Shreyas Kulkarni

Lifebuoy and Practo come together in new public service advert

In an interesting move, Unilever's anti-bacterial soap finds room in the world of online medical consultation.

You’re feeling under the weather, develop a fever, tried-and-tested home remedies fail, and the symptoms refuse to abate. What do you do? Well, you book a doctor’s appointment, hoping that he/she will be able to diagnose your ailment, and prescribe medicines that will make you better at the earliest.

This has been the standard health practice for ages. It still is, but there is one change, i.e., you don’t need to go to the doctor’s clinic now. You can simply video call the doctor, or as they say go for a “video consultation”.

Ever since the Coronavirus-induced lockdowns forced us into our homes, it has become difficult to go out for a doctor’s appointment. For instance, during last year’s nationwide lockdown, my family doctor only agreed to see patients with serious ailments, while his staff resolved the queries about general ailments over the phone.

Also, the fears over the virus’ spread and the lack of social distancing at clinics and hospitals have made many anxious about visiting one. And the anxiety has become even more pronounced during the second COVID wave now. But whatever may be the case, you must get yourself treated if you are feeling unwell.

Since last year (2020), online video consultation has started gained traction. “The telemedicine market in India is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 31% for the period 2020-25 and reach $5.5 billion,” said Ernst & Young (EY) in a September 2020 report.

Meanwhile, Deloitte, in an article published on its website in December 2020, said, “We predict that the percentage of virtual video visits to doctors will rise to 5% globally in 2021, up from an estimated 1% in 2019.”

Practo, Apollo24x7, Mfine, Tata Health, 1mg, and Fortis Healthcare are some of the leading players offering online doctor consultations.

In August last year, we spoke to Siddhartha Nihalani, VP - products, Practo, on its #HelloDoctor campaign, where it urged people to consult a doctor/specialist via a video call.

A couple of days ago, we were in for a surprise when Lifebuoy, Unilever’s anti-bacterial soap brand that now markets hand-washes and sanitisers, asked us to give a missed call to 99469 99469. Once you did, you received an SMS from Practo with a link. And when you clicked on it, “you could consult India’s top doctors from the comfort of your home” for free.

If you notice the disclaimer at the end of the video, it says that the offer is limited to select cities and the regular “terms and conditions apply.”

For starters, the video felt like another one of Lifebuoy’s PSAs, which have become common since the pandemic broke. The Unilever brand has, time and again, urged us to wash our hands with any soap brand and also follow all COVID precautionary measures, as prescribed by various public health organisations.

So, what exactly is Lifebuoy’s role here? Abhik Santara, director and CEO, ^Atom network, remarks that the brands offering genuine help during the current crisis, directly or indirectly, are much appreciated. This, as opposed to the brands that are spending marketing dollars in giving out 'gyan', or doing charity initiatives to collect money from people and then giving back to those in need.

Abhik Santara
Abhik Santara

“The consumers, in the long run, will remember this more than someone hogging their timelines with 'Stay safe - stay home' messages.”

Does the HUL brand believe that it can use its marketing muscle to amplify this messaging? Says Santara, “Lifebuoy's penetration in rural and semi-urban segments, combined with HUL's media might, well help the idea reach where the service will be most useful.”

Santara also points out that Lifebuoy has always been a germ protection brand. It has been competing with the likes of Dettol and Savlon to gain mind share for many years. “This idea gives the brand a great advantage in cementing its thought leadership.”

Whilst a noble initiative, we pointed out that Practo won’t offer every type of consultation for free, and that this service will work in its favour to convince people to use its video consultation offering.

Says Santara, “Practo's gain is very evident - it will be able to piggy-ride on HULs reach to drive brand salience, familiarity, and new user experience of its app/service to a vast section of the untapped Tier-II audience.”

He signed off by saying, “Simple logic says that if Practo, which is offering a doctor's consultation at Rs 150 for the first-time user, extends that as a free service, at a mass scale, it is a marketing investment very well done.”

We also spoke to Rajesh Mehta, chief strategy officer, Medulla Communications, and he mentions that looking from Lifebuoy’s point of view, “it is creating goodwill by giving instant solutions that people need.”

Rajesh Mehta
Rajesh Mehta

Talking about the earlier PSAs of Lifebuoy on hand-washing and sanitisers, Mehta says that while it urges us to develop habits through its products, it is now putting its proposition forward by “offering a service.”

Mehta also reveals that such a project is not a 'first' for Lifebuoy. He references the anti-bacterial soap brand’s “24-Hour Doctor" work in China by PhD Media. A free mobile service, it connects Chinese parents with the health professionals. The doctors work in shifts and are available 24x7. This helps resolve the issue of long queues, especially in the rural areas.

Mehta also remark that while Practo did release its #HelloDoctor campaign last year, this service will “help it gain salience”. He adds that because there are brands such as Lifebuoy and Practo behind it, people will feel assured about the scale and availability of the best doctors, as mentioned in the video.

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