Dettol, Lifebuoy have a liquid laundry sanitiser. Savlon, Godrej Aer offer fabric sanitiser sprays. Will the pandemic make the gap between 'wash' and 'sanitise' permanent?
By March 2020, thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic spreading, hand sanitiser sales grew 1,425 per cent as compared to the previous month (February), according to a Nielsen report on FMCG industry trends. The demand for face masks, another preventive tool, increased by 408 per cent and that of handwash by 86 per cent. Thanks to COVID-19, paranoia was rife in people’s mind.
They began looking for products to sanitise surfaces other than their hands. It was at this time that Marico introduced a fruit and vegetable wash, and surface disinfectants became more common and the latest weapon in a consumer’s germ-killing arsenal is a fabric sanitiser.
The category can be broadly split into two types – fabric sprays and laundry sanitisers. Dettol and Lifebuoy each have a laundry sanitiser, which is a solution to be added to a bucket of clothes after the washing is done. Savlon and Godrej introduced a variant called fabric spray, which is a mist that can be sprayed on clothes.
In an article published earlier in September, former adman Rajesh Gangwani (with over 27 years of experience in the industry, working with J Walter Thompson) opines that most consumers accept that they don’t have much control over what is happening outside, but the most they can do is disinfect their homes. He likens the introduction of laundry sanitiser to the introduction of produce washes earlier this year, and calls it a ‘smart move’.
“People today are so conscious of what they’re doing that if I were to add one more step in the laundry process and claim it kills germs, they might actually consider this option. They are unsure of where the virus is, how long it survives on surfaces, like fabrics, and so on,” he says.
Gauri Chaudhari, co-founder at Brand Innerworld, points out that the need for this category of products arose because washing with detergent alone was not found to be effective for the removal or inactivation of enteric viruses, as significant concentrations were found on the swatches when tested.
Chaudhuri is the author of the book The Perfect Pill: 10 Steps to Build a Strong Healthcare Brand and has been associated with the healthcare industry for the past 27 years, working with brands like Piramal Healthcare and Abbott. She adds that the pandemic has, indeed, made the consumers extremely conscious of bacteria and viruses.
“They do not want to catch COVID-19, or any other infection for that matter, as going to a doctor is not as easy as it was in the pre-COVID era. Anxiety and fear are the two most common emotional responses to the pandemic. This emotional response needs to be addressed in marketing messages,” says the former head
Chaudhari mentions that though the coronavirus will not survive a washing cycle, other viruses, like adenovirus, rotavirus, and hepatitis A, do stay active even after washing.
“These virus are known for causing serious problems like diarrhoea, jaundice and other gastrointestinal problems. Many multiple drug resistant bacteria also survive the washing cycles, causing several problems in the homes having elderly, or sick people,” she explains.
She also explains that drying cycles have a better effect on the microorganisms. It’s an option on many washing machines, but not many Indian homes have dedicated dryers. Chaudhari adds that sunlight is another natural disinfectant, but the monsoon season poses certain limitations.
“There are both rational and emotional reasons behind considering use of laundry sanitisers. In this case, Lifebouy has got it right as the claims are not exaggerated and the need is real. Since the effectiveness of these products is not tangible, the usage will be for psychological reasons. There will be a psychographic profile, who will use it for longer time. There is no denial of the fact that the usage will go down post pandemic, but surely these brands will remain in homes, depending on the overall experience with them,” she elaborates.
She adds that using these products may become a habit if these brands do not cause any inconvenience, such as fading of colour of clothes, itchiness, or any other problem.
Praful Akali, founder & MD, Medulla Communications, explains that making sanitisation and germ protection more convenient for people is the need of the hour. “We’re seeing a rapid evolution in the sanitisation space with the introduction of products like surface sanitiser, clothes sanitiser, and so on.”
Akali, who has worked with companies like Ranbaxy, Pfizer agrees that with this type of product, it’s a sort of redundancy in terms of germ-killing as the wash cycle itself kills germs. He says “If I go out and get back and my daughter wants to give me a hug, I can still spray myself and give her a hug. Even if I go grocery shopping for 10 minutes and get back, I can’t do that right now and this is a problem that has come up due to COVID.”
“If the product is an extra step in the wash cycle, then consumers might not be keen on using it. I think it would be an overkill on germ kill in that sense,” he adds.
Talking about the marketing challenges caused by the Coronavirus, Akali says that marketers are quite disturbed by the pandemic and they’re in a hurry to find solutions, which is what reflects in the product categories that have been created.
Akali adds that the consumer, however, has been living with the pandemic for about six months now and is clear on the type of products he needs.
He explains that the pandemic has shown us what we’re susceptible to – with public health and hygiene...
“Whenever you see a big flux in the market, things don’t always go back to the way they were before that change in the market. For example, antibiotics became more salient in the World War and people began investing in it. There are always issues that modern medicine does not solve for – think of diseases like cancer and other viral infections that we still haven’t found cures for,” he concludes.