Bombay HC directs Sebamed to pull down ads targeting HUL

The ads called out HUL soaps Dove, Lux, and Pears over their pH values

NEW DELHI: The Bombay high court has directed an interim halt on Sebamed’s Filmstars kee nahi, Science Kee Suno campaign for disparaging soaps made by FMCG major Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL).

A single-judge bench of Justice B P Colabawalla passed an ex-parte order against USV Pvt Ltd, which markets the Sebamed soap, restraining its ad campaign till 14 January. 

Justice Colabawalla said, “It is clear that in comparative advertisements, the defendant (USV Pvt Ltd) is entitled to claim that its product is better or best provided he does it without denigrating the plaintiffs’ product. Further, if the manner of the defendant’s advertisement is ridiculing or condemning the product of the plaintiff, then it amounts to disparagement.”

The advertisements in question were released last week, in which Sebamed claimed that HUL-manufactured Dove has a pH level of 7, while Pears and Lux have a pH level of 10, same as that of detergent bar Rin. The German brand maintains its product has a pH level of 5.5.

In light of this, HUL submitted before the bench that USV's “wrongful, misleading and malicious marketing tactics, which are disparaging and denigrating” is with “a view to dent” the market shares of HUL by “targeting” its “popular soap products” which are “ market leaders.”

After hearing HUL's submissions, Colabawalla noted that prima facie, the manner, storyline, intent and message sought to be conveyed by the impugned campaign not only shows that the defendant’s product is better but also ridicules/derogates the products of the plaintiffs. “It does appear that by the impugned campaign, the defendant is trying to influence the consumers not to buy the plaintiffs’ products,” he stated.

The matter is now adjourned to Thursday, 14 January 2020. The court has directed USV Pvt Ltd to file its response to the plea by that date. 

A spokesperson from Sebamed India said, “Our claims are based on solid science and we have robust information and data points to back it up. We have not been served any court order as yet. We are a responsible organisation and we abide by the law of the land.”

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