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Will the new Dettol strategy work?
Prerna Raturi
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April 11, 2006

If smells bring back memories, chances are that a whiff of Dettol antiseptic liquid will remind most of us of scraped knees and shins, the taste of tears, hot bath water and, of course, the sting when the liquid touched the wound.

Launched in 1933 in India, Dettol liquid continues to be a first-aid staple in most homes. It was voted as the third most-trusted brand in an AC Nielsen ORG Marg survey last year.

Brand extensions such as Dettol liquid hand wash and Dettol soap have also managed to find a place in people's bathrooms. Reckitt Benckiser's flagship brand, Dettol makes for one-third of the company's Rs 1,000-crore (Rs 10 billion) turnover.

Dettol is the leader in the antiseptic market with 85 per cent market share. Liquid hand wash created a new market and lords over 60 per cent of the market in the category, while the various Dettol soaps account for 18 per cent of the health soap division.

Others such as body wash and shaving cream make for a minuscule part of the turnover. The brand's foray into talcum and floor cleaners a few years ago, though, didn't work out.

Now Reckitt Benckiser has bigger plans for Dettol. With the launch of its "Dettol Surakshit Parivar" initiative on March 21, Reckitt Benckiser will target new mothers, schools and hospitals in six metros - Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.

Clarifies Chander Mohan Sethi, regional director, south Asia, and managing director, Reckitt Benckiser (India), "This is in continuation to several other initiatives of reaching out to people."

Apart from ad campaigns and product schemes, the company used to sponsor programmes such as the National Nurses Meet. "Until now it was more of a single initiative that we sponsored or worked on, and then got out," Sethi says, "It was time we did things differently. We also look at it as a part of our corporate social responsibility initiative."

Equity tracking is a continuous process at Reckitt Benckiser. "Dettol is believed in by everybody, even doctors. That is the core deliverable that we wanted to emphasise," says Sethi.

With an initial investment of Rs 5 crore (Rs 50 million) and a year of work, Reckitt Benckiser aims to target those who are most vulnerable to infections. Thus, new mothers will be presented with a vaccination chart with tips on how to keep the new-born and its surroundings germ-free, along with a free bottle of Dettol antiseptic.

School students will be educated in the importance of washing their hands before eating. The hospital programme will mean reaching out to hospitals and nursing homes where programmes will be conducted with nurses and staff to keep the environment germ-free. Health messages on first-aid and immunisation will also be displayed.

The programme will mean getting in touch with 1.2 million new mothers, 300,000 students and 250 hospitals across the country. While the new mothers' programme has already started in the six metros, the school and hospital initiatives will kick off in a phased manner through the year (Q2-Q3).

People from agencies specialising in dealing with people from the medical field and school children will reach out to the target groups. "At the same time, our brand team will train these people about the brand, too," adds Sethi. Constant checks by the company and the agencies ensure the plan moves smoothly.

But if the project is a part of Reckitt's CSR initiatives, why target the metros? Surely cleanliness and hygiene need a boost more in rural India and small towns?

"This is just the start of the journey," explains Sethi patiently. "I believe that whatever we do, we should do it well. Later stages will involve smaller towns and, ultimately, rural India. And even with metros, we are not targetting the rich and wealthy."

"I wish they mean what they say," counters Anand Halve of brand consultancy Chlorophyll. "Where brand building is concerned, it aims to make the product a definitive brand in the category." Halve says the programme might work in the same way as Colgate's initiative of free dental check-ups in school did.

Arvind Singhal, managing director, Technopak Advisors, says such an initiative is a subtle way of nurturing the brand. "More and more companies are looking at doing contemporary things. They want to be seen as doing the right things."

Will the exercise also mean a surge in sales for the company? "I would love it if my sales doubled," laughs Sethi, adding, "But on a more serious note, I am merely looking at establishing the importance of hygienic living."

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