Chintamani Rao
Nov 17, 2011

Chinta's blog: Wanted: more magic, less logic

Chintamani Rao, president, RK Swamy Media Group, makes his observations on line extensions by successful brands

Chinta's blog: Wanted: more magic, less logic

“The brand manager – frequently a young marketing person on the way up the commercial ladder – sometimes uses temporary occupation of the brand to demonstrate flair and originality at the expense of brand consistency.”

-- Wally Olins, in Corporate Identity

One day last week a small news item in The Economic Times caught my eye. “Dettol vs. Lux?” it asked, and reported that Reckitt Benckiser was extending Dettol into body washes. “After sparring with HUL's Lifebuoy in the anti-germ category for years,” it said, “Reckitt is set to take on HUL's Lux in body washes.” The line extension into body wash seemed natural. The bit about Lux didn’t.

Over 75 years old in India, Dettol is a defining brand. ‘Clean and safe’ has a smell: the smell of Dettol. The smell of a hospital is the smell of Dettol. A bottle sits on many a bathroom shelf, often unused for months or even years but giving the quiet reassurance that it is there and you don't have to worry about nasty germs.“Dettol protects” was its simple, confident tagline for many years.

Of course there is a limit to which domestic use of liquid antiseptic can and will grow. But if you owned a brand as powerful as Dettol you wouldn’t shrug your shoulders and say, “I guess that’s about it”: you would want to leverage its equity to look for new ways of meeting consumer needs – in other words, line extension. So far, so good; but the question is, line extension into what?

It was in the late 1980’s, if I’m not mistaken, that Reckitt first forayed in that direction, with Dettol Soap. The antiseptic property of Dettol was interpreted,with what often passes off for deeply insightful thinking, to lead to a so-called higher-order benefit – antiseptic, therefore protection, therefore care – and the soap was dubbed ‘The Love and Care Soap’.

Of course that didn't work. Neither was Dettol about love and care, nor was the mother so wanting for expressions of love and care that she had to reach out to Dettol for one.Repositioned later to offer a “100% bath” – as a result of its antiseptic property – Dettol soap grew to be a very strong player in premium toilet soaps. The soap became the primary form in which consumers interacted with Dettol, but it was the liquid antiseptic that gave meaning to Dettol soap.

The story is not in itself remarkable. What makes it so is that this was only the beginning of Reckitt’s many failed attempts over the years to make Dettol what it is not. And it seems, from their reported intention to go up against Lux now, that they haven't stopped trying.

Apart from the perfectly sensible hand-wash liquid Reckitt have, over the years, launched Dettol shaving cream, mouthwash, prickly heat powder, anti-dandruff shampoo and floor cleaner, among other products: most dead, some perhaps on life-support systems. And in toilet soaps, moisturising soap (Dettol Extra) and glycerine soap (Dettol Junior). The argument was that all of these products protect – against dryness, against dandruff, against prickly heat. “Dettol protects”, remember?

The argument for Dettol moisturising soap was that research showed (The graveyard of marketing is full of products whose conception began with someone saying, “Research shows...”) that many people didn't like Dettol soap because it smells of Dettol; and they didn't like the colour; and they didn't particularly feel the need for a germicidal soap. So Dettol moisturising soap was meant to enable you to use Dettol soap that didn't look or smell like Dettol or do what Dettol does. Why would you want to?Now Dettol body wash comes in four variants: Original, Skincare, Cool and Fresh, for possibly the same reason.

That’s all very well, you may say, but what should Reckitt have done? Well, they didn't have far to look. Dettol in the UK has a wide range of product offerings, all of them anti-bacterial, in two broad sub-brands: Healthy Touch and Complete Clean. All have the predominantly green Dettol graphics: not a pink or a blue among them. I have no idea of their history or how much each of them contributes to the Dettol kitty, but as an observer I see an inarguable consistency in the brand proposition as well as the presentation.

Dettol is not alone, though. Consider Dove. Once upon a time I knew what Dove was: one-quarter moisturising cream, so it keeps your skin soft while it cleans. I could understand Dove body wash, and face wash. Now there is a range of Dove shampoos, tokeep hair soft by keeping it damage-free; prevent hair fall; and protect your hair and strengthen it, among other wonderful things they do, because (I’m not making this up; you can see the ads) they are one-quarter moisturising milk. As if that was not enough, there is Dove deodorant, which nourishes your underarms and makes them fair in seven days because – you guessed it – it is one-quarter moisturising cream. Is there somewhere a Dove beauty bar or body wash that keeps your skin soft? I forget.

Then there is Garnier. Dove, to be fair, is based on a single product attribute, stretched though it may be, and there is an identifiable Dove look. Garnier has products for practically every part of the body, for both sexes, with little in common in terms of product attribute, tone and style, or brand vocabulary. If you look at a reel of Garnier commercials, it seems anything goes as long as at the end of the ad someone says,“Take care.”

The products are perhaps selling, in larger or smaller quantities. But just as strong brands take long to build, they take long to get damaged. Dettol, despite everything, continues to feature in the top ten in the Brand Equity list of India’s most trusted brands.

It is not that you can’t stretch a brand into seemingly unrelated products: there is perhaps no better example in the world than Apple, going from computers to music players to mobile phones, changing the game in each category and stamping it with the unmistakable Apple brand. To do that you need to have a very strong sense of what the brand is and can be to its consumers, and that is largely a creative leap, notthe reasoned, numbers-driven, left-brain argument that Marketing has become.

It is good to see, in this milieu, one global leader declaring that it will bring back the magic, and reward marketers who are prepared to take risks and back creative ideas. Outlining a ten-year marketing perspective to their global brand teams recently, Unilever’s top marketing executives emphasised the need to move away from “unthinking adherence toquantitative market research at the risk of losing some of the creative spark thatleads to great creative ideas”. Amen.

Campaign India