Sucheta Dalal :Will Rin Tide over this?
Sucheta Dalal

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Will Rin Tide over this?   

March 5, 2010

Full-on comparative advertising is always fun to watch. More so, when a brand doesn’t bother to conceal its rival’s identity. And compares itself to the competitor, no-holds-barred. Rin just did that to Tide. The fun starts now, as the ASCI (Advertising Standards Council of India) gets drawn in. A court case is likely to be filed, even as the controversy rages on in the ad circles. Very cannily, Hindustan Unilever (makers of Rin) released the commercial over the long Holi weekend, when the courts were shut. So by the time the rival could take action… the damage was done.


Here’s what happens in the TVC: Two spiffy housewives (who else?) are seen awaiting their school-going kids at a bus-stop. In one’s shopping bag is Rin, and the other carries Tide. Lady Tide gloats about her brand’s fragrance and safedi. Lady Rin only smiles. When the boys arrive, Baba Tide sports a shabby shirt but Baba Rin’s kameez is rocking white. A pretty insipid commercial otherwise, but one that will get a lot of publicity due to the head-on collision between the detergent giants.


So then what motivated Unilever to take such a controversial step? Clearly, Tide is fast encroaching into Rin’s traditional ‘safedi’ segment. Therefore drastic action was called for. Another factor which Unilever would have considered: It’s practically impossible to prove who washes whiter… even if a hundred bucket washes are done in front of a jury (hilarious!). 


But here’s the real risk involved in using comparative advertising: Research studies carried out in Western nations indicate that this method is almost always driven by the brand/marketing manager’s ego, rather than business acumen. And when used on television or radio, there is a serious risk of the advertiser giving away free publicity to the rival brand. This is because unlike press advertisements (which automakers usually employ to contrast their vehicles’ features with those of the competitors), viewers and listeners are usually busy doing other things while watching TV or listening to the radio. They could be chatting, on Facebook, at a family dinner, or even having sex. Which means, they may inadvertently mistake the commercial as that of the rival brand! 


So what must the Tide brand managers do, apart from making frantic calls to their lawyers? Well, nothing, really, they shouldn’t lose their shirts over this, that’s their best bet. However, if the suits do succumb to the trick, the Tide ad should be a sequel: They must communicate that the only reason the Rin lad’s shirt is white is that the poor boy is a wimp… he locks himself up in the classroom, too chicken to handle sports.


Whatever. Looks like this summer shan’t be restricted to the cola wars. — Anil Thakraney


-- Sucheta Dalal