Shreyas Kulkarni

Germ kill can be "gentle", says Dettol in an ad for new soap variant, targeting moms

As consumers realise that 'beauty soaps' can kill germs just as well as 'anti-bacterial soaps', Dettol comes up with a 'gentler' variant.

"You get the best of both worlds...," isn't just a catchy line from American pop star Miley Cyrus' alter ego Hannah Montana's most popular song, it's also a universal want.

We want our cars to meet the mileage and power demands, and fast food to taste good and not increase our weight. We want to buy sugar-free juice and hope for the same sweet taste. We even expect public transport to be on time, but without the crowds... many feel it's nothing, but wishful thinking.

Dettol, in its new ad, says that you can get the best of both worlds. In this case, it's a 'Dettol and Moms' soap that protects you against 100 illness-causing germs, while being gentle on the skin and leaving no harsh chemical residue. The soap is available in Tulsi, Jasmine and Citrus fragrances.

It's as if Dettol has realised that its anti-germ equity isn't unique, and a 'beauty soap' can also destroy germs, So, here we are with this 'gentle' soap that offers to kill germs that is targeted at mothers.

Targeting moms?

Pankaj Duhan, CMO of Reckitt Benckiser, South Asia Health, told afaqs! in a previous interview, "... we're clear about wanting to delight 'millennial moms', who are the strictest critics, which is why we decided to co-create a proposition with them." (Dettol is a Reckitt Benckiser, or RB, product.)

Dettol has a range called 'Dettol Co-Created With Moms'. A soap under this range is made with ingredients approved by mothers. The brand reached out to around 800 mothers, gave them a list of 100-odd ingredients used in handwashes and soap bars, explained what each one does, and asked them which ones to keep and which ones to take out.

The YouTube description for this ad says, "Dettol & Moms soap is made by ingredients approved by moms."

Soap wars

Towards the end of July 2020, RB said that Dettol had achieved the number one spot when it comes to the market share of soaps in India. It was the first time, since its launch in 1981, that the brand took the top spot in the country's Rs 20,000 crore soap segment.

Earlier, Dettol used to trail behind Lifebuoy and other brands. Now, with this new variant, Dettol not only strengthens its position, but can also tackle its rivals that are more popular for their 'beauty soaps'.

It's not the first time that Dettol has tried to grab the 'beauty soap' segment. We found an old ad where the brand touted its famed 'protection' along with moisturisers that will nourish the skin.

But this was before the Coronavirus pandemic struck. The new ad comes at a time when 'protection' and 'immunity' are some of the hottest buzzwords in people's minds.

An unafraid public

While people are worried about the pandemic on one hand, there's now also a sense of weariness and indifference towards it on the other. Jitender Dabas, COO and chief strategy officer, McCann World Group, wrote in The Times of India, "The narrative has consciously moved away from, ‘We’re in a health crisis’, to, ‘Everything is back to normal'... Such signaling has acted towards over-normalising the situation, leading many to believe that, 'All is well'."

It's no wonder that we are now seeing many people flouting social distancing rules, wear (their) masks incorrectly, and act as if the pandemic has disappeared from their lives. Whatever precautions these people take is only symbolic and their attitude is, "Jo hoga dekha jayega."

We wondered if this mindset, where people have learnt to live with the virus, albeit some are callous about it, was on Dettol's mind when it decided to talk about a soap bar that not only kills germs but is also gentle on the skin.

Sourabh Mishra
Sourabh Mishra

Sourabh Mishra, brand strategist, managing partner and co-founder, Azendor Consulting (former CSO at TBWA India and Saatchi & Saatchi), feels that while social media may indicate that people have moved to the ‘dekha jaayega’ stage, the reality is different. Nobody exactly knows what the pandemic can do to them and how they can deal with it, which only makes the virus more serious than ever.

Speaking about Dettol's move, Mishra says that while the brand's team may have its reasons to tout 'gentleness', "I would have thought now would be a great time to re-emphasise its position as the last word in protection."

It would reassure Dettol's customers, while giving non-customers a very strong topical reason to consider the brand. "... the ‘protection’ story gets diluted by ‘gentle’ - a ‘strong protector’ will offer greater reassurance against an enemy like COVID-19 than a ‘gentle protector’," he adds.

Tarun Singh Chauhan
Tarun Singh Chauhan

However, Tarun Singh Chauhan, partner, TSC Consulting, feels it's a smart move. He says that it (the gentleness add-on) gives the customers another reason to use the brand. Chauhan agrees that during the present environment, Dettol fits in naturally, but the brand needs to create something that will help it in the post-COVID era.

Referring to Dettol's No. 1 position, Chauhan says that more people use it now (and will listen to it too). He reiterates the smartness of the move. "How do you retain consumers once the pandemic goes away? Give them a non-pandemic reason to use you."

Jasravee Chandra
Jasravee Chandra

Jasravee Chandra is director - brand building, research and innovation, Master Sun, the consulting brand of Adiva L Pvt. Ltd. (She worked on Lifebuoy soap during her Lowe and Partner Worldwide days.) She says that Dettol is strong on germs and harsh on the skin; a dichotomy that trusted brands with a strong brand property etched in consumers’ mind, face. And only well thought through and researched variants are meant to help the brand straddle this.

But, Chandra feels the ‘best of both worlds’ proposition is not easily convincing to all target consumers because they expect a trade-off. Speaking about the 'Dettol Co-Created With Moms' range, she said it's a clever strategy because gentle on the skin is alluded to the removal of ‘extra’ chemicals, suggested by mothers themselves.

On why Dettol communicated this range at this stage, she said that the Coronavirus brought the customers to the brand... But, Dettol must keep its ears to the ground. Intermittent reiteration of core equity always works best.

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