Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Who’s winning the war on germs?

Published in Sep-Oct 2012

The soap companies battle it out.
Dettol, Lifebuoy and Safeguard are focusing on encouraging more people to use more soap.
Dettol, Lifebuoy and Safeguard are focusing on encouraging more people to use more soap.

We are in the midst of a war, or so it would seem from the number of marketing initiatives in the anti-bacterial (anti-bac) category, which includes three major MNC brands: Dettol, Lifebuoy and Safeguard.

All three brands have launched an attack on germs in one form or another in the course of their existence; Safeguard was the first to do so with Commander Safeguard, a few years later Lifebuoy followed suit with the ‘germ busters’ and recently (May 2012) Dettol have their own ‘warriors’ to do the job. Beyond the germs however, these three brands are vigorously battling it out with each other for top of mind and greater market share. As a result anti-bac has been one of the most active categories in the last six months to a year.

Category in focus

According to Nielsen’s Retail Audit, Pakistan’s soap market is valued at Rs 25 billion or 100,000 tonnes. In a situation entirely unique to Pakistan, anti-bac products make up approximately 48% of the market, with beauty soaps and washes accounting for the rest. A large part of the reason why anti-bac products have captured such a big percentage of share is because the top three brands have been extremely active in spreading awareness about hand washing with soap via school education and doctor referral programmes, as well as consistent advertising in ATL media.

Yet, despite the widespread awareness about soap, with penetration touching the 99% mark, Falak Jalil, Brand Manager, Lifebuoy at Unilever says that “the average per capita consumption of soap is only 1.5 times a day,” whereas the ideal per capita consumption for optimal health is calculated at five times a day.

Dettol, Lifebuoy and Safeguard are focusing on encouraging more people to use more soap.
Dettol, Lifebuoy and Safeguard are focusing on encouraging more people to use more soap.

Growing the anti-bac category

Given the high awareness but low usage dynamics of the anti-bac category, the three brands have been focusing on encouraging more people to use more soap. However, as Adeel Ahmed, Brand Manager, Beauty and Grooming at P&G points out, because anti-bac is a low involvement category, people need to be constantly reminded about washing their hands with soap.

He adds that P&G’s strategy is to reach out to the unserved and under-served segments in the market. Dettol and Lifebuoy are also working on the same lines.

Haider Shaikh, Brand Manager, Dettol at Reckitt Benckiser says there is huge potential for growth in anti-bac, which is why the brand is investing in new product launches and consumer engagement.

In the last eight months alone, Dettol has launched a new orange variant of its soap bar, the Dettol Warriors campaign (Dettol’s first-ever attempt to engage children) and the Mission for Health campaign which is the ATL amplification of the brand’s long-running doctor referral campaign.

Lifebuoy for its part, re-launched its entire range two years ago with a new formulation and better fragrance (to compete with beauty soap) and repositioned itself as the anti-bac that provides protection against 10 infections. Lifebuoy has also invested heavily in engaging with children through its Life Saver programme (Waseem Akram is the brand ambassador) which spreads the message of washing hands five times a day as protection against infections.

Safeguard, perhaps the most active anti-bac brand in the last decade, has extended distribution to suburban and rural areas for vertical growth;

it has also added new SKUs and formats to its product portfolio. The brand carried out a complete repackaging effort in July, based on a pilot project conducted in China where it was found that the new packaging really stood out on the shelf (a much-needed attribute in this market considering the competition).

Luring with liquid

In a significant, yet somewhat overlooked development all three brands have extended their portfolios to include liquid hand wash, with Safeguard going one step further with a hand sanitiser. Considering that Pakistan is a bar-soap dominated market, the launch and active marketing of liquid formats is extremely interesting.

Jalil says that Lifebuoy introduced hand wash in 2011 in a bid to upgrade consumers to better formats and has already found a “good rate of retention.”

She explains that most consumers use hand wash in conjunction with bar soap; “rather than buying 12 bars of soap, we have noticed that upper segment mothers will buy six bars of soap and a hand wash.”

Shaikh adds that the core advantages of liquid hand wash are that “you don’t have a soggy bar of soap, it is gentler, more moisturising, has better fragrance, and most importantly, it gives individual disinfection.”

Although liquid hand wash has a miniscule 0.2% share of the entire anti-bac category, all three brands believe that it will become more popular, with Shaikh predicting that in the next five to seven years, this format will be “very big”.

Dettol, Lifebuoy and Safeguard are focusing on encouraging more people to use more soap.
Dettol, Lifebuoy and Safeguard are focusing on encouraging more people to use more soap.

The price of protection

Although the anti-bac category seems to be growing by leaps and bounds, germ protection doesn’t come cheap and the price of the product is prohibitive to high usage. Anti-bac soaps are priced between Rs 40-43; therefore although the majority of people may use them to wash their hands, heavy usage, especially for bathing purposes, is not widespread.

The brands however don’t see price as an issue. Dettol is the most expensive of the anti-bac brands (priced at Rs 43) yet Shaikh maintains that when consumers see the value they are getting, they are willing to pay the premium. (Incidentally, at Rs 99, Dettol offers the cheapest hand wash in the category.)

Lifebuoy, at Rs 32, is the cheapest anti-bac brand when it comes to bar soap. Jalil admits that it is a struggle “to provide customers with an affordable bar, because we are hit by inflation as well as fluctuating exchange rates.”

Therefore one of the key factors in increasing usage of anti-bac soap is to lower the price.

And the winner is...

The ultimate winner in the war of the anti-bac brands is obviously the consumer. All three brands say that their marketing in this category is going to be even more aggressive.

Jalil believes that three key trends will dominate the category in the foreseeable future:

“Consumers will upgrade to better formats, they will use soap more often and demand products for specialised needs, such as freshness and moisturising.”

The unspoken message is that whichever brand is able to provide what consumers want at the most affordable price is most likely to win the war on germs.