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Bombay High Court restrains airing of Amul ad on HUL's plea

In a victory for Hindustan Unilever Ltd which makes Kwality Walls Frozen Desserts, the Bombay High Court allowed its plea and restrained the airing of an Amul ice-cream television commercial forthwith. Justice SJ Kathawalla granted the injunction as sought by HUL which had argued that the Amul advertisement was disparaging its (HUL's) Frozen Desserts. The contention of HUL is that an Amul ad asks viewers not to eat products that contain vanaspati oil, thus disparaging its Frozen Desserts which contains vegetable oil.

On Friday, Amul's counsel Ashish Kamat sought a stay of the HC order. But after Virag Tulzapurkar appeared for HUL and opposed the plea, the HC declined to stay its order. Tulzapurkar argued that there is no bar on Amul airing other ads. There was a heated battle between the two sides in the court. Neither side was willing to cool off. While hearing the matter, the court did not pass any orders restraining airing of the Amul ad. However, by the end of the hearing it appears that the submissions of HUL of facts and law appealed more to the judge who ruled in its favour. The hearing lasted for days before the summer vacation. Senior counsel Ravi Kadam appearing for Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing federation Ltd, which makes Amul Ice-creams, defending the Amul commercial said that the ad doesn't denigrate HUL's frozen desserts. He said the ad was merely informative as it informed society and consumers that frozen desserts contain vegetable oil-- Vanaspati oil.

The commercial says it in Hindi as "vanaspati tel'' and HUL cannot say "vanaspati tel ' is the same as 'vanaspti' and that public at large don't know the dictionary meaning of Vanaspati tel. Kadam said, "We are entitled to show the difference between ice cream and frozen dessert. Ours is an ice cream made only of milk and there is a frozen dessert which also contains vegetable oil." Tulzapurkar who argued for HUL said the ad specifically mentions vanaspati in Hindi while other parts of the ad are in English and it is so done to target a larger audience in disparaging its frozen dessert products.

At one point during the hearing Justice Kathawalla had asked whether the Amul ad can now say "vanaspati tel yani vegetable oil." It made one more suggestion after a HUL counsel Birendra Saraf said even the level of oil shown in the Amul television commercial be reduced among other changes. Saraf in his rejoinder had argued that "in the pretense of educating the public, Amul is indulging in a false and vicious campaign against HUL's Walls. The storyline, the manner of presentation and the intent of the TV commercial is clearly only to disparage and denigrate Walls, a frozen dessert." The arguments in court relied even on the Oxford dictionary meaning for vanaspati tel. It means vegetable oil said Kadam, an ingredient which HUL admits its frozen desserts contain and which HUL says is healthy. "Once HUL says vegetable oil is healthy, then the ad cannot be said to be disparaging," was the Amul argument. Kadam had stressed that it can legally highlight one or two aspects of a product in a commercial as long as it is truthful. He said since HUL uses 'vegetable oil' in its frozen dessert, the Amul ice cream commercial merely states a fact that frozen desserts use vegetable oil.

Tulzapurkar had argued at length and cited half a dozen judgments to show that the Amul commercial disparages frozen dessert by saying it contains Vanaspati tel with an intention to imply that frozen dessert is thus harmful for health. HUL said the Amul ad was misleading and Amul said it would prove that it wasn't. Saraf also said that when Amul says that theirs is a pure product, they are implying that HUL's isn't.

Source: Times of India

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