Shreyas Kulkarni

When Dettol soap becomes India's No. 1

Launched in 1981 as an extension of the brand's antiseptic liquid, Dettol soap has now become India's top soap brand for the first time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted the relatively quiet Rs 20,000 crore soap segment in India into one of the hottest and buzziest ones within the FMCG sphere. Now, in an earnings call for the January-June period, Laxman Narasimhan, global CEO of consumer goods company Reckitt Benckiser (RB), has revealed that its Dettol soap bar has become the number one soap in the country.

LiveMint quoted Narasimhan as saying, "It (India) did grow in high single digits (on a like-to-like basis) in this period. Dettol, a power brand in India, achieved the number one share in soaps in India for the first time."

It is the first time that Dettol soap has grabbed the top spot in the Indian soap segment since its launch in 1981. As per a case study between RB and The Marketing Club of MDI, many people used Dettol antiseptic liquid in their bath and so, the company thought of offering Dettol in the more convenient form of a soap.

The case study also revealed that the original selling proposition of the soap was 'Give your family the loving care of Dettol soap'. It, however, didn't take off because it was communicated under 'mild and gentle skin care' and consumers couldn't identify (with) a mild Dettol soap.

Consumer research revealed that people used Dettol soap when faced with extreme dirt conditions. To balance communication between this need and a cosmetic soap, Dettol relaunched its soap with a new positioning.

"Dettol protection comes to you and your family in the form of a soap for those daily occasions when a specially clean germicidal bath is necessary. 'When no ordinary bath will do - Dettol soap - the 100 per cent bath.'"

When Dettol soap becomes India's No. 1

Over time, Dettol introduced soap variants to lure more customers. In the early 2000s, it launched the 'Dettol Skincare soap' which, along with its trusted germ protection, had nourishing moisturisers for the skin.

Then came the 'Dettol Cool soap' with menthol to help the skin retain its moisture, leaving it feeling healthy and refreshed. The 'Dettol Aloe Bar soap' helped to keep the skin clean. There are also two other Dettol soaps, with Tulsi and Jasmine, under its 'Co-created with Moms' umbrella.

One thing is clear and that is Dettol's 'trusted' germ protection offering, along with these other special ingredients. All these have helped Dettol soap reach the top spot.

Toppling Lifebuoy

For the longest time, Dettol soaps sailed up and down between Hindustan Unilever's Lifebuoy and Lux, Wipro's Santoor, and Godrej's No. 1 and Cinthol soap bars. However, Narasimhan's claim means Dettol has now topped Lifebuoy, which ruled the Indian soap segment for the longest time.

As per an Economic Times report, Lifebuoy's market share dropped to 13.1 per cent in FY19 from 15.7 per cent in FY18. Dettol saw its share increase from 9.7 per cent in 2017 to 10.4 per cent in 2019.

While Dettol soap was popular before the pandemic, it has now become the segment leader. We got two industry experts' take on this.

Tarun Singh Chauhan, partner, TSC Consulting

Tarun Singh Chauhan
Tarun Singh Chauhan

Dettol is a hardcore anti-bacterial soap versus Lifebuoy and other beauty soaps like Lux. And over the last 10 years, Dettol has taken the right steps and built its equity on 'trust'.

So, when the pandemic struck, people went to them because they trusted the brand which, by the way, is a wonderful product. Dettol soap was lucky because everything fell into place for it and it didn't have to do anything.

Sharda Agarwal, co-founder, Sepalika, a healthcare advisory

Sharda Agarwal
Sharda Agarwal

During a pandemic, people will do everything to protect themselves. It’s like closing every door and window, and sealing each crack in a home to not allow the howling wind to come in.

It’s no surprise that an anti-germ soap like Dettol will see a sharp spike in sales because everyone seeks reassurance in that extra protection. The reality is that you may not need an anti-germ soap. We know well by now that the virus dissolves in any soap solution.

But the human mind, especially in fear mode, never thinks rationally.

Dettol's traditional white and green packaging has a hospital type image, and people associate its strong smell with 'antiseptic' and 'safe'. With the pandemic most likely to exist for a while, Dettol may be looking at a strong second half of the year.

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