A student washes her hands at a school in Abuja, Nigeria, March 20, 2020. Photo: Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde.
What happens when two well-known germ-killer brands get at loggerheads during a pandemic over an advertisement?
In March 2020, Hindustan Unilever Ltd. (HUL) approached the Bombay high court against Reckitt Benckiser (India) Pvt. Ltd. (RB) claiming the latter allegedly tried to denigrate their product, Lifebuoy. Specifically, HUL said RB had advertised its product, Dettol, in a way that allegedly mocked Lifebuoy’s utility, even as India’s COVID-19 epidemic was getting underway.
In RB’s advertisement, a doctor asks patients to keep away from a soap and depicts their liquid hand-wash to be more effective. The soap is shown as a red bar that resembles the shape, colour and configuration of Lifebuoy soaps. Shortly after, HUL approached the high court and sought Rs 1 crore in damages and a permanent injunction against RB.
A single-judge bench of the Bombay high court, headed by Justice K.R. Shriram, heard the case before the matter could venture into substantial claims and averments. RB subsequently agreed to suspend the use of the impugned ad for one month.
While we’re struggling as a nation to get our economic act together even as its people are caught between multiple medical advisories, hygiene brands saw an opportunity to tussle over advertising and increase their market shares.
According to WHO guidelines, washing hands with soap and water is an effective way to protect people from the novel coronavirus virus. So HUL contended that RB’s ad went against this wisdom, and sought to stoke panic in consumers’ minds instead of spreading awareness.
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