Our differentiated approach to advertising has nudged consumers to challenge the status quo and question claims around standard beauty practices: Shashi Ranjan, Sebamed
In December last year, Sebamed had released another campaign for its shampoo brand featuring actor Ratna Pathak ShahSebamed/screenshot
Sebamed has grown its marketing budget by 3X over the last 3 years and aims to grow 10X in the next 5 years

Our differentiated approach to advertising has nudged consumers to challenge the status quo and question claims around standard beauty practices: Shashi Ranjan, Sebamed

Sebamed has grown its marketing budget by 3X over the last 3 years and aims to grow 10X in the next 5 years
  • Sebamed's comparative advertising last year against HUL soap brands including Lux, Pears and Dove got it noticed by consumers.
  • We speak to Shashi Ranjan, Country Head, Sebamed to understand how its strategy of targeting other brands in the category has worked for it.
  • Ranjan tells us the brand's campaigns have helped it win the trust of huge number of consumers who are looking for 'highly efficacious and scientifically superior products'.
When it aired its campaign targeting some of HUL’s market leading soap brands including Lux, Pears and Dove in January 2021, German personal care brand Sebamed made quite a splash. It had taken on the biggest soap manufacturer in the country, to demonstrate the ‘superior benefit of Sebamed’s cleansing bar over market leaders in the soap category’, a claim that had later been rebutted by HUL.

Following the launch of the campaigns, HUL had filed a commercial suit in the Bombay High Court, and alleged that Sebamed’s campaigns were ‘misleading consumers on soap efficacy during these difficult times, and further denigrating and disparaging well-known brands like Lux, Dove, Pears and Rin’.

The Bombay High Court later permitted Sebamed to continue with its campaign for its cleansing bar. Despite the legal backlash, the brand and its comparative advertising was written about by numerous media outlets, which turned out to be great PR for the brand. It had the desired effect, getting a relatively new brand noticed by consumers.

Later in the year, Sebamed released another campaign, this time drawing consumers’ attention towards misleading advertising by various hair care brands titled #NoConditionsApply.

A year since the launch of its talked-about campaign, we caught up with Shashi Ranjan, Country Head, Sebamed, to understand how its strategy worked for the brand and how it has been educating consumers about the benefits of using its products and building a market for itself.


Q) Sebamed has had a very different advertising approach. How do you think that has helped in its brand building in India?
We are a purpose-driven organization, and we strive to transform the Indian FMCG landscape. By leveraging the power of honest and transparent advertising, we are empowering consumers with the right knowledge backed by scientifically verifiable facts and realistic claims. We want consumers to make informed choices about their consumption habits and our advertisements narrate the story in a unique and palatable way.

Our differentiated approach to advertising has introduced a new vocabulary of pH and generated a buzz in the personal care category. It has nudged consumers to challenge the status quo and question claims around standard beauty practices and provide them with science-backed facts instead, and as a result, build a strong connection with Sebamed. We have been able to win the trust of huge number of consumers who are looking for highly efficacious and scientifically superior products.

Q) What sort of reception have your ads received? They did the work of getting the brand noticed but did that translate to sales?
We are overwhelmed by consumer responses after every campaign. It really gives a surreal feeling that consumers wait for our advertisements as every category we get into we impart new knowledge and most importantly something they can trust and validate. In addition to disruptive awareness, our advertisements have resulted into exponential increase in our revenue as well. Our annualized portfolio run rate is Rs 600 crore in MRP terms. We remain committed towards investing in brand building as a full-stack player. We continue to strive for share of affinity of our consumers and it has been overwhelming since inception.

Q) What sort of growth have you witnessed since you launched your campaign?
We are on an exponential growth path and have grown 5X in the last 3 years. In fact, some of the subcategories in personal care have grown more than 10X post the campaign.

Q) How did the pandemic impact the business? Where do you stand now?
Like any other FMCG player we were also impacted by the first wave of pandemic during Apr-June’20 quarter. However, we have managed to bounce back and are now on our growth trajectory. We witnessed ~40% growth on our overall portfolio vis-à-vis 2019 despite the pandemic.

We used this as an opportunity to realign our Marketing, Sales, Distribution & People strategy.We managed to bounce back after a quarter and are now back on our growth trajectory.Hence, the silver lining is, despite pandemic our exponential growth journey continues.Our offline sales have grown around 50% over last year itself.

Q) For any relatively new brand, sampling plays an important role. With people stuck in their homes, how have you been able to take the brand to people's homes? How are you ensuring the brand stays top-of-mind for your consumers?
Sampling has been a key enabler to induce trial for consumers across all categories and we have leveraged this since the beginning. During pandemic when people were stuck at home, we partnered with hyper local delivery partners as well as some society activation partners to take the experience to consumers’ home. Further recently we have also launched Sebamed shampoo sachet at Rs 10 to encourage trials. Today all Sebamed shampoos – Anti Hairloss, Anti-Dandruff and Everyday are available at Rs 10. We have also started seeing early trends on increasing revenue contribution of Tier II and Tier III cities for Sebamed products.

Q) How important has e-commerce been for you?
The world-wide pandemic has turbocharged ecommerce transition for FMCG companies. With the touchless economy and safety conscious consumers, we have witnessed a strong preference towards ecommerce during the pandemic and it’s going to continue in the long run as well. Ecommerce has been a key growth driver for us, and we have further enhanced our presence by partnering with quick commerce players as well in addition to traditional ecommerce players. In fact, we have taken an emphatic approach to set up our own ecommerce platform mywellnesskart.com during the first wave of the pandemic to ensure our products are made available to consumers amid logistic disruptions.

Q) What's your marketing budget for the year? Will you be increasing spends this year? Which medium will get the largest chunk of the marketing pie?
Our marketing budget is commensurate with our growth aspirations. We have grown our marketing budget by 3X over last 3 years. We remain committed towards investment in brand building as a full stack FMCG player and strive for consumer’s share of affinity towards our brands. Our current split between traditional and digital marketing is 50:50 and we will continuously evaluate the same and pivot it around consumer’s behavioral shift.

Q) Going ahead too, will the brand continue focusing on competitive advertising or do you plan to modify your strategy?
We invest a lot in understanding our consumers. Keeping the evolving consumer needs in mind, our advertising approach has been focused on building long-term trust with the consumers – there is no short-cut to gaining trust. This requires consistent effort. Competitive advertisement is just one tool in the marketing playbook. Every category has different objective and advertisement strategy would differ accordingly; however our brand purpose will remain consistent as the common denominator across every segment we operate.

Q) Sebamed has positioned itself as a brand that empowers consumers with the right information on the basis of scientifically verifiable facts and realistic claims. Apart from your campaigns, how else are you educating consumers, since it takes a change in behaviour for people to opt for a new shampoo/soap instead of products they have been using for years?
After the pandemic, basic health and hygiene choices are being re-evaluated. We strive to educate our consumers about the benefits of pH5.5 products for healthy skin and hair and impact of using conventional products. pH is a relatively new conversation in the personal care segment, and we are aware that persuading consumers to opt for a new shampoo/soap instead of products they are using for years is a journey. In order to expedite the transition process, in addition to integrated campaigns we are following a 3-pronged approach:

-Offering free pH test kits to consumers, so they can test themselves at their homes
-Offering free customized skin and hair solutions by our experts through our portal
-Sampling and society activation initiatives

Q) What is your strategy towards increasing your marketing spend? What is the growth strategy you are going to follow?
-Brand building is a journey and we are committed to ramp up our marketing investments in alignment with our aspirations.
-We will continue to focus on five key transformational pillars – people, differentiated products, branding, rapid distribution expansion and robust governance.

Q) What kind of revenue target do you have for 2022?
We are here for the long haul, we plan to grow 10X in the next 5 years, hence we aspire to grow exponentially in 2022 as well, pretty much the way we have grown over the last 3 years.