KONARK GAUR, Head of Marketing, Sebamed India, is fresh from a victory over FMCG giant Hindustan Unilever, having won an injunction from the Bombay High Court on January 19 that Sebamed can run its comparative advertising campaign, that took on HUL products on the basis of pH level, without change. He wants to keep up the winning streak for Brand Sebamed, with the intent to‘win with big ideas’ and ‘win with scale’ on ground and in the e-commerce space
Brand Sebamed is built around the science of healthy skin. Established by German dermatologist Dr Heinz Maurer in 1957, its USP is that all its products — from the classic soap-free cleansing bar to skin care, hair care and the popular baby care range — have been developed with the same pH level as healthy skin (pH5.5) to support the skin’s natural protective layer. It is this premise that the brand used to challenge FMCG giant Hindustan Unilever in a slew of comparative advertising campaigns that not only catapulted Sebamed to the centre of conversations, but also gave it a major victory over HUL, with a court ruling in its favour to run the ads without change.
In India, Sebamed has been licensed to USV Pvt Limited exclusively for importing, marketing and distributing its baby and adult care range of products. Konark Gaur, Head of Marketing, Sebamed India, has his work cut out – to win with big ideas and win with scale by investing in all the platforms of impactful visibility to reach the consumer. Gaur’s business acumen has been honed through his stints at large process-oriented multinationals like Nestle and General Mills, as well as his own entrepreneurial journey in the professional salon space, when he co-founded HiJinny.com, a digital hyper-local, salon-at-home model start-up and a premium unisex salon chain, Jazz Up Salon, mid-career.
Here, Gaur talks of the current controversy, priorities for Brand Sebamed and marketing lessons that have stood him in good stead.
It was an act of courage to take on a behemoth like HUL in your recent advertising campaign. What would be your comment on that and your premise that only products with pH 5.5 preserve skin the way it is meant to be?
Through our campaign, ‘Filmstars ki nahi, science ki suno’, we want to empower consumers with the right information so that they can take informed decisions. The natural pH of skin is approximately 5.5 and all Sebamed products have pH 5.5, which ensures that the skin gets moisturized and protected from skin damage. Also, the products have been developed with the help of dermatologists, extensive research and testing.
THE SEBAMED AD SAGA
Sebamed was in the news recently after it openly named HUL brands like Lux, Dove and Pears in a series of Print, outdoor and TV ads, stating that the pH levels of these soaps is equivalent to that of Rin detergent soap. In the ads, Sebamed claimed that the pH level of its own soaps is 5.5, which is more sensitive for skin, whereas that of Dove, Lux and Pears is 7, 10 and 10 respectively.
What happened next?
HUL took the matter to the Bombay High Court, which passed an ex-parte interim order to Sebamed to withdraw its ads from all its platforms. HUL claimed that pH level is not the sole determinant of the composition of their soaps and that Lux and Dove cannot be equated to Rin just on this basis. On January 14, Sebamed substantiated its claims that it is not equating Lux to Rin, but simply stating science-based facts. HUL also said that Sebamed had continued to play its ads despite the order.
Where it stands
On January 19, the Bombay High Court passed an injunction order that Sebamed could continue to play its ads without changes as they were backed by scientific evidence. It is an enormous victory for the brand and the company
Can you tell us about what went on in the run-up to that campaign at your end? And what next on that front? The matter has gone to court, but what is your stance?
We believed from the start that our product is the real hero and wanted to showcase its efficacy through easily verifiable scientific facts. The intent of this campaign is to start a new vocabulary, which is based on pH levels of products and that pH 5.5 is ideal for sensitive skin. Through the campaign, we want to provide consumers with the right information and that’s all we are doing. Our stance still and will always remain the same- that consumers need to have all information about the products that are available for their usage. We have been honest and transparent with our communication and will work towards bringing the facts to the consumer.
A major trend in the skin care category is moving towards natural, herbal, organic and handmade products. How does Sebamed address this?
Sebamed products are very safe to use, European Centre for Allergy Research Foundation (ECARF) approved and no-toxin products. It’s an individual choice to go for natural, organic or handmade products, however, it is important to check if these products maintain the natural pH balance of the skin, which is 5.5. Consumers today are well read and would certainly choose what’s ideal for their skin.
Talking of your own career, from selling health drinks to beverages to a beauty services start-up over the years, to now personal care products, what are the key marketing lessons that have stayed with you?
It’s a continuous learning process, and one constantly has to address new challenges and ever-evolving needs of the new-age consumers. More than lessons, there are two things that I try to do religiously:
Invest in your product - Make sure the product is the hero, and is able to solve a big consumer problem.
Invest in your consumers - Stay close, listen and take their feedback on a regular basis. Apply the learning back into the product.
What are the top three priorities for Sebamed going forward?
Our first priority is to build the brand Sebamed and win with big ideas.With our current campaign, we aim to reach out to our consumers by educating them on the most important aspects, i.e., the right pH balance of 5.5 for our skin. Our second priority is to win with scale, rapidly increase distribution footprint across channels including e-commerce. Our third priority is to win where the customers shop, invest in round-the-year impactful visibility.
What’s your life like outside the business domain?
I like to stay fit and try to hit the gym at least four times a week. I am also passionate about music and play guitar along with friends, sometimes during weekends, which is truly relaxing. One thing that I never miss out on is spending quality time with family and catching up on how the day went by.