Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Savlon : Heals Without Hurting

Brand : Savlon
Company : Johnson & Johnson
Agency : Lowe Lintas

Brand Analysis Count : 369

Can a brand ,which was proved by laboratory tests as better than its competitor, backed by one of the most reputed business houses in the world, having many product advantages over its competitor, have any chance of failing in the market ?

If your answer is no , then think again ....

Savlon which was clinically proven to be a better antiseptic than Dettol ,backed by Johnson & Johnson ,having advantages like better scent and non-stinging properties miserably failed in the Indian market.

Why ?

Frankly I am also clueless. That is why Marketing as a subject is so intriguing... it is full of surprises. Philip Kotler once said " Marketing is a subject that is easy to (pretend to )unders tand but difficult to practice ".

Looking at Savlon, I wonder whether the success of a brand is depended on sheer luck... Is luck the only reason why out of 100 brands launched, only 5 succeed ?

Is Savlon an unlucky brand ? or Did Johnson & Johnson failed in building this brand ?

Savlon was a brand owned by a pharmaceutical MNC ICI ltd. Later ICI's OTC brands was acquired by Johnson &Johnson . Savlon was relaunched in Indian market in 1993. The brand was expected to give the market leader Dettol, a run for its money. But even after millions of rupees spent , Dettol still rules the antiseptic lotion market.

Savlon had lot of advantages over Dettol. According to media reports, some lab tests indicated that Savlon is an effective germ killer than Dettol . Savlon is effective against both Gram Positive and Gram Negative germs.

Another advantage about Savlon was that it does not sting while being applied on wounds. Dettol used to give a stinging sensation while applied on wounds. Savlon also had a better scent compared to the more clinical smell of Dettol.

Armed with these properties, Savlon went into a direct attack on Dettol . The product was positioned as an antiseptic that does not hurt while healing. The main differentiators for the brand was its no-sting property and better smell. According to media reports, during the relaunch, J&J spent heavily on promoting the brand.
The relaunch was a success and consumers tried out the new product . But the story did not continue like that.

Dettol confronted the frontal attack from Savlon in a different manner. It tried to attack one of the most valuable brand of J&J - Band -Aid by launching Dettol plasters.

This move got J&J defensive. It never expected Dettol to attack another brand in retaliation. Dettol plasters had the potential to attract consumers because of the brand equity commanded by Dettol Antiseptic.

J&J scrambled to protect Band-Aid by launching a series of variants in the medicated plaster segment. In doing so, resources was spent on defending Band-Aid rather than in advancing Savlon.

Savlon suffered heavily because it lost the support interms of investment in brand building. Dettol had a brand equity built over more than 50 years (at that period of time) and it is not an easy task to break into that equity. It needed painful long term sustained investment.

How ever Savlon was pushed to a back burner after Dettol introduced the plaster. Savlon never re-emerged.

During 1998, a funny incident happened. I deliberately used the word funny because it is funny.
In 1998 HLL acquired the rights to launch Savlon Soaps from J&J. While the rights for antiseptic lotion remained with J&J, the marketing alliance was for soaps.

HLL was worried at the success of Dettol soaps. Armed with a strong association with antiseptic property , Dettol soap became a huge success and cornered a significant chunk of the premium medicated soap category. HLL, who wanted to rule the entire soap category ,wanted to arrest the rise of Dettol soap.

Instead of trying to develop its own brand of soap, HLL looked for an easy solution. Thus came the idea of marketing alliance with Savlon. With much fanfare, Savlon antiseptic soap was launched. J&J was happy because it got some cashflow by giving the rights of Savlon.The marketing alliance lasted only for 4 years.

According to reports, HLL put Savlon soap in dustbin in 2003 and repositioned its Lifebuoy brand to fight against Dettol.

So where did Savlon went wrong ?

There are marketing experts who say that the positioning of Savlon was not correct. No-stinging and sweet scent are not important for a consumer looking for an antiseptic lotion. What they look for is effectiveness. Hence Savlon was trying to differentiate on attributes which are not considered to be important by the consumers.

More over, consumers tend to believe that the stinging sensation is a side-effect of the effectiveness of the antiseptic.So if it does not hurt , it is not effective. Dettol has taught them that way.

I believe that Savlon did not achieve its desired success because J&J was not able to support it interms of investment. Somewhere along the way, the company disowned the brand. One reason can be that antiseptic lotion is a small market that does not warrant such heavy investment. But if that is so, the the company shouldn't have introduced a brand in such a category.

Savlon now occupies a negligible part of the market. It is a popular brand in the institutional market but in the consumer market, it is a no-brand.

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