Dabur launches a soap and Lifebuoy claims to boost immunity. Are we witnessing the birth of a new type of segment here?
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way consumers buy products and the way marketers create products to meet consumer needs. It has spawned product extensions in both the hygiene and immunity zones - and most products, in a bid to be relevant in the context of the pandemic, have made room for themselves in one of these two buckets.
But interestingly, a third zone, apparently at the intersection of hygiene and immunity, seems to have developed. Sample these examples: we spotted the claim for 'immunity boosting' on a Lifebuoy sanitiser (turns out, the range existed in a pre pandemic world) and recently, Dabur launched a soap which is named 'Sanitise' (which bears a resemblance to Dettol's soap, both in its form and odour).
We live in interesting times when consumers are deeply worried about both boosting their immune system as well as keeping their surroundings clean. Has this led to a new 'third' space, created at the intersection of hygiene and immunity?
Traditionally, the 'immunity' space in India has been largely defined by consumable items like chyawanprash (a space Dabur has strong equity in) and vitamin based edibles.
By contrast, the hygiene space has been dominated by the likes of soap, floor cleaners, hand sanitisers and other personal care products that promise to keep surfaces germ free.
But Dabur's crossover into the sanitising space and lifebuoy's immunity claim have given us food for thought. Will the market belong to products that successfully stake claim to both hygiene and immunity related properties?
We spoke to two experts on why it's important to draw a line between hygiene and immunity space.
Gauri Chaudhari, co-founder at Brand Innerworld (former consultant, Draft FCB and Piramal Healthcare), begins by pointing out that the word hygiene is not synonymous with immunity.
“Hygiene is about not letting germs enter the body, and immunity is about fighting and winning over germs when they enter the body. To develop immunity against a particular virus or bacteria, it needs to enter our body naturally or artificially (a form of vaccine).”
Chaudhari says that there is ample evidence in the world of science to show that generally speaking, ‘too much of hygiene’ can actually impact immunity adversely. So, in this sense, hygiene and immunity may well be antonyms of each other.
“Corona is a new virus. We may not have inbuilt immunity against it. We can keep ourselves safe during this pandemic by not letting the virus enter our body (hand hygiene, masks and social distancing) and simultaneously building the body’s immune system (just in case the virus enters the body). But equating hygiene to immunity is misleading,” she says, adding that it's important to draw a line between hygiene and immunity space.
Chaudhari elucidates that if marketers don't do so, the claims may simply boomerang - as trust is a brand’s most important asset, especially in these uncertain times.
She stresses on the importance of substantiating and validating claims, since diseases and health are not casual matters. “If a brand claims that it can do both (hygiene and immunity-boosting), then they have to back their claim with medical references or scientific evidence. Topical solutions can provide hygiene. At the same time, immunity boosters need to be consumed. Broadly speaking, you can’t build immunity by applying something to your body, and you can’t stay hygienic by consuming something. So, how one formulation can do both, is the question.”
Chaudhari adds that marketers need to act responsibly, more so in the case of the Coronavirus as it's a serious infection, and we can’t fool around it. “Creating a false sense of safety amongst consumers may turn out to be dangerous.”
She emphasises on the fact that today, consumers scrutinise brand messages more closely than ever, especially if it concerns their family’s health. They will discuss these matters with their friends, family, doctors, Facebook or follow influencers on social media (famous F-factors).
“Too much is at the risk if they find these claims (to be) false. They will not forgive such brands. Marketers must remember this formula full of Fs if they don’t want to fail,” says Chaudhari, adding that marketers need to steer discussions, be open for debates, be transparent and genuine. The last thing consumers want in this pandemic is to be misled by brands or to jeopardise brand trust for some quick brownie points.
Suman Srivastava, founder and innovation artist at Marketing Unplugged, stresses again that the idea of hygiene and immunity are totally different. "Hygiene is on the outside, immunity is on the inside. Hygiene is about keeping the germs out. Immunity is about killing the germs that get in."
"Hygiene is short-term (you wash away dirt immediately), while immunity is long-term (takes time to build). Hygiene brands can’t really claim immunity and vice versa. It will be very hard for brands to straddle across the two worlds," he adds.
He takes the example of toothpastes and soaps, and asks whether one would use a toothpaste marketed by a soap brand. Srivastava says using the terms interchangeably is imprecise and consumers are smart enough to see through these claims.
"Consumers want both, but it can’t come from one product. Nor one brand. Consumers want freedom from disease. It's best to keep the ideas separate."
Srivastava says that each family will arrive at their own portfolio of products - which will include hygiene and immunity products - that will keep them healthy. "Consumers are smart enough to understand which is which - just using the word 'immunity' on a hygiene product or vice versa, wouldn’t matter," he concludes.