Wikipedia, the Gita/Bible of the netizens defines advertising as a “form of communication intended to persuade its viewers, readers or listeners to take some action”. This is similar to what I learnt as a student of mass communications. The definition further says “It usually includes the name of a product or service and how that product or service could benefit the consumer, to persuade potential customers to purchase or to consume that particular brand.”
This brings us to a question—what is comparative or combat advertising. It isn’t new for us to see brands making obvious references to their competitors. When we see a pink coloured soap in say a Lifebouy soap ad, we know that it is not any random soap but it is Lux. I can bet on my life to take a guess and be sure when they beep and say **** and ********* is not all that effective. While these were the more subtle ones, we can recall the war between Times of India and Hindustan Times, both claiming to be number one in circulation — no mincing of words; it was an explicit war by the news dailies.
I am also tempted to recall the “in”famous Horlicks vs Complan campaign which ended up in a legal tussle with Camplan challenging the Horlicks in the Mumbai high court.
These advertisements remind me of Mr Chatur Ramalingam of the 3 Idiots fame. Let me rephrase and paraphrase him to fit this industry —
“there are only two ways of getting a higher brand recall :
1. Be a better brand yourself and you will get your due; or
2. Highlight the negative points of the competitor or pull it down
……the second one is easier and we believe in that…..”
This Chatur syndrome was visible even in the “do the dew” (Dew vs Sprite) and “dimaag nahi hai tabhi to no kiya (do not have brains, that is why nokia)” (Nokia vs Onida).
But what got me to write this is the latest one in this genre – the Rin (Hindustan Unilever) and Tide (Procter and Gamble) war that was all over the television channels over the weekend. Let me get into the details of the advertisement since Rin decided not to elaborate upon the product! Two mother are waiting to pick their children from the bus stop. One woman has this Tide washing power in her shopping bag and the viewer is sure that this is an ad by Tide. The children hop out of their school bus and proceed to their respective mothers. One is wearing a dull looking white shirt while the other one has a clean white sparking shirt. Just when the viewer expects a tag line that praises Tide, the child wearing the clean white shirt asks his mother “why is aunty shocked?” And then, it is time for us to be shocked, the answer is “Tide se kahin behatar safedi de Rin (Rin gives better whiteness than Tide)”. One does not expect the competitor to be named like this. And what did the companies get? My mother, who is pretty brand conscious, gave a shocked statement “I did not know that Tide and Rin are from the same company!” And she reasoned that probably that the company wants people to switch from Tide to Rin because it is either phasing out Tide or may be Rin is more expensive and wants people to get used to it.
Advertisers are not only under a pressure to market their brands well, but also to compete at a creative level – who made the best ad this year? But is this healthy competition? Is so much aggressiveness justified? Are brands aware of the fact that the Advertising Standards Council of India (http://www.ascionline.org/regulation/code.htm) lays down rules and regulations?
I personally believe that there is no harm if I were to bring forth the facts and educate my consumer. I believe I can assume all rights to go ahead and prove that XYZ product has 40% lead as compared to the 20% standard. But yes, the debate continues, should comparative advertising be encouraged?
What needs to be seen is P&G’s response to the said advertisement — simple legal recourse or yet another ad in the making? With Rin’s disclaimer that its claim is backed by a test by an independent lab, things are going to get pretty “interesting for us”.