The health drink war!


Dr. Chitra. C
Professor & Head
Department of Management Studies
Vel Tech Group of Institutions
Management Consultant, Chennai

The health drink from GSK (GlaxoSmithKline), Horlicks, has been traditionally targeted at elders and positioned as a 'great family nourisher'. However, about five years ago, the communication was changed to 'pleasurable family nourisher' with the introduction of different flavours such as chocolate, vanilla and 'elaichi'. The TV commercial had children going around the town, cheering Epang Opang Jhapang a chant without any meaning. However, the TVC showed their mothers deciding on the choice of health drink.

Horlicks' competitor, Complan, promised to make the kids taller. Shorter kids' friends coaxed them to request their mothers to give them Complan. Now, Horlicks has gone a step further in promising not only height, but a stronger body and a sharper mind. Horlicks wants the children to decide on their health drink. The new campaign for Horlicks gives the kids a motto: 'Badlo Apne Bachpan ka Size'.

The new TVC has Darsheel Safary, the child protagonist of Taare Zameen Par, in the lead. Safary and his friends are on a mission to change things they don't like and question age old practices around them.

Is Horlicks taking kids on a rebellious path? Prashant Pandey, general manager, marketing, GSK, disagrees. "Kids today are different from their counterparts five years ago. They have their choices and have taken the purchase decision in their own hands. They are confident of what they are doing and what they want to do," he says. Safary was taken as the lead for the TVC with that thought in mind.

Swati Bhattacharya, senior creative director, JWT India, the agency handling the account, says, "Darsheel represents the attitude the kids have today. He dared to question the Filmfare Awards with questions such as why he wasn't nominated for the Best Actor in the Main Lead award, instead of being nominated in the Children's category. Children today want to create opportunities and have more autonomy."

Pandey adds, "There is nothing rebellious about the ad. Even Nike's 'Just Do It' has a positive aspect to it. Horlicks as a brand is conscious about its image and doesn't want to be rebellious. It is a portrayal of the confidence level of the kids today and Horlicks can help them achieve what they want in a positive way. Even in the TVC, Horlicks is not portrayed as an aid, just an onlooker or nutrition inspector of childhood. Horlicks is their playmate which believes in their philosophy and stands as an accomplice to their intentions."

According to Pandey, the brief to the agency was: The target group (TG) is a savvy audience with a short span of attention. So, step into their issues, get into their skin and raise their issues and concerns.

The TVC will be supported by print, radio and on-ground activities and extended to Horlicks' school programme, Whiz Kids Contest. On the digital platform, a site,, has been launched through which kids can communicate about the things they want to change. The winners with the best ideas will get a chance to compete in the Whiz Kids Contest.

For a short while, Horlicks has also come up with a packaging innovation in which the Horlicks bottle will be placed inside a graphical can to attract attention at retail stores.

At the same time, Horlicks hasn't neglected the elders altogether. It has a sugar free variant, Horlicks Lite, especially for diabetic patients and those who are health conscious. Besides Horlicks, GSK also has brands such as Boost, Maltova and Viva in the health drinks category. The segment also has competitor brands such as Bournvita (Cadbury), Complan (Heinz) and Milo (Nestle).

On the other hand the Horlicks (GSK) ad in NTV claimed: "Children have become taller, stronger and sharper. The Horlicks challenge now proven!"

A slightly different version of the Horlicks ad aired in Zee Bangla, an Indian regional TV channel:

"The Horlicks Ad would have been banned if it were running on a national channel. Here's how it goes. Scene outside store. Mother and adoloscent child duo - 2 pairs; one Mother's bag showing a refill pack of Complan and the other Mother's bag showing a Horlicks bottle (Both very very CLEARLY - no pixelations, no attempt to hide whatsoever).

The spot goes on with the Complan boy saying, my health drink has 23 nutrients, how much does yours have? To which the Horlicks boy's answer is 23 nutrients and also something.

The Complan boy goes on to say, Mine makes me 'Taller' with the show of measuring up the height on one's shoulder at the Complan ads, the Horlicks boy replies, mine makes me 'Taller, Stronger & Sharper'.

The Complan boy then says, mine costs Rs.178 and the Horlicks boy replies, mine costs only Rs.124 (please pardon if the prices are off by a few rupees). The Complan boy then jubilantly says, Mummy, In this case we are higher right with the Mother making a grimace of I've-been-had kind of look.

The Ad ends with a couple of people carrying a Horlicks billboard with the 3 tenets of Taller, Stronger & Shraper clearly written in the background."

The truth emerged after both Nestle and GlaxoSmithKline claimed that the ads had been broadcast in the UK without their knowledge or consent. Interestingly GSK said that its claims were accurate for "children in that part of the world" and they complied with the regulatory requirements of Bangladesh. A GlaxoSmithKline spokesman added that the Horlicks sold in India is a completely different formulation and product to the one in the UK.

The market has always been flooded with ads showing the competitor product in bad light when compared to the company's products. Mostly, this has been displayed in the form of similar coloured product packages or name initials shown in the ad against which the advertising company shows its superiority (functional or emotional). While the viewers could identify, the competitors could never win the legal battle.

But that wasn't enough. The latest Horlicks - Complan tussle sees both products compared in the Horlicks ad. Well, Complan decided to come up with an ad claiming that Complan consumers grew taller at a rate twice than the growth of the non consumers.

Horlicks has now arrived with an ad which entails a discussion between two kids and their mothers. Both the products are compared based on the nutrients, the claims and finally the price. The "Taller Stronger Sharper" campaign of Horlicks is used to counter the claims of Complan (and pretty convincingly if you'd ask me!). The ad communicates the price advantage of the product and the functional benifits. Overall, it shows the supremacy of the brand over the competitors.

Two pointers out here..

1. Such ads can only be allowed if the claims are clinically substantiated. For example, the Horlicks claim of "Taller Sharper Stronger" is a clinically proven claim. So its an example of how research helps in branding.

2. Such ads are justifiable when there are two major players in the market. In this case, Bournvita is a competition which has not been targetted directly. Is that a great idea?

Dr. Chitra. C
Professor & Head
Department of Management Studies
Vel Tech Group of Institutions
Management Consultant, Chennai

Source: E-mail January 4, 2009


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