Complan Vs Horlicks: Comparative Advertising and the Question of Ethics

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This case study was compiled from published sources, and is intended to be used as a basis for class discussion. It is not intended to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of a management situation. Nor is it a primary information source.

Case Details:


Case Code : MKTG209 For delivery in electronic format: Rs. 300;
For delivery through courier (within India): Rs. 300 + Rs. 25 for Shipping & Handling Charges


Marketing Communication / Advertising
Case Length : 18 Pages
Period : 2008-2009
Pub Date : 2009
Teaching Note : Not Available
Organization : GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare; Heinz
Industry : Consumer Packaged Goods; Health drinks
Countries : India


This case is about the advertising war between two popular health drink brands Horlicks and Complan in India. The war for supremacy between these two brands started as early as in 1960s and had continued ever since. Over the years, the brands were involved in aggressive comparative advertising in print and television over attributes such as ingredients, protein content, growth, and flavors. However, in late 2008, the makers of Horlicks, GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare (GSK), and the makers of Complan, Heinz India (Heinz), came out with advertisements that directly compared the brands using the competitor brand's trademarks. Industry observers felt that in their bid to outdo each other, the two companies had ended up denigrating the competitor brand.

Usually issues related to disparaging ads by rival companies were resolved by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI). But with constant mudslinging at each other, the two companies decided to solve the issue in courts. In September 2008, Heinz moved the Bombay High Court objecting to the Horlicks ad , while in December 2008, GSK approached the Delhi High Court against the Complan ad.

Experts felt that the latest tiff between GSK and Heinz had brought to the fore the issues and challenges involved in comparative advertising and the legal/ethical issues involved in such kind of advertising.


Analyze the advertising strategies adopted by Complan and Horlicks over the years.

Understand the issues and challenges faced by companies while using comparative advertising.

Examine the efficacy of comparative advertising in enhancing brand image and sales.

Study the implications of the advertising war between Complan and Horlicks.

Discuss and debate the legal/ethical issues involved in the case.


  Page No.
The Fight for the Indian Health Drink Market Turns Ugly 1
Background Note 3
The Health Drink War 6
Backing up the Claims 7
Courting Trouble 9
Exhibits 11


Marketing communication, Advertising, Comparative advertising, Ethics, Legal, Health drinks market, Horlicks, Compalan , GlaxoSmithKline, Heinz

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