An advertisement mocking its rivals has put Patanjali on a slippery slope

Ad wars.
Ad wars.
Image: Reuters/Adnan Abidi
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Patanjali’s aggressive advertising may have landed the company in trouble again.

In a set of directives issued by India’s courts earlier this week, the ayurveda major owned by yoga guru Ramdev has been asked to temporarily pull down a television advertisement for its range of bathing soaps because it shows competing brands in poor light.

In the commercial aired on Sep. 02, actors are shown taking digs at Hindustan Unilever brands such as Lux, Pears, and Lifebuoy, and also Dettol, hawked by the Indian arm of British firm Reckitt Benckiser (RB).

Lux and Dettol are both widely popular in India. In fact, Hindustan Unilever (HUL), part of the Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever, controls roughly half of the country’s Rs15,000 crore toilet soaps market.

Patanjali’s advertisement suggested that rival brands are loaded with chemicals and asked consumers to instead choose its natural products. “…filmstars ke chemical bhare sabun na lagao (Don’t use chemical-based soaps promoted by film stars),” it said, referring to Lux. It also derided soap brand Pears—tears badhaye fears (tears increase your fears)—and took potshots at HUL’s Lifebuoy soap, The Times of India newspaper reported.

In response, both HUL and RB India sought an interim injunction against the advertisement, approaching the Bombay and Delhi high courts, respectively, on Sept. 04. “The advertisement, while talking about Patanjali’s ayurvedic product, was deprecating RB’s Dettol soap,” RB said in a statement.

The courts have directed Patanjali to stop airing the commercial till the next court hearing on Sept. 18. “We confirm that the honourable Bombay high court has granted ad-interim injunction to the advertisement that was being aired by Patanjali Ayurved Limited. Since the matter is sub-judice, we will not be able to offer any further comments,” HUL said in a statement. An email query sent to Patanjali went unanswered.

This isn’t the first time that Patanjali’s ad campaigns have irked the competition and authorities. Between 2015 and 2016, over two dozens of them came under the scanner for violating various advertising codes. Its campaigns often target foreign companies or rival brands. Some of them feature the saffron-robed Ramdev himself, urging consumers to shun brands of “foreign” companies, which allegedly contain harmful chemicals.