A day after the Bombay High Court passed an injunction restraining Patanjali from airing its alleged disparaging television advertisement for its bathing soaps (the Petitioners in this case being Hindustan Unilever), the High Court of Delhi on a petition filed by Reckitt Benckiser has issued an ad-interim injunction against Patanjali, thereby restraining Patanjali from airing the impugned advertisement.
“Lifebuoy” and “Pears” are two very well-known soap brands of Hindustan Unilever and the “Dettol” brand of soaps is one of Reckitt Benckiser’s most globally well-known trademarks. In the impugned Patanjali advertisement, the narrator urges the public to shun soaps like “Lifejoy”, “Tears” and “Dhitol” as they are chemical based and are used by movie stars.
These decisions by the Delhi and Bombay High Court is another addition to the growing list of cases regarding comparative advertising and disparagement thereto in the last few years. The Courts seem to have followed the recent decision of the Bombay High Court in the dispute between AMUL and Hindustan Unilever Limited regarding Amul’s advertisement, wherein it was observed that Amul’s impugned advertisement was disparaging to an entire class of products, i.e. Amul’s “real ice-cream” against “frozen desserts” which were depicted as allegedly harmful to consumers due to the presence of “vanaspati/vanaspati tel”.
A parallel can be drawn from the above instance and the present case between Patanjali v HUL and Reckitt Benckiser – “Herbal soaps” v. alleged “Chemical Soaps”. It is interesting to see whether the respective High Courts will adjudicate upon the same lines as the earlier judgment by the Bombay High Court.
The probable issues with respect to the current dispute between Patanjali and Reckitt Benckiser can primarily revolve around the concept of “comparative advertising”.
In the earlier mentioned recent case between AMUL and Hindustan Unilever Limited by the Bombay High Court, the judgment was in line with the precedents laid down in earlier cases like Pepsi Co., Inc. And Ors. vs Hindustan Coca Cola Ltd. (regarding Pepsi’s famous tagline “Yeh Dil Maange More”). In the said AMUL case, AMUL was deemed to have made a false statement regarding the constituents of “frozen desserts”. Similar questions can be raised in the present case of Patanjali – which states that the soaps “Lifejoy”, “Tears” and “Dhitol” are “chemical based”, and impliedly Patanjali’s soaps are not, which is up for debate as the same appears to be an unverified assertion as depicted in the impugned advertisement. And the above assertion might deceive or potentially deceive ordinary customers who might start believing that all soaps with any “chemicals” are harmful, thereby influencing them to shun soaps like “Lifejoy”, “Tears” and “Dhitol” and instead buy Patanjali’s soaps which by alleged comparison is not “chemical based”
There is also a possibility that the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) might take issue against Patanjali’s impugned advertisement, which is bound to heap further misery on the Baba Ramdev led brand.