Was the latest commercial from RIN – Two birds with one stone ( Tide Brand and Tide Naturals )

Woman 1: “Tide hai. Khushboo hai aur safedi bhi.”
Woman 2 smiles.

Strangely enough, the lady bragging about her favourite detergent brand in the recent controversial Rin commercial uses the word ‘Tide’ to describe her detergent purchase, whereas the pack shown in her basket is Tide Naturals, a variant of the mother brand.

There’s no denying that Hindustan Unilever’s attempt through this commercial was to declare an advertising war on competitor, Procter & Gamble; but just which product did it target? The mother brand Tide, which has been eating away into Rin’s share in the mid-tier segment ever since its launch in 2001; or Tide Naturals, a cheaper ‘fragrance meets whiteness’ variant unleashed by P&G in December 2009, to further eat into Rin’s sales by riding on the affordability premise (the Rin ad after all, not only shows Tide Naturals, but also talks of how Rin is now astonishingly cheaper than it used to be)?

In the aftermath of the two FMCG giants locking horns over their respective brand claims, afaqs! explores just which product the Rin ad truly took a potshot at – Tide, or its variant, Tide Naturals.

The stage is set

The fabric care category in India is valued at Rs 13,128 crore (The Nielsen Company data), detergents constituting a major chunk of this. Three proposition premises – stain-free, fragrance, and whiteness – rule the detergent space in India.

Although Brand Tide stands for whiteness, its variant’s core proposition is fragrance (to counter humid weather and dampness of clothes). In this regard, HUL’s main fragrant detergent offering would be Wheel. On the stain-free premise, P&G’s Ariel competes with HUL’s Surf Excel. That leaves Rin and Tide to fight each other on the whiteness platform.

This mother of FMCG wars in recent times, perhaps, began with Rin looking at ways to get back at challenger, Tide, which has been affecting its margins. It found an opportunity when P&G announced the launch of the affordable Tide Naturals late last year – an unbridled price war declared on Rin, as marketing experts put it, and an attempt to capture the mass segment with the ‘whiteness meets fragrance’ offering.

HUL took P&G to court regarding a Tide Naturals commercial, which apparently gave consumers the impression that it contains natural ingredients such as sandal, and the brand name itself was proposed to be “misleading”. The court ordered P&G to modify the campaign, and P&G admitted that while Tide Naturals did not contain any natural ingredients, it exuded fragrances of natural items, such as sandal and lemon.

But HUL didn’t stop at that. In its latest attempt, the controversial Rin commercial (now banned by the court), while highlighting the new affordability of Rin, seems to directly take on both Tide and Tide Naturals.

“While the commercial targets Tide Naturals by showing the pack shot, the fact that the lady in the ad says the word ‘Tide’ is a clear indication that the attempt was to hurt the mother brand as much as its fast-growing variant,” says Santosh Padhi aka Paddy, co-founder and chief creative officer, TapRoot India. “This attempt could well have been the result of Rin’s years and years of being sidelined by Tide, a volume game player.”

A ‘Tidy’ strategy

As Tide Naturals is presently offered at a low price (in its introductory stage), it would be the easier target for Rin to pick on in a price war ad, than directly attacking the well-established Tide. Further, the formulation for Tide Naturals, as experts point out, is relatively inferior to Tide (due to lower raw material costs); therefore, it would be easier for Rin to prove its whiteness case against Tide Naturals. An attack on Tide Naturals (as opposed to Tide) could also be Rin’s way of being future ready — a means to avoid being hit by a low-priced product with the added benefit of fragrance.

Jagdeep Kapoor, chief executive officer, Samsika Marketing Consultants, feels that as Tide Naturals contains the mother brand’s name in its own branding, it makes both of them vulnerable, even if one of them is attacked.

“It is a brand’s instinct to look for competitive gaps,” he says, and Tide seems to have provided those on a platter. “Had Tide provided uniform quality and even price across its variants, Rin wouldn’t have had an opportunity in disguise,” Kapoor muses.

To him, the situation is akin to batsmen (Rin in this case) in a game of cricket, playing it cool with the fast bowlers (Tide), and going into attack mode once the slow bowlers come out (Tide Naturals).

That the commercial shows a pack-shot of Tide Naturals is irrelevant to some branding experts such as Kiran Khalap, co-founder, chlorophyll brand and communications consultancy, who feels that the real target is Tide in any case. “The consumer out there doesn’t differentiate too much between a mother brand and its variant. I mean, ICICI Bank may have dozens of other offerings, but the consumer knows ICICI as the bank brand primarily,” Khalap says. So, Tide Naturals may just have been a smokescreen, a target in case Rin has to prove its whiteness claim.

Khalap reveals that in the USA, one can have such comparative advertising (called ‘side by side’ advertising), as long as certain criteria are fulfilled, such as proving the claim by actually using the two products in question, in the advert itself.

For instance, in the 80s, there was the famous case of a cockroach-repellant brand launching a side by side advert. On being sprayed by Brand A, the cockroaches died, whereas those affected by Brand B ‘woke up’ after sometime and crawled away. The loophole here was that Brand A had reared these cockroaches for a long duration, making them immune to Brand B in small doses. “That’s the kind of stringent laws and clever loopholes that existed back then in other markets,” Khalap says. “We are far behind all that and still have ads that don’t actually make use of the product, but rely on visual effects.”

Then there are others like Prathap Suthan, national creative director, Cheil Worldwide, who feel the advert isn’t about being able to ‘prove’ any claim against Tide Naturals. “What does ‘independent research’ mean, anyway?” he questions. “It isn’t like Rin obtained certification from an authority like FDA in the US or ISI in India. So it isn’t about proving a claim; it is about being the street-fight bully whose turf has been threatened.”

The intent, Suthan concludes, is clearly well thought-out but wild — of hitting two birds with one stone, by making a bold statement and running off till the law intervened.

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