Mumbai: In a new twist to the ongoing battle between consumer goods giants Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) and Procter and Gamble Home Products Ltd (P&G), the Madras high court on Thursday directed P&G to display a disclaimer for the entire duration of its commercials for Tide Naturals detergent, and to delete certain scenes that depict natural chandan (sandalwood) and lemon which were misleading consumers because the detergent only contained synthetic compounds.
At odds: Detergents made by rivals Hindustan Unilever and Procter and Gamble jostle for space in a Vishal Mega Mart store in New Delhi. Rajkumar / Mint
The order follows a 1 March ad interim order by the court asking P&G’s Indian subsidiary to run a disclaimer saying ‘Tide Naturals does not contain lemon and chandan’ at the end of the commercial.
P&G launched Tide Naturals —a cheaper variant of its flagship detergent Tide—on 1 December, with television commercials showing that the product contained lemon and sandalwood.
HUL, which sells rival detergent brands such as Surf, Rin and Wheel, had approached the high court alleging the “incorrect” use of “Naturals”, and asking for a change in product packaging and the advertisement.
However, the court has not objected to the brand name and packaging or the advertisement as a whole.
“We are pleased with the interim order of the honourable Madras high court that has not accepted the contention of HUL to modify the Tide Naturals brand name or packaging in any way. The interim court order further allows us to continue the airing of our Tide Naturals commercial with certain modifications,” said a P&G spokesperson and added: “We continue to strive to always do the right thing in all our actions and communication to the consumer.”
An HUL spokesperson declined comment, saying: “We are awaiting the copy of the order”.
“The directions taken by the Madras high court are a step forward in a series of competitive advertising cases that are coming up where the Supreme Court has held that any advertisement should be true to its claims,” said Anuradha Salhotra, partner at Mumbai-based law firm Lall Lahiri and Salhotra.
HUL and P&G have since been battling in courtrooms in Kolkata and Chennai and in consumer markets across the country through a price war that has led to cuts of 10-30% in the prices of the two competing detergents.
In January, HUL reduced the prices of its Rin and Surf brands by 10-30%. On 25 February, it moved the Madras high court against P&G’s “natural” pitch and followed this up by launching an advertisement that took on the Tide brand’s claim about better whiteness, a key selling point in India that it also used by HUL to sell its products.
On 2 March, P&G approached the Calcutta high court, claiming HUL’s Rin commercial disparaged its Tide Naturals brand. The high court on 6 March passed an interim order restraining HUL from airing its Rin detergent commercial.
More recently, P&G extended the price war to shampoos with an indirect price cut of over 15% on its Head & Shoulders and Pantene brands, by adding 20% to product volume.
The pricing war comes at a time when both the multinational firms are looking at India and other emerging and developing markets for higher growth.