The German skin expert brand Sebamed recent campaign ‘Film stars kee nahi, science kee suno’ made news for taking on its competition directly. With the brand ethos being science for healthy skin, Sebamed’s communication highlights the benefits of its pH 5.5 based cleansing bar which it claims prevents loss of moisture, keeps the skin soft and supple and free from damage making it ideal for sensitive skin.
Commenting on the campaign Shashi Ranjan, India Head, Sebamed says the objective of the campaign was to focus on the product and not the emotional attribute. He states, “My product is the hero. We thought it was time for us to change the rules of the game and make people understand that what matters are the product functionality and attributes and not the make-believe factors traditionally spoken by brands. The campaign is not against any brand or how they promote the brand. What we intend to do is to provide and empower customers with right information when they make a choice about personal care. This is done through visual demonstration and easily verifiable facts based on science.” He adds, “We are creating a new paradigm in personal care where we are saying that you need to evaluate your personal care choices based on scientific data points. We wanted to be true to ourselves and convey to people that as a brand, we stand for trust and transparency and the core of our brand is science for healthy skin. We stand for authenticity and honesty. This is our brand promises and it is all based on solid facts.”
The Value Proposition
A 100 gram Sebamed soap bar is priced at Rs 99, significantly higher than most products on Indian shelves. Ranjan says that the value offered by the product to keep the skin healthy for a sustained period is Sebamed’s winning proposition. “I believe India is value sensitive and that price and value go hand in hand. There is an element of value that we bring in. We are looking at customers who are discerning, who are not satisfied with the existing product they use. They may not be aware of the available options and we are giving them an option and providing them knowledge to switch to a brand that provides value,” he points out.
On Ramping Up Distribution
The messaging for the brand focuses on the new vocabulary in the personal care segment, pH and its benefits and Sebamed has executed a 360-degree campaign to convey its proposition. Ranjan says, “We are present in 40 cities and are ramping up our distribution network at a significant pace. This means that we are looking not just at Digital but also at TV, Print and OOH as we feel our target group are both the metro and the non-metro consumer. We will continue to expand in phases, which means our media mix needs to be balanced. We have a balanced mix now and will continue to balance or optimise this, depending on our customer mix, as we go along.”
Sebamed entered India in 2007, but it was only in 2018 that the company adopted an aggressive stance. Ranjan explains, “We started our journey 2.0 from 2018 and focused on three building blocks – people, brand and reach. This transformation journey started with us bringing in the best possible talent, focusing on brand building and building an omni-channel network.”
A Soapy War: The Soap Saga So Far
Sebamed’s latest campaign that takes on legacy brands from the Hindustan Unilever (HUL) portfolio has been at the centre of much attention right from the time it was rolled out. The advert directly named HUL’s brands such as Dove, Rin, Pears and Lux, and claims that the company’s soaps like Lux and Pears have the same pH levels as detergent soap bar Rin.
HUL responded with a newspaper advertisement of its own, which claimed dermatologists trusted Dove. The brand’s response to its competitor said, “Our brands are best-in-class and deliver fully on the promises...backed by strong tech, science, clinical evidence and decades of expert and consumer-backed testing, enjoying strong brand loyalty. We will take suitable action as we deem fit.” HUL also went to court and obtained an interim order restraining Sebamed from airing or publishing the ads.
The Bombay High Court, on January 19 allowed Sebamed to continue displaying advertisements. However, Sebamed cannot compare HUL’s soaps to washing detergents, as it has done in its recent campaign where it mentioned Rin, the court ruled in its injunction order. The order uploaded on the Bombay High Court website stated, “As far as the advertisement comparing Sebamed cleansing bar to Dove soap is concerned, the defendant (Sebamed) is permitted to air the advertisements in its current form. In the advertisements comparing Pears and Lux to Sebamed cleansing bar respectively, no reference shall be made to Rin detergent bar or any other detergent soap.”
Sebamed was also asked to modify the words ‘safe and ‘not safe’ to ‘ideal’ and ‘not ideal’ in some ads that use a scale to define the pH value of soaps. The high court bench reportedly concluded that Sebamed ads were backed by evidence-based data. Sebamed’s legal team further commented that the judgement is an unequivocal acknowledgement of its endeavours to educate consumers about pH values of soaps and their effects on the skin. In another win for Sebamed, the division bench of the Bombay High Court also dismissed an appeal filed by HUL against HC’s order that permitted the German soap brand to air its TV commercial. Media reports say that the Division Bench reviewed Sebamed’s scientific literature, concluding that pH is a key factor in choosing the right soap.
The ongoing battle between the FMCG major and the German skincare brand also has marketing experts divided on the merits and pitfalls of comparative advertising.
In terms of marketing investment Ranjan says, “The growth in marketing investment has increased from X in 2018 to 2X in 2019 to 3X in 2020. We are exponentially increasing our marketing budget to match up with our objective, which is to create disproportionate awareness and generate trials where we provide an opportunity to consumers to try our products. Loyalty is key and thankfully once customers use our products, they remain loyal to us. We will continue to exponentially increase our investments across integrated platforms and make robust investments in brand apart from people and distribution expenses.”
Typically Sebamed products have been available in pharmacies and the company’s effort has been to increase product availability across all retail points. He continues, “We will continue to expand – both from number of cities and stores perspective. From 2018 to 2020, we moved from X to 3X in terms of retail points where we were available. In 2021, we want to move from 3X to 6X from a reach or distribution perspective. This is across channels – be it general trade, modern trade or e-commerce in addition to pharmacy stores. It’s a phased distribution plan, we started with top 10 cities, then moved to top 20. Now we are in top 40 cities and in a year’s time we would move to 100 cities.”