The sleepy dishwasher detergent market is wide awake. At the centre of the action are Reckitt Benckiser's (RB) Dettol and Hindustan Unilever Ltd's Vim. It started out with Dettol, which has positioned itself as a germ killer personal hygiene brand, rolling out its television commercial (TVC) to launch 'Dettol Kitchen' dishwasher liquid, which openly attacked Vim.
Vim retaliated with a front page print ad in The Times of India on Sunday, asking consumers to choose between a harsh antiseptic and the power of 100 lemons to clean a child's tiffin box. Towards the end, Vim's ad reads 'No one removes grease better. No one removes germs better. That's a Vim challenge!'.
Not stopping there, it also took the legal course with the Kolkata High Court passing an order last Friday, asking RB to remove the portion where Vim is shown in the ad.
However, has the damage already been done? Is a court order sufficient? How should Vim plan its next move? afaqs! asks a cross section of people from the communications business.
managing director, Samsika Marketing Consultants
Vim is the leader in the dishwasher category. By coming out with the 'harsh antiseptic' message in its print ad, it's trying to protect its turf by putting fear in the mind of the consumers. The legal order is a minor matter, as the fight between the two brands will take place on all fronts - advertising, distribution and even retail. I am sure Vim will come with a television commercial and this war will continue for the next two years because changing people's habits takes time.
Meanwhile, the category will grow, the two brands will benefit and even the consumers will benefit. Two giants are fighting in the battlefield of the Indian kitchen, trying to improve our hygiene - what better development could have taken place for consumers?
chief executive officer and managing director, NourishCo Beverages
For a brand entering a new space, the organic way of building the brand and creating brand recall among consumers would take a long time. However, by pitching itself against the market leader, Dettol has shown the brand's direct positioning as a serious alternative to the market leader. It gives the brand a competitive advantage and is a smart approach.
However, being a market leader, how should Vim respond to this? It would be tempting for Vim to hit back at Dettol. But that would be playing to Dettol's provocations. I would expect Vim to rise above the provocation and play to its might by re-establishing its core strength, rebuilding the brand presence through its communication, on-ground activities and added point of sale.
executive vice-president and head of planning, McCann Worldwide
A new entrant attacking the leader to get a disproportionate share of attention at its launch is not something new. We have seen this before. Also rivals attacking each other advertising to create noise & saliency for the category is something we have seen with cola wars.
However in this case what is different is that in a purely functional category, Dettol is attacking the leader, Vim, on its very functional credentials of better cleaning by claiming better as a germ killer. Also in this case, the new entrant itself is not a new, unknown player but a well established brand with huge credentials in killing germs.
Hence, Vim cannot not react. As a leader It will have to defend its turf through a 'functional' response. Scaring people by messages like ' antiseptic in your tiffin box' is not enough. They will have to strengthen their 'germ killing' credentials through advertising as well as product intervention/improvements.
As Dettol is trying to extend its germ-killer equity into kitchen, what needs to be watched is how will kitchen utensil cleaner product affect the Dettol mother brand equity in the personal care.
executive creative director and national creative head, Rediffusion-Y&R
Being a new entrant, I can understand why Dettol would have felt the need to do this comparative ad, considering it's an antiseptic product. Most dishwash liquid brands emphasise surface cleanliness - stain and oily layer on the vessels, which the lemon can help clean, while Dettol has taken a strong point on dirt that cannot be seen. It has taken the support of its 'anti-germ' lineage, which is a smart move.
However, it will not help Vim to come out with an ad that re-emphasises its previous communication. It needs to have something strong to say, maybe fight Dettol on its core strength as a germ killer. Vim's TVC will have to translate what it has communicated on print, either in a humorous or in a one-up manner.