Rashmi Menon

Round Two: Now Lifebuoy attacks Dettol

The print ad comes after the skirmish between the two multinational companies over their dishwasher products a few weeks ago.

The circle of conflict is spreading. Lifebuoy has jumped into a fight involving stablemate Vim from Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) to take on Dettol of Reckitt Benckiser (RB). It has used Lifebuoy soap to attack not Dettol soap but antiseptic liquid on the first page of Sunday Times. The headline reads: 'It's proven! Lifebuoy gives better germ protection than Dettol antiseptic liquid' - adding in smaller type, 'while bathing'.

Round Two: Now Lifebuoy attacks Dettol
Claiming to have been issued in public interest, the ad states how the soap brand is a more effective germ protector than the antiseptic liquid of Dettol, according to an independent lab. To demonstrate this, it shows a circular dish divided in half, where the Dettol portion is left with more residual germs. Various asterisks lead to a footnote which says that the comparison relates to effectiveness when used in bathing 'as per dilution norms specified on the Dettol antiseptic liquid bottle: 1 teaspoon in a bucket of water'.

The scrap began three weeks ago when a TVC for the newly launched Dettol Kitchen dishwasher launched a frontal attack, claiming that it got rid of germs more effectively than did Vim. HUL got a High Court order asking for the commercial to be modified. Vim also used the Sunday Times to ask consumers whether they would use a harsh antiseptic (Dettol) or the power of 100 lemons (Vim) to clean their child's tiffin.

The latest round carried two similarities from the earlier one. First, Sunday Times featured in both. Second, both Dettol then and Lifebuoy now have used the identical device of a split dish to demonstrate effectiveness.

When contacted, an HUL spokesperson was unapologetic, "Consumers are at the heart of our business, and we feel it is important for them to be aware of the facts so that they can make an informed choice. This is particularly relevant now due to the onset of the summer season." The spokesperson referred to a study which showed that many consumers bathe with only antiseptic liquid diluted in water - hence the need to communicate the need to use Lifebuoy soap.

An intriguing aspect of the new round is the entry of Lifebuoy into the fray. This seems to have been dictated by a decision within HUL to undermine the credibility of the rival brand by attacking the source of its power as a disinfectant: Dettol Antiseptic Liquid. Since Vim could not be used to do that, Lifebuoy was brought into play.

A spokesman for Reckitt Benckiser merely said, "We have taken note of the advertisement and are internally evaluating the same."

Whatever happens next - something certainly will.