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When Lifebuoy's hand sanitiser claimed to boost immunity

A clear case of misplaced buzzy keyword, or can a hand sanitiser actually help boost your immunity?

Today, essential products can be divided into two categories: Hygiene and Immunity. One protects us from the inside (immunity) and the other protects us from the outside (hygiene), there's a clear distinction. But, what happens when the two begin to enter each others' areas?

Hand sanitisers keep our hands clean and, as per public health authorities, they’re one of the best health precautions we can take to halt the Coronavirus' spread. Thus, it's not surprising to see their sales at an all-time high right now.

But when Lloyd Mathias, business strategist, and former Asia-Pacific marketing head of HP Inc., shared an image of a Lifebuoy hand sanitiser on his Twitter account with 'Immunity Boosting...' on the bottle wrapper, it got us wondering. Since when did a hand sanitiser boost immunity?

A scroll through the comments below the tweet somewhat answered our question. While brand consultant Ambi Parameswaran mused if it was a fake forward, Mathias responded with a recent Amazon India website snapshot that proved that Lifebuoy packages its hand sanitisers as 'immunity boosting'.

Communication specialist Kartik Srinivasan then joined in the conversation and pointed out that this wasn't a recent move by Lifebuoy, but one from back in 2016. He said that the brand "... seems to be using 'immunity' as an alternate word for 'defense', even back in 2016."

Our present is filled with anxiety and worries about the virus, the economy, the health of our families, and whatnot. And now, this overlapping of hygiene and immunity benefit claims. It's not only confusing, but someone can end up reading it in the wrong way. So, we decided to ask an industry expert about it.

Jasravee Chandra, director - brand building, research and innovation, Master Sun - consulting brand of Adiva L Pvt. Ltd

Jasravee Chandra
Jasravee Chandra

A brand always intends to claim what is clearly comprehended across demographics/psychographics. A lot of consumer research, and even creative coin-age, keeps a good track of consumers understanding throughout.

Brands coin/claim terms for a quick reminder of the role they can play, even for claiming superiority over the competition. Lacto Calamine did this by saying on the pack, it is ‘Skinsurance’. It ladders benefits and quickly contextualises the product in the skincare regime. It is clear, and not really an overclaim.

As far as immunity goes, I’d say it is a system, not a single entity. Many lifestyle factors contribute to it. Hygiene is also an important factor.

But a hand wash/sanitising product can only act at the contact stage, and not boost one’s fighting capacity. (Though the brand here claims it can boost skin’s fighting capacity for 10 hours.) Most importantly, the enemy in the post-COVID era is not germs, but the unfathomable, life-threatening virus.

So far, a hand sanitiser was a peripheral product in the hygiene discourse and regime. But in the post-COVID era, it has taken centre stage. The scrutiny, hence, I feel is justified.

So, what does an immunity-boosting hand sanitiser convey to a regular consumer of a mass brand? I feel it has the potential to confuse him, even if the intention was not to mislead.