Rashmi Menon

New Pep in Toothpaste Market

In the second case of comparative advertising recently, Pepsodent tears into category leader Colgate.

Expect the unexpected in marketing. When Procter & Gamble launched Oral-B in India last month, it was naturally assumed that the next big battle would be between the newcomer and market leader Colgate from Colgate Palmolive. The first public skirmish, however, has not been to script.

New Pep in Toothpaste Market
New Pep in Toothpaste Market
On Friday, Hindustan Unilever's
launched a no-holds barred offensive on Colgate Strong Teeth, the basic product that, together with its many variants helps Colgate keep a tight grip on the Rs 6,000 crore toothpaste market with a 55 per cent market share. More than half of that share comes from Colgate's basic product, Strong Teeth (also known as Dental Cream).

The idea may be to grab attention and ensure that Pepsodent does not become a peripheral player in the coming battle because, unlike stablemate Close Up, it has a small market share. HUL released the TV commercial on a Friday so that it had free play over the weekend. The earliest Colgate could seek legal recourse is on Monday.

The latest TVC is a comparative ad which shows two boys brushing their teeth with the two products for a "prevent cavity test". Four hours later, when the boys undergo the test, the split screen clearly shows that Pepsodent has more 'warriors' to fight germs. The voiceover says that compared to Colgate, Pepsodent has 130 per cent 'germ attack power'.

It is innovative use of arithmetic. Colgate is shown to have an index of 100 per cent in the TVC whereas Pepsodent has a score of 130 per cent. If Colgate is taken as the index at 100, any primary school teacher would point out that Pepsodent is 30 per cent stronger than its rival, not 130 per cent.

Pepsodent has also created a special page on its website, which not only contains the commercial but also gives information about the scientific study along with an animated graph to make its point.

At the bottom of the TVC is fine text which contains the new weapon Pepsodent contains: Triclosan, an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent which has, until now, been found only in more expensive toothpastes or variants. 'New Pepsodent Germi Check enhances delivery of Triclosan in the mouth', goes the text.

Action in Toothpaste

This is the second case of comparative advertising in the FMCG space in 2013. In February, Reckitt Benckiser, while launching Dettol Kitchen, its utensil cleaning liquid, had directly attacked the HUL brand, Vim Dishwash liquid. Then, as now, the TVC was aired on a Friday and claimed greater efficacy than the leader.

The Rs 3,200- crore Colgate is something of an oddity. Unlike most other fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies, it is dependent almost entirely on a single brand, Colgate. It carries the name on about a dozen toothpaste variants as well as on on toothbrush and tooth powder. It has a history of defending its turf ferociously and has the enviable record of having increased its market share in the face of heightened competition. The other big players in the toothpaste market are HUL and Dabur.

The toothpaste market is mainly about fighting germs and tooth decay. That has been out of the limelight until last week's TVC. Over the past two years, the focus has been on the sensitivity segment ever since GlaxoSmithkline Consumer Healthcare launched Sensodyne. From Rs 150 crore four years ago, the sensitivity market is already nudging Rs 600 crore. This is dramatically quicker than the main toothpaste market which is growing in the higher single digits. Dabur is entering this segment too.

There is excitement about the Indian market because a large percentage of Indians have still to be converted to toothpaste. Even among those who do use it, only a small percentage brush twice a day. Moreover, as the market matures, nascent but high-margin oral products such as mouthwash and floss will take off. So, there is a lot of headroom to grow.

However, it is a brutal market for challengers because users of toothpaste are notoriously averse to change their brands. One theory is that consumers are most resistant to any change in habit early in the morning. Of course they can be persuaded to try something new: it just takes a lot of time and money.

As for the Pepsodent-Colgate tiff, we can look forward to many several exchanges before the matter settles down.

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