Detergent Marketers Reach out to Consumers

Is there a way to get consumers excited about what the industry calls a “ low-​interest category”?  Stuart Elliott considers this question in his recent New York Times post about laundry detergent. According to Elliott, Procter & Gamble assumed control of the industry long ago after their brand powerhouses, Tide and Cheer, dominated sales.

But P&G can’t rest easy because competitors keep popping up with new ideas. Seventh Generation has long promoted its environmentally-​friendly formula. Marketers have been introducing smaller packages to hold concentrated products. And Method, a new player, is introducing a pump bottle.

As is often the case, a new product or feature must be marketed in a way to appeal to sufficiently to consumers who have long been accustomed to reaching for the old standby.  According to a P&G study, the average household does 600 loads of laundry a year. The market for laundry products is 76% female.  Eric Ryan at Method  says, “Laundry habits are ingrained early in life and people think of themselves as closed off to change.”

But Ryan hoping to invoke change by employing humor. His “pun-​filled ads comparing laundry habits to drug habits are intended to be ‘provocative enough’ to be noticed.. but not to generate complaints.” The hope is that Method’s marketing will allow the company to grow without prompting Procter & Gamble to introduce a directly competing product packaged in a small pump bottle.

The question is whether humor, as employed by Method will be enough to get people change. By positioning themselves as a small company with a unique product and a unique philosophy – the replacement of large laundry jugs with small pump bottles, they may succeed.  Ben and Jerry’s deftly employed a similar strategy – appealing to consumers with humor, a quality product and emphasis on social/​environmental causes  — nearly two decades ago during its battle to get placed on grocers’ shelves alongside industry goliaths.

Regardless of how the individual players end up in this battle, consumers can expect to see more ads for laundry detergent both in print publications and online in 2010.

[Sources: Elliott, Stuart, A Clean Break with Staid Detergent Ads, New York Times, 2.2.10; Byron, Ellen. The Great American Soap Overdose, Wall Street Journal, 1.25.10]
Kathy Crosett
Kathy is the Vice President of Research for SalesFuel. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Vermont and oversees a staff of researchers, writers and content providers for SalesFuel. Previously, she was co-​owner of several small businesses in the health care services sector.