

Knockout or washout?

Unleashing this communication on a long weekend (Eid-e-Milad on Saturday and Holi on Monday) is no coincidence; industry watchers even feel that Indian courts being shut over the weekend has helped Rin's cause, as anyone taking offence to the commercial could not do much about it during this period. In the meantime, Rin gained with high visibility on TV.

Harish Bijoor, CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults, calls this the "putting your finger in competition's eye" kind of advertising. "Of course, this is a gimmick to create 'hungama' or noise. But if the facts are correct and Rin is able to prove them in the buckets of the nation, then its job is done. But I see the chances of that proof as slim," he says.

On the flip side, HUL is considered a "buzz generating, edgy and trend-setting" company, so there isn't any reason to not tom-tom about its superior products, Bijoor adds.

Ask him if the ad is distasteful, and Bijoor shakes his head in the negative. "What was distasteful 20 years ago isn't now, and the younger generation's palate of what is acceptable is fast changing," he muses. And so, Rin's well-planned strategy - both of taking on competition head on, as well as a weekend release - may not be a bad thing at all.

But there are contrarians like ad guru Alyque Padamsee, CEO, AP Advertising, who, incidentally, is the brain behind Rin's trademark lightning strikes and whiteness positioning. "This is comparative advertising to its extreme," he declares.

To him, this is equivalent to hurling stones at another in a manner that doesn't say, 'I am better', but that 'You are worse' - a tonality that hurts both brands. "My guess is, a significant dent in the sales of Rin, much due to Tide, may have led to this blatant, gloves-off approach," he reflects.

Ask him how Tide should react, and Padamsee says, "When people throw stones, it is because they have nothing to say. If I were Tide, I would not launch a counter-communication, which itself should put Rin in its place."

The adman is also dissatisfied with the 'faded shirt versus white shirt' mnemonic used to bring out Rin's 'superiority'. "The consumer is not a moron (as David Ogilvy said), but the advertising agency that uses such tactics, is," he signs off.

Naresh Gupta, director, strategy and planning, Dentsu Marcom, too, feels the only reason for such an attempt by Rin could be Tide's entry into its whiteness territory. The fact that it targets Tide Naturals, a variant, and not Tide itself, may just be a 'by the way' thought, or a way to avoid some legal problems.

To Gupta, the marketer in this case has shown gumption to say 'I do this, they don't.' Air-brushing and other such means are, in fact, the coward's way of doing things. "At the end of it all, it does evoke a chuckle or two," he shrugs. "This is better than a lot of competitive advertising out there."

As an analogy, Gupta muses that such an ad is akin to the two marketers picking up the phone and talking down to each other - something that is so interesting in itself, that the lack of a big creative idea (Padamsee's 'faded shirt' grouse) can be forgiven.

Brand experts conclude that this could well spark off a trend, to release controversial, capsule-duration advertising campaigns, which do their job by the time they are pulled up. But on the other hand, brands with limited, finite budgets may not have the financial muscle, or the gall, to walk this path.

'Wash' this space for more.