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Can Sebamed change how soaps and shampoos are marketed in India?

Sebamed’s new way of soap and shampoo marketing

Sebamed, the German soap brand that has been part of USV Limited India for over a decade now, has launched the second campaign in an ongoing series focusing in on its science proposition.

Titled ‘Sirf science ki suno’ (or ‘listen only to science’), it seeks to further the plot in its ongoing journey from a doctor-recommended brand to an OTC player in India. This time it has positioned the narrative around the shampoo category, with a specific focus on its anti-hair loss shampoo. The campaign has been conceptualized by the brand’s creative agency The Womb.

Its previous campaign, which launched in December 2020, had taken a head-on combative approach by calling out the pH levels of major soap brands including Dove, Lux, Pears and Santoor as being inappropriate for the skin. In the campaign, Sebamed claimed that many of these well-known soap brands had higher pH, which harmed sensitive skin.

The current campaign is, in comparison, a safer rendition, asking the consumer not to listen to ‘their sister’ or ‘friends’ or ‘the filmstars’ when choosing their shampoo brand, but to go for what the science tells then is best for their hair.

Shashi Ranjan, who is country head of Sebamed India, says of the new campaign and its USP: “We are confident that Sebamed anti-hairloss shampoo is an innovation that will create a strong disruption in a cluttered category by decoding the difference between hair breakage and hair loss.”

The brand’s head of marketing, Konark Gaur, meanwhile says: “We listened to consumers’ frustration in the anti-hair fall shampoo category and discovered a gap between promise and delivery.” Through this science-based shampoo product, the brand promises to fill this need gap, adds Gaur.

To its credit, Sebamed and its differentiated tone of voice and conversations around pH did manage to create a buzz in the personal care category that has for many years been sold in a certain standardized manner. Nudging the consumers to go by science-led facts rather than celebrity claims, Sebamed’s soap spot did make consumers (as well as competitors and regulators) sit up and take notice with its no-holds-barred approach.

Ranjan, in an earlier conversation with The Drum, said of the category foray: “We decided to get back to basics and reconstruct the personal care category, and we decided to do this by empowering and educating the consumer. It is time to educate consumers that there is a standard skin type, just as there is a standard blood pressure for the body.”

Expert opinion

Dr Vandana Punjabi, a consultant dermatologist and trichologist at Mumbai-based Nanavati Superspeciality Hospital, told The Drum in an exclusive chat: “For a healthy person with no apparent skin condition, this entire conversation around pH 5.5 may not matter. It would be more relevant for people with delicate skin, such as the pediatric and geriatric age-group or people suffering from skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and overall dryness.

”The pH of the skin on the face and body is normally between 4.7 and 5.7 and any soap with higher pH is likely to dry the skin causing irritation and allergy. As dermatologists, we recommend soaps with pH of around 5.5 as these soaps maintain the acid mantle of the skin.”

Dr Punjabi adds: “Interestingly, normal soaps do have a very high pH (alkaline pH) and every soap that has more foam/more fragrance is likely to have a higher pH. For a person with normal skin, using such a soap may not cause any problem. Interestingly, pH disclosure is not mandatory in India.”

Now that Sebamed has taken the battle to the shampoo-field from the soap-land, it will be interesting to see how much shampoo buyers take notice of the current campaign and change their buying behaviours.

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