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HUL, Reckitt ad war enters courtroom

Tuesday, 18 March 2014 - 6:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
The firms have four advertisements that belittle each others products like Dettol antiseptic liquid, Lifebuoy bath soap, Vim cleansing liquid and Dettol cleansing liquid.

As multinational corporations slug it out among themselves trying to get into household kitchens and bathrooms with their plethora of cleaning gels, bars and soaps, two rivals have entered the courtrooms with a legal battle over disparagement of their products.

Rivals Hindustan Unilever and Reckitt Benckiser have been engaged in four advertisements that belittle each others products like Dettol antiseptic liquid, Lifebuoy bath soap, Vim cleansing liquid and Dettol cleansing liquid.

"We have repeatedly watched all the four advertisements. We unhesitatingly say, there was an in-built attempt to denigrate the other product," Calcutta High Court judges Arijit Banerjee and Ashim Banerjee said in their judgment on Friday.

In their pronouncement, the judges dismissed the appeals made by both HUL and Reckitt with respect to previous orders that have gone against their advertisements.
Hindustan Unilever (HUL) and Reckitt Benckiser India in 2013 filed two suits each against the other involving four advertisements.

In the first, a print advertisement, Reckitt Benckiser India's Dettol Healthy Kitchen Gel claimed 100% more effective than a leading dish wash.

To this, HUL took umbrage claiming it was targeted at its Vim brand.

The second involved a Dettol liquid advertisement made for television, which showed a bottle of yellow liquid that couldn't clean the plates fully.

The third was by HUL which showed "it is proven!" Lifebuoy soap gives better germ protection while bathing showing a bucket filled with water into which an antiseptic liquid resembling Dettol was being poured.

While Lifebuoy soap could kill all the germs, the antiseptic liquid couldn't, the advertisement had claimed.

The fourth in question was a television advertisement for Vim that showed a bottle without any label being removed from the place where it was kept with a voice-over that said antiseptic liquid (meaning Dettol) should be kept away from the children and shouldn't be used for cleaning utensils.

The charges brought by the rival brands against each other were more complex than simple allegations of disparaging through comparison.

Dettol would suggest, they would have killing effect whereas Vim would suggest, they are in the field of dish wash and considered to be a leading one, they would remove all dust that would include germs. The dish wash would have operation in the field of cleaning the utensils. The killing of germs would not have any role to play hence, the advertisement would be offensive as it would denigrate the other product.

It was argued that while Dettol was registered as a drug, Lifebuoy was a cosmetic. These were two unlike products and could not have any comparison. Any attempt to compare one with the other would amount to unfair trade practice.




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