The latest development in the Colgate – Pepsodent saga is that the Division Bench of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court has granted relief to Colgate against Hindustan Unilever Limited’s Pepsodent advertisement. The Court found HUL’s print advertisement to be disparaging Colgate Strong Teeth (‘ST’) and restrained HUL and or its agents from publishing the impugned print advertisement or any other similar advertisement which disparages Colgate Strong Teeth or any other product of Colgate. The Court also ordered modification of the TV commercial.
The Court further observed, “…we are in no manner of doubt that the advertisement not only conveys an impression that use of Colgate would not be as effective as Pepsodent but also conveys an impression that use of Colgate Strong Teeth instead of Pepsodent GSP would result in causing harm and discomfort to its consumers. This is clearly the essential message of the visual story… It is apparent that a consumer who glances at this advertisement would, surely carry the impression as stated above. Thus, in our view, the impugned print advertisement is prima facie disparaging of the appellant’s goodwill and its product Colgate ST.”
This provides relief to Colgate after the Delhi High Court’s dismissal of the injunction petition filed by Colgate against Pepsodent Germicheck Superior Power advertisement in August, concluding that Pepsodent does not degrade competition brand Colgate in its advertising.
The Court has further directed HUL to modify the voiceover at the end of the impugned TVC which states ‘Naya Pepsodent Germi Check Colgate Ke Mukable 130 Pratishat Germ Attack Power’ (freely translated means, ‘In comparison to Colgate, New Pepsodent Germi Check has 130 per cent Germ Attack Power’) is misleading and inaccurate.
“Until the comparison is scientifically proven, it seems like a false claim. It should be certified by an independent third party. Ideally, the strategy should be ‘what does my brand have superior in accordance to consumer needs’. Otherwise it could be misleading,” remarked Abraham Koshy, Professor, Marketing, IIM Ahmedabad, on the development.
The court also observed that “the message Pepsodent GSP is better than Colgate ST in combating tooth decay (cavities) is the message that the impugned TVC delivers and this is a serious representation of fact. Thus, the question that requires to be addressed is whether this claim is truthful or not.”
What caught consumers and the industry by surprise about Pepsodent’s attack on Colgate was the brand name Colgate was clearly visible in the ad, supplemented by a voiceover that came with a confident conclusion that Pepsodent’s Germicheck is no less than 130 per cent better than Colgate – the current market leader with a 54.2 per cent market share in the Rs 5050 crore Indian toothpaste market.
“I guess the battle will continue – from the market to the courts and then back to the market. ‘Disparaging’ is a big word. Brands need to be careful not to step on each other's toes on the count of this phrase that will be used to advantage by brands. While comparison is fine, disparaging is not fine. At times, that is a think line marketers interpret differently on different occasions,” opined Harish Bijoor, Brand Expert and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults, on the latest development and the competitive advertising scenario in India.
Is it a strong message to other brands?
Does this decision of the Delhi high court give a strong message to other brands who adopt similar tactics to garner consumer attention?
“This decision tells brands that you need to be sincere to consumers and be committed to consumers, backed by scientific data,” shared Koshy.
Competitive advertising is becoming increasingly popular among brands. Examples of such aggressive advertising are essentially tactical bits that help boost brand salience.
Advertising has now evolved into more insight-based communication. Gone are the days when the accepted norm in India was to communicate attribute-level comparisons obliquely. With a 'sharp beep’ in the narrative or air brushed or subtle pixilated imagery sufficing to the get the point across, what we are now seeing is more direct and bold advertising that leaves no doubt in the consumer’s mind.
“Yes, this is a strong message to those planning guerrilla advertising forays that poke each other in the eye,” concluded Bijoor.
Are brands listening?