5 interesting but controversial advertising wars of Indian brands

For too long, we have been hearing and reading about the illustrious brand rivalries amid the foreign brands like Coke vs. Pepsi, BMW vs. Audi and McDonald vs. Burger King etc. Brand Managers at reputed firms have more than once conceptualized stimulating but controversial ad promotions, taking pot shots on their rivals.

Burger King vs McDonald controversial ad campaign

The world has become a battle ground for the brands and it is not survival of the fittest brand any more, but the one which is wittiest and smartest. Brands are ready to take the competition to any level and there are numerous examples where they have crossed over the line of subtleness. We have listed 5 controversial ad crusades where Indian brands were involved in full-fledged ad wars among themselves.

Battle to become the undisputed king of Indian skies – Kingfisher Vs Jet Airways
The war started when Kingfisher, “The king of good times” was actually having a good time in the Indian Aviation market. The airline was quickly gaining market share from rivals Jet Airways. The carrier was identified for its royal treatment provided to its patrons.

Vijay mallaya- Kingfisher - The king of bad times meme

In its panic, Jet Airways embarked on a Rs. 10 crore campaign to publicize its rebranding through its “We have changed” ad campaign. Jet insisted that they have grown consumer friendly and more services are on offer. But, Kingfisher through “Equus Advertising” resorted to the ways of Ambush marketing and hijacked the campaign from Jet airways. The Jet hoarding at Cadbury Junction, near Jet CEO Naresh Goyal’s residence, was superseded by a Kingfisher billboard saying “We made them Change”.

Jet wasn’t intimated by this ambush and pulled out from the campaign. They later pronounced daily flights to New York through their hoarding “Take off to New York Daily” but even this wasn’t spared. Within days Kingfisher placed a hoarding saying “They’ve flown from here to New York”. A year later, Jetlite and Deccan airways (Now, Kingfisher Red), got entwined in an ad war. Certainly, the airlines were not making much profit but they provided their fair share of amusement to the Indian public.


Jetlite and Air Deccan ad war

Reacting to the response by Hindu, a blog said “Whether the Chennai readers woke up to Times or not, The Hindu certainly did”. The Hindu not only replied through its television commercials and print ads, it also did a major rejig in its century old organizational structure. The editor-in-chief stepped down and made way for younger generation and in addition, a position of CEO was created.

The war of Chennai – Times of India and The Hindu desperately trying for greater market share
The TOI advertisement showing a montage of boring scenes with a lullaby in a monotonous voice in the background suddenly lightens up with a flash saying ‘Stuck with the news that puts you to sleep?’. The advert ends with words: ‘Wake up to the Times of India’. TOI started this campaign in Chennai where The Hinducommands the Numero Uno position. Clearly, they were poking the bear.

Akshay kumar - Dont angry me meme

Perhaps the most visible sign of aggression was the barrage of television and print ads that Hindu launched.

The TV ads pictured a bunch of young people who were asked questions related to politics and general awareness and their answers are all wrong and funny. But, when they were asked trivial questions related to Bollywood etc., the answers were spot on. The final question: Which paper do these blissfully ignorant people read?

The answers were beeped out, but a minor lip reading revealed the answer: Times of India.

The advertisement war which turned ugly – Rin vs Tide
P&G and Unilever limited are two FMCG behemoths with billions of dollars in revenue. The two giants have more than once resorted to resorted to ambush or comparative marketing to establish their superiority over their rival. But, on February 25th, 2010, Rin came up with a highly controversial ad which was definitely “Bold and brash”. It marked the end of days of harmless advertisements.

The new ad was highly aggressive even in terms of the body language of the characters involved. Just like the soap operas, the characters here had impish traits. The dialogue saying “Aunty chauk kyu gayi?” was a direct reply to the Tide ad those days with the punch line “Chauk gaye?”. Comparative advertising had never been to such a low level.

Tide chauk gaye ad campaign

In general, the brands used to pixelate the rival’s product before making comparisons but Rin’s brazen approach raised several eyebrows.  Ultimately, the company was restrained from airing those commercials byKolkata high court.

Controversial advertising war in Kitchens – Dettol Kitchen Gel vs Vim
HUL got a taste of its own medicine when Reckitt Benckiser launched its Dettol healthy kitchen gel as a brand extension to Dettol which already had an assertive image of germ cleanser. The advert made a direct appraisal of the cleaning capacity of Dettol and Vim and claimed that Dettol cleanser can clean utensils with 100 times more efficacy.

Dettol kitchen gel controversial ad against Vim

The full ad can still be seen on the blog:

HUL went to the doorstep of judiciary for a restrain on the airing of ads. Simultaneously, they worked on an ad campaign to counter the claims of Dettol. Within a short period, they conceptualized ad which was published in major dailies of the country. “A Harsh Antiseptic or The Power of 100 Lemons” campaign was a fitting reply to RB.

Vim's retaliatory ad campaign against Dettol

A year later, HUL retaliated again through its direct take on Dettol antiseptic liquid by HUL’s rival product, Lifebuoy.

lifebuoy and Dettol controversial ad

The “Cheap” advertising – Horlicks vs Complan

If the claims of the energy drinks like Horlicks or Complan are to be believed, parents don’t have much contribution in their child’s physical or mental wellbeing. Both, the brands claim that the make kids “Exam ready”, whatever that means. They enhance the memory retention and also help in physical growth of the child. They back their claims through some unknown study at an unknown institute.

Khali energy drink meme

Horlicks, in order to assert its superiority in the energy drinks market came up with an advert which carried out a direct comparison with Complan. Complan packs were literally shown and were called “cheap” in this advertisement.

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