The Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) has dismissed the complaint filed against Protector & Gamble (P&G) Pakistan Limited in accordance with the law. The inquiry report concluded that Safeguard soap offers superior protection against germs as compared to ordinary (non-antimicrobial) soap.
According to the inquiry report of CCP, the complaint was filed by Colgate Palmolive (CP) Pakistan against P&G for the alleged violation of Section 10 of the Competition Act 2010.
In the complaint, CP alleged that P&G has televised a new advertisement for its product Safeguard Liquid Hand Soap (Safeguard LHS). CP alleges that this advertisement misleads consumers into believing that the act of hand washing with ordinary soap is inadequate in germ protection and is therefore deceptive, in violation of Section 10 of the Act.
P&G stated that it has been promoting the habit of washing hands and healthy hygiene habits by developing, inter alia, exclusive animated content featuring a superhero, Commander Safeguard, which is an initiative that promotes handwashing habits in public, particularly among children, by providing educational material on health and hygiene and recognizing handwashing as the first line of defense against infections. This initiative has been appreciated and recognized all around Pakistan as well as globally, to the extent that the Commander Safeguard initiative was adopted by P&G Philippines.
It is submitted that P&G has actively been involved in raising public awareness and has launched multiple campaigns not only to improve general hygiene but also launched the campaign, “Help stop the spread of coronavirus—wash hands and #staysafe.”
In this regard, CCP initiated an inquiry in accordance with sub-section (2) of Section 37 of the Act by appointing two inquiry officers who were part of the inquiry committee. The committee was directed to conduct an inquiry on the issues raised in the complaint and to submit an inquiry report (IR) containing findings and recommendations.
In the TV commercial (TVC) in question, a man, having just washed his hands, hears a child say, “Germs!” The man responds with “Abhi to haath dhoye hain (I’ve just washed my hands),” and the child says that he hasn’t washed with “double dum power of Safeguard.”
CP alleges that this advertisement misleads consumers into believing that the act of hand washing with ordinary soap is inadequate for germ protection. This, it is alleged, is false and misleading, as scientific literature, including publications by the World Health Organization (WHO), has proven decisively that the mechanical act of hand washing with any soap, or sanitizer with 70 percent alcohol content, is the most potent defense against germs and viruses, and to imply that Safeguard LHS offers superior protection as compared to ordinary soap is false and misleading, and is capable of harming the business interests of the complainant.
CP submits that the timing of the TVC by P&G amplifies the risk to consumers as the nation is in the midst of the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic and implies that their products offer superior protection as compared to ordinary hand wash soaps and sanitizers a gross exaggeration that is not only harmful to consumers as misleading information but also capable of harming CP’s interests.
CP has respectfully requested that the Commission may declare the impugned TVC as deceptive and declare that the advertisements of the respondent are capable of harming the business interests of other undertakings, including those of the CP.
In its preliminary objections, P&G submits that the complainant has failed to substantiate any infraction of Section 10 of the Act and states that the complaint is frivolous and vexatious, being based on insufficient facts.
The complainant, it is stated, has failed to point out which claim made in the TVC constitutes false or misleading information.
P&G further submits that the advertisement does not distribute false or misleading information that is capable of harming the business interests of another undertaking, including the distribution of information lacking a reasonable basis.
The complainant has failed to mention the potential or actual harm that the advertisement may have caused to the business interests of the competitors.
P&G submits that the TVC does not reduce competition by advertising the germ-inhibiting properties of Safeguard LHS.
It would be detrimental to the competition if P&G were directed or ordered not to advertise the unique features that distinguish it from others. It is submitted that Section 37(2) of the Act, Regulation 17(2), and Regulation 20(1) of the Competition (General Enforcement) Regulations, 2007, clearly state that the complaint shall be based on facts, and each fact shall be substantiated by prima facie evidence. The complainant has neither based the complaint on sufficient facts nor substantiated it by prima facie evidence, states P&G.
P&G goes on to submit that it has grown to be among the top fast-moving consumer goods companies in Pakistan since 1991. Through the years, P&G has invested over $150 million in fixed assets, acquired a soap-manufacturing facility at Hub, Balochistan, and, in 2010, established a laundry detergent plant at Port Qasim, Karachi.
It is further submitted that the investments made by P&G continue to yield socio-economic benefits to Pakistan by creating over 5,000 direct and indirect employment opportunities and developing a local supplier base, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in local value addition to date.
It is alleged that P&G launched Safeguard LHS in Pakistan as an antibacterial toilet soap and that it contains piroctone olamine as the antibacterial active ingredient. It is designed to provide germ removal and residual germ inhibition after washing.
The above-mentioned compound is sometimes used in the treatment of fungal infections. Piroctone olamine is the ethanolamine salt of the hydroxamic acid derivative piroctone. It is often used in anti-dandruff shampoo as a replacement for the commonly used compound zinc pyrithione.
It is further submitted that Commander Safeguard is an initiative that promotes handwashing habits in public, particularly amongst children, and teaches the children to educate their parents about the importance of handwashing and hygiene, as well as handwashing as the first line of defense in accordance with the WHO and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
The concept of “double dum power” is based on double protection or two types of protection. Double protection means that Safeguard LHS is capable of germ removal and germ inhibition. The two types of protections are separately explained within the advertisement.
P&G reiterates that Safeguard LHS contains an antibacterial ingredient, piroctone olamine, that provides long-lasting protection by inhibiting germ regrowth after washing for up to four hours, as tested on representative microorganisms.
The complainant’s allegation that the child tells him that he hasn’t washed with the “double dum power of Safeguard,” is completely false, and the complainant is attempting to mislead the Commission by twisting the language used.
It is further reiterated that P&G introduced substance in Safeguard LHS recently, therefore, the mother in this advertisement states, “Yeh hai, Commander Safeguard, in new superpower.” The advertisement at no point compares ordinary soap with Safeguard LHS in relation to germ removal; however, the advertisement states the unique properties of Safeguard by means of comparison against ordinary soaps in relation to germ inhibition, as reflected in the images above.
In light of the above, it is clear that the advertisement does not mislead consumers into believing that the act of handwashing with ordinary non-antimicrobial soap or soap not containing a germ-inhibiting ingredient is inadequate in protecting against germs or germ removal. However, it stresses the fact that the Safeguard LHS contains a unique germ-inhibiting ingredient, hence the “double dum power” of the Safeguard LHS.
The P&G submits that it has developed an animated educational video of 77 seconds that promotes washing hands for 20 seconds with any soap. The video stresses that each and every person in Pakistan has to contribute to stopping the spread of coronavirus by washing hands regularly with the power of any ordinary soap, not just Safeguard, and also educates the public by showing the proper way of washing hands.
The study conducted by Michigan State University (MSU) found that antimicrobial soap reduced the risk of E.coli infection by an average of about 40 times compared with no handwashing. The antimicrobial soaps ranged from 3 to 32 times more effective than the non-antimicrobial soap.
In light of the above, CCP is of the view that the respondent has reasonably substantiated the claim made in the advertisement in question. Therefore, the case of deceptive marketing practices in terms of Section 10 of the Act has not been made out.
In light of the findings of the IR, while the Inquiry Committee agrees that the TVC gives the net general impression that Safeguard LHS offers superior protection against germs as compared to ordinary (non-antimicrobial) soap, P&G has a reasonable basis for this.
Accordingly, the advertised claim has been substantiated adequately, CCP added.