Having seen so many brands engage in slugfests, hoardings, television sets, newspapers and other such media might as well be called modern-age battlefields. The latest battle seems to be between two of corporate India’s powerhouses – Procter & Gamble and HUL.


Some people learn only from bad experiences. Proctor & Gamble marketers had one such experience recently. The big launch of P&G’s all new ‘Pantene’ was crushed even before it saw sunlight. This is what happened: P&G came up with the ‘Mystery Shampoo’ teaser campaign, claiming that 80% women say that there’s a mystery shampoo that is better than any other. The teasers went on for over a week without the slightest hint of it being Pantene.

Meanwhile, HUL ambushed the campaign, claiming that Dove is the mystery shampoo before Pantene could reveal its identity.

Pantene reacted swiftly to Dove’s gimmick, and soon launched its own ‘reveal’ campaign. So, we had two shampoos claiming to be the ‘mystery’ shampoo. While Pantene was the genuine ‘mystery’ shampoo as per their plan, Dove was the intruder and hijacker. And quite a successful one too.

A small survey that we conducted (on 31st July, 2010) indicated that more than half of the TG (women between the age of 25 and 35) thought that Dove was actually the mystery shampoo.

Did you know, just like Dove did in India, Sunsilk pretty much ate into the Pantene campaign in Philippines. Nearly 63% people just couldn’t relate Mystery Shampoo to Pantene in Philippines. Talk about a gimmick gone wrong. Twice!

Coming back to the original question, what did P&G learn? Long teaser campaigns give your competition plenty of time to kill your brilliant idea. Vague claims and no hint of your brand in the ad will definitely back fire. What most brand managers fail to do is think through the simple question of how the competition may react.

One should know that this is an age old practice. Going back to the Pepsi Vs. Coca Cola days, when Coke became the ‘official’ sponsor for World Cup 1996 and Pepsi came up with the brilliant ‘Nothing official about it’! Sports have always been a magnet to ambushing: McDonald’s was the official sponsor of the Beijing Olympics. But in the lead-up to the games, KFC used the marketing slogan “I love Beijing”, while Pepsi replaced its usual blue cans with red ones “to show their respect for the year of China”. An ambush times two.

Ambushing seemingly goes deeper than off the shelf consumer goods. Newspapers are another set of victims. DNA, launched in 2005, came up with ‘Speak up. It’s in your DNA.’ campaign. Maharashtra Times ambushed it with a simple mention of their name at the end of the quote. This wasn’t the end of it. Indian Express countered that with, “No one can stop me from speaking up.” Towards the end of the story, though Indian Express and Bennett Coleman were sued by DNA, the damage was already done.

While the back stabbing is amusing, what remains forgotten is the end consumer. It’s not just the advertisers and marketers who decide the fate of a campaign, what truly matters is what the audience takes home. Most people look at the ads and shrug; few actually noticed the on going ‘war’ of words. What they do care about is the ads they see. Coming back to Dove Vs. Pantene, it has left a huge audience nothing short of confused.

So it seems that the objective of this raging war is more directed towards the industry than the consumers. The places where guerilla warfare works: traders (since they are always keen to be a part of the ‘winning team’), employees (who want to be with the cooler company), prospective employees (they want to be with the cooler company too!), and last but not the least, the agencies (the one’s who enjoy the field day). The bosses in the agencies are always smug with them ‘outsmarting’ the other (in attempt to please their international bosses).

All said and done, guerilla marketing has and always will be a favourite amongst FMCGs. Bets are that we haven’t seen the last of ambush campaigns. In the brand-eat-brand world, the rule of the jungle will apply – survival of the smartest, swiftest and strongest.

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