Does slinging mud at a competitor work?

One would have thought that when Hindustan Unilever made its final response to Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurveda, it would have at least been a strong response, that built a powerful halo around the Ayush brand, but they seem to have taken a competitive route to denigrate other Ayurvedic products, which typically prevents you from extolling the virtues of your own brand.
From time immemorial, one way to get the better of your competitor is to sling mud at him or bring him down. But when does that kind of strategy work, and when does it not work?

If the credentials of the competitor are better than you it will not work

There is little doubt that Patanjali Ayurved’s ayurvedic credentials are far ahead those of Hindustan Unilever’s Ayush. After all Patanjali Ayurved runs an Ayurvedic pharmacy which itself has a revenue of about Rs 870 crores. That itself may well be larger than the entire Ayush brand.
Additionally the Patanjali brand is being seen by consumers as being deeply entrenched in Ayurveda thanks to the credentials of both Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna.
Baba Ramdev’s yoga camps all over the country are assisted by the Ayurvedic pharmacy that comes under Patanjali. The Divya pharmacy which sells a whole range of Ayurvedic medicines already has a sales turnover of Rs 870 crores. This business provides the main fmcg business some excellent credentials and an overall halo to the Patanjali brand name.

Patanjali also released an encyclopaedia compiled over ten years by Ramdev’s aide, Acharya Balkrishna. Titled “World Herbal Encyclopaedia”, it looks at of over 70000 herbal species found across the country. The release was blessed by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
So there seems little doubt that questioning the credibility of Patanjali by Hindustan Unilever will do little good.

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The Mixed Metaphor is Lost

The metaphor that Hindustan Unilever uses in its Ayush TVC might lack credibility. Its a useful ploy to say that wearing a stethoscope hardly makes you a doctor or wearing a policeman’s cap make someone a policeman. The metaphor then carries on to say, does showing green herbs make a product Ayurvedic?
The problem with this argument seems to be that it describes Ayush rather than Patanjali Ayurveda. So in a sense Ayush may be doing some marketing harakiri here. Unfortunately Ayush does not have the credibility to claim that it has real ayurvedic credentials, being the product of a multinational like Hindustan Unilever which really knows nothing about Ayurveda.
From a celebrity angle, the addition of Akshay Kumar and Tamanna does nothing to enhance the credibility of the commercial probably because they are used as mere talking heads. The ‘talking heads’ TV commercial format could easily be dubbed the most boring and ineffective documentary of the advertising world.

Should Patanjali React?

Reacting to competitive advertising can sometimes harm you. Especially since Patanjali quite clearly seems to be the Ayurvedic leader in the Indian market, it does not need to react or defend itself against Ayush’s advertising. Why? Because quite clearly Ayush does not have the consumer’s permission to criticise Patanjali. Marketing Guru Al Riessays that ” In general, the leader should never attack or name the competition. Instead the leader should promote the category. By attacking a competitor or responding to an attack ad, the leader only legitimizes the competition and the existence of a choice. Neither is good.
If under attack, a leader should instead address any problems with PR. Never with advertising. When Apple says consumers are frustrated with Vista in its advertising, Microsoft shouldn’t run ads saying everybody loves Vista.
For two simple reasons. 1) everybody doesn’t like Vista and everybody knows that and 2) Even if they did, any message from Microsoft is not credible because it is self-serving.” He then takes the Dunkin Donuts example to strengthen the same point.

Al Ries cites another example, when many years ago when Dunkin’ Donuts realised that Starbucks with 11,000 outlets had taken over as the King of Coffee. The 55-year-old brand was launching an aggressive campaign taking on Starbucks over taste. promoted a double blind survey that showed consumers preferred Dunkin’ coffee to Starbucks 54% to 39%.
There were some problems with this research. The survey compared the old Starbucks brew to Dunkin’, not the new milder roast introduced by Starbucks. Secondly, it was too late. Had Dunkin’ done this years ago when Starbucks was first moving into its territory, it might have made sense.
Starbucks is too big and too strong. And Dunkin’ is too small and too weak.
The same applies to the Ayush TV spot. Hindustan Unilever is too late in trying to attack Patanjali Ayurved. Ayush is too weak to take it on Patanjali. A spot which told consumers why they should choose Ayush by extolling its virtues might have done much better. According to Monal Desai who is a Global Business Head for a Consumer Products company ” I would have run an HUL advert stating how easy it is to adulterate and produce sub-standard ayurved products without modern factory & QC systems of pharma level cleanliness & control. Which requires investment in production and systems casting first doubts on Patanjali products. I tend to agree with Monal.
But years of doing competitive advertising ever since Surf was first threatened by Nirma is definitely part of the DNA of Hindustan Unilever. But there is a good chance this time around they might be wrong.

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