If you are among those who were following Sachin Tendulkar when he hit the memorable double century, then you probably know which ‘washing dirty linen in public’ we are referring to. If you were among those who spent considerable time in front of the television in the long ‘Holi’ weekend, then you definitely know which ad we are speaking about. Hindustan Unilever took on Procter & Gamble head on when the latest ad from Rin named and showed rival brand Tide and stated that Rin was better than Tide. Rin’s creative agency is JWT.
Comparative advertising has always been used in advertising, but a blatant comparison like this doesn’t have many examples. Some time back it was Horlicks and Complan, and in a sense Big TV and Airtel DTH, and now there is HUL’s Rin and P&G’s Tide. The latest ad once again opens up the debate of comparative advertising, its merits, the ethical issue and most importantly, whether it works or not.
The advertising gurus that exchange4media spoke to see it both ways. One school of thought says that when the brand can support the claim, they show it in public space, and the second simply says bad taste, ‘not the kind of work we would do’.
Our take is that this is definitely a bold move, and something that the largest advertiser of the country can afford to at the scale at which it is done. However, advertising has to be done in a memorable way – something as simple as ‘my shirt is whiter than yours’ is not something likely to stay with the consumer for very long. Also, if the ASCI does get HUL to withdraw the ad on grounds of unsubstantiated claim, then it would be interesting to see how Tide informs its consumers that Rin’s claim was not upheld.
What ASCI has to say
When contacted on the issue, Allan Colaco, Secretary-General, ASCI, commented, “According to the ASCI code of conduct, it is fine to show another product. But when a brand makes any such claims that his brand is better than his competitive brand, the company should have proper scientific proof on the same. However, yesterday, we’ve had a meet with the consumer body and post the meet, we have sent a letter to HUL to produce evidence sustaining their claim. We have given them two weeks’ notice. If the evidence is thorough, we keep the ad going.”
When questioned if there was any pre-clearance of such ads before going on air, Colaco stated that there was no such measure as of now as there were countless ads that were aired every day.
Sagar Mahabaleshwarkar, CCO, Rediffusion Y&R observed, “If the company can support the claim against a rival brand, then they can name a rival product directly. In this case, HUL must have done a lot of research before making this claim. I have never been faced with a situation like this, so personally never got the chance to do an ad where we could name a rival product. But I must add that it takes a lot of courage to do something like that, since these things can become messy later.”
However, Josy Paul, Chairman and NCD, BBDO India, brings a different view. He said, “I suppose it is going to be a question that ASCI would be asked. In fact, it is an opportunity for ASCI to take a stance. Today, there is a certain boundary that is being crossed, courtesy reality TV. People have done this in the past, but not so boldly. What Rin has done here is to take the three days and go all out. By the time the letter reaches ASCI and people act legally, they have already created an impact. It is now only on moral ground, and may be legal ground, that we can argue this case.”
Rajiv Rao, NCD, Ogilvy India, commented, “I am not sure I would do an ad where I name a rival product blatantly. An ad that says I am better and whiter doesn’t make any impact unless it is told in a manner that is remembered. It has to be charming, and it has to be interesting. In this case, I am not sure I even see a twist in the way the ad played out.”
Rahul Jauhari, NCD, Pickle Lintas, added here, “When brands from a house such as HUL make claims as these, the claims are made on the back of strong studies. The campaign has been bombarded with the ads being aired every two minutes in the prime time slots, so the impact has already been created in the minds of the consumer. If tomorrow somebody goes and complains for foul claim, the objective is already achieved.”
Jauhari added that while he personally didn’t think that this was a wrong move, the key was that the claim had to be genuine. He further said, “We have seen in the past product names being blurred on the screen, or just showing similar package as the competitive brand’s, but here advertising has gone a step ahead.”
The Big Question: How does this impact the consumer?
Above every other debate is the more important question: Does the consumer resonate with such a tactic? Every expert believes that the consumer does.
Mahabaleshwarkar pointed out, “Naming a rival product would definitely leave a mark on the consumer. When you are making a claim like this, chances are that you are being very careful also in what you are saying. It would make an impact on the consumer.”
Paul, on the other hand, said, “When I saw it, I was zapped, so it did have the desired effect. But I am not sure if I was the target for the ad. To me, it felt that someone was washing dirty linen in public. I think that ad was in bad taste. But because of the voyeuristic nature of human beings, people enjoy this bad taste, something like this interests them. It is a bit like reality TV, where private wars (in this case corporate wars) are made public.”
Rao of Ogilvy stated the bottom line. He said, “Only if you have created an angle, where the consumer stays with the ad story and remembers it. Otherwise, the consumer really doesn’t care if it something as old as ‘uski kameez meri kameez se safed kaise’.”
Uski sari meri sari se safed kaise? Memorable lines that have remained glued to many in the advertising business, resulting in advertising that compares a competitor’s product too often. The caveat in most cases is that such comparative advertising comes in a veiled form, with the product’s logo or name hidden or blurred. Some would say this is the kind of comparison that is done “just for the heck of it”. Some others would say, the hidden bit raises the curiosity factor, and those who would not really care if the name was shown and would have forgotten too, take the pains to figure out the brand name and surprisingly, the name sticks to the memory. Comparative advertising is the truth of the advertising business and surfaces every now and then when a brand, in its enthusiasm to prove its point, blatantly features a competitive brand in its communication.
The ASCI has clear guidelines on comparative advertising, but for those seeking that route, it’s not difficult to find a loophole and a way out of it. However, it takes courage to punch competition on a public platform like this and wait for all kinds of punches back – from the media, from the fraternity, legal punches and above all, from the competitive brand itself. So, to reiterate, the move was bold but without a powerful creative idea like Surf had with ‘Dirt is Good’, it is not ultimate advertising. For a positive resonation with the consumer, the creative has to be done with a difference.
For now, it is a wait and watch on how ASCI and Tide will react to Rin’s claim.
(With inputs from Tuhina Anand and Tasneem Limbdiwala.)