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In a big relief to fast-moving consumer goods major Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), the Bombay High Court on Monday prohibited German personal care brand Sebamed to air its ad campaign targeting HUL’s beauty care brands Lux and Dove.

The HC granted an ad-interim ex-parte injunction against the ads, which compared Lux and Dove to detergent brand Rin, and claimed that the beauty soaps did not maintain the optimal 5.5 pH level meant for sensitive skin. Sebamed ads also claimed that its cleansing bar had the perfect pH for sensitive skin.

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The court passed a restraining order on USV Pvt. Ltd, which retails Sebamed in India, and its affiliates, and advertising agencies from using, telecasting or broadcasting or communicating to the public through TV, newspaper, hoardings and other material, or in any language of similar nature. The matter will be heard on 14 January.

Sebamed’s comparative advertising both on mainstream and social media over the weekend raised a Twitter storm and upset HUL, which had promised suitable action. It also retaliated with a campaign on 10 January highlighting the trust of dermatologists on its soap bar Dove though it did not name Sebamed in its ad.

pH is a measure of how acidic a product is, that is, the lower the pH value, the better it is for the skin.

The court recorded the submissions by HUL that the ad campaign denigrates its brands, and does not take into account the full formulations of the products, besides misleading consumers only on the basis of pH. The ad’s purpose was not to promote a product by Sebamed, but to discourage the consumer from purchasing HUL’s products, which is not permissible, the company argued.

Dev Bajpai, executive director, legal and corporate affairs, HUL, said: “HUL’s brands are time-tested and have always delivered on the promise they have made to their consumers. However, Sebamed’s ad is misleading consumers on soap efficacy during these difficult times, and further denigrating and disparaging well-known brands like Lux, Dove, Pears and Rin."

Shashi Ranjan, India country head, Sebamed, however, said the company having a product range with pH 5.5 benefits, stands by its claims, and the ad was not targeted at any particular brand or company.

“Having said that, our claims are based on solid science and we have robust information and data points to back it up. When we make a claim, we stand by it as the organization is known for its scientific data," he said.

“We have not been served any court order as yet. We are a responsible organization and we abide by the law of the land," he said.

Ranjan said the intention behind highlighting the pH value in its campaign was to educate consumers as they have the right to have improved skincare.

“Sebamed with a pH of 5.5 really conforms to that promise because it is not a gimmicky brand. It talks about maintaining skin moisturization levels and protecting against any skin damage. Therefore, Sebamed conforms to what it says in its advertising unlike the traditional Indian beauty industry, which relies on emotional and make-believe claims which cannot be verified," Ranjan added.

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