The HUL-P&G war: Who’s tiding over whom?
Ashpreet Sethi 03 May 2010

Hindustan Unilever (HUL) and Procter & Gamble (P&G) India have been washing each other’s dirty linen in public for quite some time now. But, as the dust settles down in this no-holds-barred clash between the two multinationals, some interesting facts are emerging out of the whole imbroglio.

According to informed sources in the advertising industry—who spoke to Moneylife on conditions of anonymity—HUL had been pulled up by the Madras High Court for using an off-white shirt for P&G’s Tide detergent and a brand new white shirt for its own Rin detergent, when the commercial was filmed to ‘judge’ the comparative whitening qualities of both detergents.

HUL has withdrawn the commercial, but the reasons for the same were not publicly known till now. Our sources said that if this ad had been aired with two similar shirts which were either off-white or white, the advertisement would have been justified. Plus, if HUL had backed the advertisement with laboratory data and certification that Rin is a product of superior quality, it could have been accepted by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) as per its standards and code of conduct.

P&G refused to speak on this issue, saying that it does not “comment on its competitor’s strategy.” On the other hand, the HUL spokesperson said that the final court orders are still pending and will be announced in a day or two. In its defence, HUL said that these claims are “quite mischievous in nature” as the court had enquired about the difference in the greyness rather than the colour of the two shirts used in the commercial.
After the Madras High Court passed an order directing HUL to stop airing its ad, the multinational decided to move court again, on P&G’s advertisement which had scenes which seemed to suggest that ‘Tide Natural’ contains “natural sandalwood and lemon.”

In an interim order, the High Court asked P&G to remove those scenes. The Court had also asked P&G to carry a disclaimer saying that Tide Natural “does not contain lemon and sandalwood” throughout the commercial and these modifications were supposed to be implemented by 3 May 2010.

Industry sources claim that P&G is pleased with the order, since the High Court did not agree to HUL’s request for modifying the brand name or packaging of Tide Natural.

P&G told Moneylife, “We have never tried to communicate in our Tide Natural advertising that our product contains lemon and chandan (sandalwood). Our packaging continues to say ‘The freshness of lemon and chandan’, which we do have in the product through the fragrance of lemon and chandan. Usage of terms like these is industry practice and P&G is not drifting (away) from the norm. The Madras High Court believes that a few frames in our TV commercial misrepresent the presence of these ingredients and therefore need to be dropped from the commercial. We respect the court order and will fully comply with the actions and modifications requested of us.”

Interestingly, a decade ago, Unilever also faced flak for its Rin ad which claimed ‘nimbu shakti’ (lime power) when it had no lime, but only the fragrance of lime. Unfortunately, these companies manage to hoodwink customers because the law gives them a lot of leeway in making such claims that may be legal—but not quite ethical. 

Sunil Date
1 decade ago
I challenge both these companies to make my vest as white or even lesser than what they show in their ad and I will buy my whole years stock from them.
1 decade ago
Can we expect anything better from these descendants of colonial East India Company merchants and slave traders, out to occupy and control territories? Both MNCs and their cohorts as well as ilk are all equally guilty. As a youngster, I recall how reprsentatives of the companies selling these new soaps and toothpastes would give the local alcohol to cut down the trees giving the traditional means of keeping clean and brushing teeth - neem and reetha were particularly targetted.

Ideally, ALL their ads should be banned for a few months.
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