Dettol Cool – Where does it fit in overall positioning matrix

Dettol… So what does your marketing hat say!! Is it Germ Protection or does it sound as Health Soap or may be Everyday Protection … of course, what else… it has been the Protection against disease causing germs since ages. And you are not alone as million other marketers would think same.

Now what if u are Brand Manager for Dettol for a day and have to decide on a new soap variant. Ok… well… lets have some time to think… what fits with the existing brand message… (They have already launched a skincare variant… not much chance there)

Huge dilemma… right…

Lets see what Dettol actually did… What about a freshness soap… A lot of us might not agree with launching a freshness soap to take on the likes of Liril and Cinthol… Why? ask yourself, how does Dettol Cool sound… Dettol is not cool… Dettol is reliable but it’s not cool… From pure Marketing theory view, this would be a long term failure. But then test market results were very surprising and four months later this soap with a promise of Freshness with protection of Dettol is a big success across India. In fact the numbers put its sales as a significant percentage of Dettol Original soap in the many outlets.

Is this a phenomena that will change the philosophy of marketing… or is it just an over extension that is an exception to the conventional marketing thinking… or yet further, it’s just an initial success and Dettol Cool wouldn’t be able to maintain its success in future.

Let’s get some perspectives. Well here is what Dr. H V Verma, Senior Marketing Professor, FMS Delhi thinks:

“An extension in a product category like soap characterized by diminished real product differentiation, rampant switching and search for something new and ‘exciting’ may have contributed to unexpected high initial sales. Also there is a great possibility of parent brand cannibalization. So it requires serious statistical analysis to find out the real source of sales the new extension has generated.”

But what does Dettol Brand Manager, Mr. Vikram Datta, who himself is an MBA from IIMB and had an extensive experience at Colgate Palmolive before taking over the reins of Dettol has to say about this move. He first clears the clouds over the source of cool soap sales:

”Source of business for cool soap has mainly been from health and herbal soaps … little cannibalization… approx 10% of cool soap volume sourced from Dettol original and Dettol skincare.”

But Mr. Verma has much more to offer when it comes to branding:

“This move is not new. Many strong brands have gone this way to eventually weaken the parent brand by going overboard on extensions. There are two possible ways moves of this kind may hurt the parent brand in the long run:

First is by creating brand dilution; That means when many inconsistent concepts start hanging on the name, the focus is sacrificed in favor of breadth. The parent brand begins to lose its core value proposition and meaning. Second is brand confusion. This implies haze that surrounds in the mind of customer”

Liril once being a very strong brand with core essence of ‘freshness’ lost ground precisely by line extensions like menthol, cologne, ice blue etc. Also Cinthol was once a strong soap with clear positioning ‘with ingredients that fight odor causing bacteria’. Later the brand suffered when it tried to fight Liril by launching variants that copied Liril’s core ‘freshness and lime’ position.

So ask your self do you want Dettol to be cool? You may want effective bath or you may want cool experience. Probably not both at the same time.”

Well that sounded convincing… probably most of us would have decided by now that this move is a wrong move and is going to take Dettol nowhere in long run. But Dettol Brand manager, Mr Datta, has his own logic:

“This move adds a new dimension to the already entrenched notion of protection…. Variant differentiation is key … The Cinthol and Liril soap extensions failed as they were not sufficiently diffentiated. This is not the case with Dettol Cool.

The key to success for an LX (line extension) lies in leveraging the core brand proposition to present it in a new light to the consumer. Here it’s important to upfront the “new news” – in this case cool refreshing sensation, since a freshness consumer would not compromise on the freshness aspect, protection being an add-on for her. Also, one needs to sufficiently differentiate the LX from the base brand – both for getting new users as well as enhancing consumption among current base brand users. Finally, while the LX does take the equity from the parent brand, it should also give back in terms of enriching the overall brand imagery.”

So who wins the argument finally. A little chance for conventional thinking; a small chance for innovative thinking… a major chance for a stalemate … Dettol Cool may become a major success and it may go into arena as yet another revolution that forced us to add another dimension to the basic laws of marketing … or… it might end up just being another entry into the huge encyclopedia of marketing failures … only time can tell. Best of luck to both parties till then.

Edit – Above was first posted on 7 September, 2006 … Dettol Cool has since become a major NPD success for RB

Update – April 11, 2007 … I found this statement on internet from a Reckitt Benckiser Guy

Parents of western teenagers won’t believe this, but Eastern teens actually shower a lot. It’s their response to the humid conditions. Unfortunately for us, though, they didn’t feel that Dettol was for them.

Our response was to launch Dettol Cool, a variant with menthol to cool the skin.

The advertising, featuring youths playing volleyball, made clear that it was a brand for active teens. They were certainly active in the shops. After just a couple of months, Dettol Cool grabbed a cool 30% of our shower foam sales.

Nick Horn – Category Director, Germ Protection