Shreyas Kulkarni

Dettol takes on surface disinfectants and sanitiser sprays while it reaffirms its 'protection' identity in new ad

The brand is banking on its 'protection' legacy to spearhead the fight against the virus.

Dettol as a brand was launched in India in 1933 as an antiseptic liquid to clean cuts and wounds. It's original aim still stands strong even though the brand has diversified into soap bars, hand washes, sanitisers, gels, shaving cream, and even a spray.

Over 80 years have passed since its launch and few of its markers have endured long enough to become legacy aspects of the brand's antiseptic liquid: the golden colour, the burning sensation when applied on cuts and wounds, the distinctive odour, and of course, the clouding effect when applied to water.

In 1933, the world was a few years away from the start of the Second World War; Dettol did its bit in the war as its liquid was used to treat wounded soldiers. Today, when the world is under the throes of a health pandemic, the brand is seizing the opportunity to place itself at the frontlines.

People still associate Dettol with 'protection' and that's what the brand has capitalised on in its new ad. Yes, it takes the oft-used route of 'mother's approval' to claim its spot and now – is also proven effective against #COVID19 virus. But, we also see the same mother dilute Dettol liquid in a bowl of water before scenes of surfaces being cleaned are shown; it is a clear sign that Dettol isn't just about cuts and wounds but is an effective solution to keep the surfaces clean which can become carriers of the infection.

What's interesting is the fact that this move places Dettol right against the likes of Savlon and Lifebuoy and even new entrants like Asian Paints among several others who've launched sanitiser sprays and surface disinfectants. It's the new 'it' category and Dettol has placed itself right in the thick of the action considering its storied history of 'protection'.

Gauri Chaudhari
Gauri Chaudhari

We asked Gauri Chaudhari, co-founder at Brand Innerworld if this was Dettol's attempt to take on these new brands of surface disinfectants and sanitiser sprays. Her response:

Apparently yes! This seems to be Dettol Classic Antiseptic's attempt to reclaim its territory and rightfully so. Yet, the question is, would it be enough or the brand needs to do much more?

Dettol has been one of the most trusted brands in India. People trust its 'Protection against germs' properties. Though Dettol Classic always had both disinfectant and antiseptic properties, the brand identified itself as an Antiseptic Liquid. In the past, consumers used the brand as a disinfectant ( for floor cleaning etc.), but the company continued promoting it as an antiseptic for skin, wounds and cuts. Its label clearly calls itself an Antiseptic Liquid. In the TV and print ads, the brand user and usage imagery are around Antiseptic benefits.

The pandemic has left people overwhelmed. The surface to the surface transmission of the virus has brought homemakers' attention to the health of the surfaces such as doorbells, door Knobs and the furniture tops. They need an effective yet safe disinfectant. Therefore Dettol can be the natural and logical choice. Being the most trusted anti-germ brand, Dettol Brand, or its extensions, could have easily claimed this space at the very beginning of the pandemic.

Now the surface sanitiser/disinfectant market scene is heating up. Many companies, even unrelated to the category, have launched multiple brands to claim their 'share of the surface.' Even paint companies like Asian Paints have been aggressive in this category. They have launched or are launching their surface sanitisers. They are leveraging their channel strengths to up the game.

Question is 'Is Dettol ready to fight this Game of Surface? Is it looking beyond the ‘share of Skin?’ Ideally speaking it can be a legitimate claimant of the protection of surfaces from germs. The consumer believes in the brand’s promise of ‘100% Sure'. But is the brand ready for a strategic shift? Is the current ad suggestive of a strategic change or just a tactical one? Is this shift in usage imagery is pandemic specific or one with long term objective? If the objectives are long -term, then the brand has to go much beyond just ad.

If the brand wants to win the game of surface, it has to be more strategic in approach. It must also decide if Dettol Classic Antiseptic is the best foot forward?' or should the company rather focus on already existing brand extensions that are claiming disinfectant usage?

For Dettol Classic Antiseptic wants to claim the share of surface,

-It has to change its self-image from Antiseptic liquid to Antiseptic and Disinfectant liquid. It probably has to reposition itself in entirety.

-It has to get the price points right to fight the game effectively.

-Provide easy to use or ready to use the format

-Educate consumers on how to use the brand for surfaces to be 100 % sure.

-Be the sane voice and play the role of a leader. Consumers are overwhelmed by the cacophony of brand messages and their overclaims. They need a sane voice of authentic claims. Who can provide that voice other than the brand that they trust the most?

In my opinion, customers are ready to hold the hands of trusted brands. The question is; Are brands ready to take them along? To do so, brands have to go beyond just ads. They have to play a more significant role to navigate consumers through these difficult times at times it would even mean sticking their neck out.

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