Home >News >India >Sebamed cleans up soap ads, offers free pH kits

German personal care company Sebamed has tweaked its ads that alleged high acidic content in Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) soaps Dove and Lux, following a restraining order by the Bombay high court.

In their place, it has launched an ad campaign without naming HUL. As before, these ads are on the optimal pH levels for sensitive skins, but they now offer free pH testing kits to consumer.

The high court is expected to pass its judgement on 19 January.

Without naming HUL, the tweaked ads said high pH levels in soaps can lead to dehydration, irritability and acne. pH is a measure of acidic content in a product—in general, the lower the pH value, the better it is for the skin.

The Sebamed ad
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The Sebamed ad

Besides print ads, Sebamed rolled out its new ads across television, digital, outdoor and radio, with a cheeky tagline “filmstars kee nahi, science kee suno" (listen to science, not movie stars).

When Sebamed first released its ad on 8 January on mainstream and social media, it raised a Twitter storm. HUL hit back on 10 January with ads saying dermatologists trust its soap bar Dove, and took its complaint to the high court on 11 January.

“We feel that it is our duty to provide the right information to consumers so that they can make informed choices when it comes to personal care through our advertising. Digital platforms have already helped consumers to look deeper into the products they use," Shashi Ranjan, India head, Sebamed, said in an interview.

“Moreover, since the onset of the pandemic, consumers have started re-evaluating their product choices looking at hygiene, ingredients and efficacy. We feel the timing is right to empower and educate customers so that they can make purchases with their eyes wide open."

A relatively small player with premium priced products compared to other beauty soap brands in India, Sebamed said it was looking to expand its reach by launching smaller stock-keeping units and improving its distribution network in India. Currently, it sells its skin, hair and baby care products via 40,000 outlets, besides e-commerce platforms.

Advertising and brand specialists said Sebamed will definitely benefit from the aggressive advertising at least in the short-to-medium term, but it would take more than just ads to gain consumer loyalty.

“Their comparative advertising naming rival brands has managed to grab the consumer’s mind space and attention. The objective behind this campaign is to get a fraction (around 5%) of their collective sales from rival brands, which will still be a huge number for a relatively smaller player like Sebamed," Karthik Srinivasan, a communications strategy consultant, said. However, he said the real challenge will be to hold on to consumers and convince them to buy its product regularly.

Naresh Gupta, co-founder and chief strategy officer, Bang In The Middle, said comparative advertising does not help in brand building in the long term. “Toothpaste brand Sensodyne, for instance, has never pointed out what their competition lacks. They have always highlighted their own core strengths and built a strong brand. People who can shell out more than 100 for a soap will anyway be using a face wash or body wash."

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