Another pair of FMCG majors in India have gone to the mattresses in yet another comparative ad case (there seem to have been a spate of these of late). Reckitt & Benckiser India (R&B) has moved the Delhi High Court seeking restraint on a Domex – Hindustan Unilever (HUL) ad that has allegedly brought discredit to its own brand Harpic. The court has reserved judgement on the matter.
An agency article on this case can be found in BS which SpicyIP originally came across on this blog. An ICMR in-depth marketing case study on this issue can be found here, which brings to light the mudslinging between the two companies over the past few months.
In late 2007, R&B launched a TV ad for its brand Harpic Power claiming its acid-based product was better than bleach-based products in the market. HUL, whose Domex Cleaner is bleach based, took R&B to the Madras High Court arguing that the claims made in the ad were false and incorrect. In December 2007, the High Court passed an order restraining R&B from airing the ad, which was allegedly ignored. HUL proceed with a contempt of court application. In January 2008, R&B claimed before the court that it had instructed the TV channels not to air the ad from the ‘knowledge of court injunction’.
In response to HUL’s Madras case, in February 2008, R&B filed a lawsuit against HUL in the Delhi High Court seeking a restraint on HUL’s TV ad for Domex, alleging that the ad discredited its Harpic (and this is where we are now).
According to R&B, HUL’s ad allegedly shows its white-coloured Domex killing germs more effectively than a blue-coloured liquid. R&B’s petition hinges on the argument that its blue-coloured Harpic, a household name, has been in the market for 80 years, and that the colour is synonymous with its product in this category. R&B alleged that the Domex ad was intentionally telecast to disparage the entire class of blue liquid toilet cleaners and in particular Harpic. HUL, on the other hand, argued that this did not hold valid as R&B’s Harpic was being sold in non-blue formulations as well.
I came across another analysis here which suggests that Domex is trying to capture the unorganised Phenyl segment in the household-cleaning market, which would explain its ‘white’ USP. That would also explain why it is priced much lower down compared with Harpic because its target consumers are different. Harpic has a gigantic 80% share in the toilet cleaning segment, and even if Domex is trying all sorts of tactics to get a share of the pie, it will take a while. Nevertheless, this looks like it might be fun. I wonder which of the two FMCG giants will meet their Waterloo (sic).