Blogger’s Park: Breaking through consumer inertia

February 12, 2021 6:55 AM

In light of the Sebamed campaign controversy, some lessons for marketers

Unlike in the US or UK, Indian brands usually refrain from naming the competition, given the legal quagmire you can get dragged intoUnlike in the US or UK, Indian brands usually refrain from naming the competition, given the legal quagmire you can get dragged into

By Ambi Parameswaran

Escape velocity is the minimum speed needed for a free, non-propelled object to escape from the gravitational influence of a massive body (Earth), that is, to eventually reach an infinite distance from it [wiki]. In order to escape from Earth’s gravitational pull, a body has to achieve a speed of 40,000 kmph; this calls for special design, rocket fuel and multi-stage propulsion.

Earth’s gravitational pull is very much like the pull of inertia that keeps consumers stuck in their routine: they use the same brands for the same purposes. How can marketers get them to change their routine and, in a sense, escape from the gravitational inertia? There are two approaches. One is to gently nudge them to try new things — through free sampling or promotional offers. The other approach is to give your brand a huge thrust so that it breaks through consumer inertia. One way to do this is by naming a brand that the consumer is attached to.

Name calling

Sebamed is a German skincare soap licensed to the Indian pharmaceutical major USV. Sebamed created a flurry in the soap market with its pH-focussed ad comparing itself with popular brands like Lux, Dove, Pears, Santoor and even Rin. The ad went on to explain that sensitive skin needs a soap that has a neutral pH, and Sebamed, with a pH of 5.5, is ideal.

What was also interesting was that the ad broke on a Friday morning, armed with three days of advertising to do before courts interceded. HUL got a stay order on the basis of ‘unfair comparison’ (talking about pH is fair, but bringing in Rin did not wash with the court).

HUL should not be surprised with the pH war. It, too, had run a similar pH-focussed ad for Dove in the UK, naming brands like Ivory, Palmolive and Neutrogena. But naming Rin was a very different new move by Sebamed. A few years ago, Tide from P&G and Rin from HUL fought a similar battle, naming names.


Unlike in the US or UK, Indian brands usually refrain from naming the competition, given the legal quagmire you can get dragged into. Breaking advertising on a Friday is another tried-and-tested technique used by brands that are sure they may be dragged to court, even if they were not mentioning anyone by name. For example, Moov broke its campaign on TV on a Friday, and the claim was that unlike your favourite brand (Iodex was not mentioned, but its distinctive pack was visible), Moov did not stain your clothes. The blitz went on through Friday, Saturday and Sunday; on Monday, the court issued a stay order. But Moov had achieved escape velocity.

There have been numerous cases where a competitor is not mentioned explicitly: Captain Cook called it your “favourite salt” (without mentioning Tata Salt), but there was no legal issue; Tata Indica mentioned “50cc moped, 100cc mobike, 800cc car – now you can ask for more” — it was clear they were calling out Maruti 800, but no legal action followed (in fact, Maruti 800 cut its price by Rs 25,000 on the day of Tata Indica’s launch).

Naming competition or highlighting a competitor without the name are strategies that can be used by a newcomer or a sub-salient brand. This alone is not enough. You need to follow through with a brand campaign that will capture the benefits of the momentum.

Just as a rocket escaping from Earth’s gravitational pull, a brand, too, can break consumer inertia by an aggressive competitive stance. But if you switch off your engine, you will come crashing down to Earth, and consumers will go back to their ‘favourite brand’.

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