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.

Related brand


  1. It is surprising that you don't talk here about a brand getting associated with the category... For a lot of Indians like me, while 'antiseptics' is a foreign term... Dettol stands for antiseptics... So How ever good Savlon's ads are i am still going to ask Dettol in the chemist shop... The Only way Savlon could have worked would have been using push strategies like providing very high margins to Dettol..

  2. Mr. Harish

    I have really enjoyed reading your entry on Savlon and belive me for the first time i actually compared the constituents of dettol to savlon...

    I personally always never looked at anythin other than dettol. Your article made me want to give Savlon a try.

    As an end user the reason i never opted for savlon was exactly de two reason you had mentioned.

    One- Smell and the other the nil stinging effect which made me feel dat the antiseptic aint workin.....

  3. I loved the blog... But I beg to differ on the "smell of Savlon" being superior to that of Dettol.

    Is that a survey opinion? I believe Dettol's unique smell is its USP. It is addictive. Personally, I have never liked Savlon since a) It doesnt smell b) It doesnt sting!!! (Consumer behaviour reflects that an antiseptic is effective only if it stings.. or so I was given to believe! )

    Great read!

  4. This debate is very common, and still unusual everytime you talk about it.
    My take on it is this... There are certain differences:
    1. Savalon is a rich man's antiseptic, when launched, the prices difference was huge as compared to Dettol.

    2. Indians associate physical attributes like smell, color, and stinging sensation with antiseptic. You will often see a red cream/color on a wound which schools still use in first aid. We belive the more it hurts, the better it works... Savalon's sophesticated attributes were undesirable, and might have actually worked against it.

    3. Savalon is doing better than before in the handwash category. That is primarliy because after eating non-veg when you wash hands, the idea is to clean, and not to smell like you came out of a hospital. Hence if Savalon capitalizes on this, it will work.

    4. Dettol is also used in many indian homes to dis-infect. We add it to the regular phenyl, detergents once in a while.. Savalon seems to sopehsticated for that...That need to change.

    5. Edcuate the customer Savalon, and put in the effort to have a different market than Dettol, that is the only way it will work.

  5. Sanjay Kumar1:47 AM

    What I feel is the punchline itself "Heals without Hearting" has become disadvantage for Savlon. In India customer have mindset that antiseptic is effectinve only if it stings. J&J sould educate ppl about this.

    People of other countries doesn't know about Dettol brand, but in India Dettol brand has become powerful than category. When people go to a chemist shop they directly asks for Dettol not for antiseptic.

    Savlon is available as antiseptic lequid only, but Dettol has wide range of back up i.e. antiseptic lequid, soap, cream, shaving cream, hand wash.

    Even price of Savlon is comparatively higher than Dettol.

    But, I have seen in a magzine that Savlon works better than Dettol on wounds because Dettol kills white blood cells (WBC-White Blood Cells fight against infection)), and according to the report Savlon is very safe in open wounds.

  6. pallav pancholi12:17 AM

    what if suger is not sweet?? sweetness and suger have become synonums.... similarly an antiseptic lequid means something which must have stining effect.... dettol tougt Indians so.HEALS WITHOUT HEARTING..... couldnot match the consumer mindset and led to failure of Sevlon....it was juss like suger having no sweetness for indians and they responded in the same manner...

  7. Beauty is everything.

  8. Anonymous12:11 AM

    I will like to watch the savlon soap advertise shot somewhere
    Between 1996 - 1998 it's shown as a short play with small
    Girl as princess & a small boy acted as a prince along with
    Some more kids was a cute advertisement

  9. Rajeev G9:48 AM

    Sir,I feel Dettol is the leader and the mistake savlon did was to attack the leader head on which is a folly.They should have identified themselves as a brand next to the leader and created a category which would have definitely made them formidable.

  10. Christina3:55 PM

    I feel the main reason for failure of savlon was just its marketing of the product and its limited range of products. if you see dettol it has wide range of products,stinging effect which makes one to believe that the product is effective, and positioning and their different marketing strategies which not only just created a brand but became no.1 brand in all of its products.

    If I asked which one would you like to prefer then my answer would be Dettol!!


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