Shreyas Kulkarni
Advertising

And now, a soap brand that parodies the Sebamed-HUL saga...

Brinton Pharma's Neobar says that expert doctors trump women in bathtubs.

"Nahati hui auntiyon ki nahin... expert doctor ki suno," says the budding doctor in Neobar baby soap’s new ad.

It’s a hilarious line if you understand the context. If you don’t, you’ll be left scratching your head for the most part of this 59-second ad featuring cute little kids.

And now, a soap brand that parodies the Sebamed-HUL saga...

A brand of Pune-based Brinton Pharmaceuticals, Neobar makes references to the recent Sebamed versus Hindustan Unilever (HUL) soap saga and the fixation around a soap’s pH levels. The ad also remarks that soap is so much more than its pH; Neobar soap bars come with ingredients such as shea butter, olive oil, almond oil... along with its 5.5 pH value.

In January 2021, Sebamed, a leading German skincare company, had alleged that HUL’s soap brands like Lux, Dove and Pears had high pH levels. And therefore, they are not the appropriate choice for sensitive skin. Instead, Sebamed said that its soap brand, with a 5.5 pH value, was a much better choice.

Sebamed’s print and digital ads (one featured women in bathtubs calling out HUL’s soap brands) made by ‘The Womb’ caught everybody’s eye. The ads eventually led HUL to drag Sebamed to court.

Rahul Darda, chairman and MD, Brinton Pharmaceuticals, says, “Yes, there are a lot of people who haven’t seen the Sebamed ad. Many commented on our ad, asking what does the 'Nahati hui auntiyon…' line mean.”

Rahul Darda
Rahul Darda

We asked Darda why a baby soap brand leveraged the Sebamed-HUL saga that was over adult soaps. He says that while HUL and Sebamed are banking on the adult soap market (said to be over Rs 20,000 crore), the thing is “the kids' soap is also a very big market… we thought the kids' soap would do well.”

Darda went on to say that while a neutral pH is very important in a baby soap, “we have moisturising ingredients, which are not there (present) in our competitors' products.”

Neobar's main rivals include the likes of Johnson & Johnson, Baby Dove, Mamaearth, Sebamed, and Himalaya.

When asked about whether we can expect print ads because, as of now, there is only the digital ad on YouTube and Facebook, Darda responded in the affirmative. As far as the cost of the soap goes, we found it retailing at Rs 140 (75 grams) on Netmeds.com.

The ad

Most people found the ad hilarious, if you look at the YouTube comments. We could not help but notice the sly references to other brands in the ad.

“Our intention wasn’t that. We intended to say that you can’t listen to everyone... You have to go with the expert, i.e., the doctor, who knows your skin best… Yes, people can say that we’re taking a dig, but the objective wasn’t that," says Inderjit Matharu, founder and director, White Digital, the agency behind the campaign.

Inderjit Matharu
Inderjit Matharu

He went on to reveal that “the idea of using babies and putting the baby product ahead under the no ‘pHighting’ theme was Rahul’s thought.”

As per Matharu, the campaign was 'co-conceptualised' because while Rahul (Darda) gave the idea, the agency “went ahead, did the casting, and produced the film.”

We also could not miss the kids in the ad, which has sort of become Flipkart’s niche, and the trope of a white coat wearing doctor doling out expert advice. “Our soap is for kids, we can’t show adults. When a kid talks to his/her mother, the impact is different than a husband talking to his wife, let the kids be the protagonist,” says Matharu.

And yes, he did reveal the inspiration behind the “Nahati hui auntiyon…” line. “It was the bathtub shots we’ve seen in countless soap ads.”

An expert eye

Neobar is a baby soap. So when it leveraged the HUL versus Sebamed saga, we wondered if the customers would look at it as an adult soap initially. And once they realise that it isn’t an adult soap, wouldn’t it create a dissonance?

Gauri Chaudhari, co-founder, Brand Innerworld, a healthcare brand consultancy, says the “commercial takes a step beyond pH, assuming that the consumers will be aware of the right pH for the skin. In a way, it helps Sebamed in educating the consumers.” She also remarked that the cute children have done their job once again, of grabbing attention.

Gauri Chaudhari
Gauri Chaudhari

On whether there will be confusion among the customers, “I would not call it a trend, as such advertisements come and go. They manage to grab attention for a while, increase awareness levels... whether they lead to action, is the real question,” says Chaudhari.

Neobar is prescribed by paediatric dermatologists, making it the second brand to have gone from Rx to OTC in recent times, a la Sebamed.

“I would not call it a trend, as such advertisements come and go. They manage to grab attention for a while, increase awareness levels, and some may reach to third 'a', i.e., ask. But how much would they lead to the most critical 'a', the action, is the real question,” says Chaudhari.

She went on to list three reasons for the awareness not necessarily getting translated into action:

First, the price. A 100 gram bar of Sebamed is priced at Rs 199. Dove, Lux and Pears are priced at Rs 45, Rs 28 and Rs 40, respectively.

While a Neobar is priced at Rs 145 (75 grams) on Netmeds.com, on Amazon.com, Johnson & Johnson baby soap retails at Rs 75 (100 grams), Himalaya Herbals Extra Moisturizing Baby Soap for Rs 75 (75 grams), and Mamaearth Moisturizing Baby Bathing Soap Bar for Rs 249 (75 grams, pack of 2).

Second is the type of segment they appeal to. Sebamed has ‘med’ in its name and is often recommended when there is a skin issue that needs to be tackled… Neobar too has the word ‘bar’ in its name, a commonly used expression in dermatology.

Third, soap is a low involvement, habit-forming category (unless you are facing serious skin issues). It largely responds to emotional appeals and lesser to rational/logical appeals. Can you make high involvement, logic-driven campaigns for this category by discussing and debating various rational attributes? As a rule of thumb, no!

So, for a medically relevant soap, pH may still be a communication option (since the doctors, experts and other influencers are the TG), but not for other soaps.