Febreze Case Study

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Marketing is synonymous with leading the business:

  • Marketers exist to create customers (American Marketing Association).
  • Businesses exist to create customers (Peter Drucker).
  • Therefore the role of a marketer is to establish, lead, and manage businesses so that customers can be won and kept.

Marketing is more important than innovation. Drucker was bold but misguided when he made them equal: "Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs." (quoted in Forbes)

Febreze is a great example.



Image source: SavingWithVetta.com

Writing in The New York Times, Charles Duhigg, author of the forthcoming The Power of Habit, explains that Proctor & Gamble's innovative odor-killer wouldn't move off the shelves, because the marketers had it wrong.

"A week passed. Then two. A month. Two months. Sales started small and got smaller. Febreze was a dud."

The marketers had assumed that people would welcome a product designed to neutralize bad smells. What they didn't realize was that even "neat freaks" didn't care when those bad odors were their very own.

Duhigg recalls a visit by the "panicked marketing team" to the home of a consumer who had agreed to participate in P&G's marketing research:

"The house was clean and organized....But when P.& G.'s scientists walked into her living room,where her nine cats spent most of their time, the scent was so overpowering that one of them gagged....a researcher asked the woman, "What do you do about the cat smell?" "It's usually not a problem," she said. "Do you smell it now?" "No," she said. "Isn't it wonderful? They hardly smell at all!"

The "breakthrough" moment came through when the marketing team found a woman who was a regular Febreze customer. She loved the product and it had nothing to do with eradicating odor:

"I don't really use it for specific smells,"the woman said. "I use it for normal cleaning - a couple of sprays when I'm done in a room."

What turned Febreze from an innovative failure to a market-smashing success, in fact, had little or nothing to do with innovation. What it had to do with, primarily, was one simple marketing insight: People are willing to pay to reward themselves for doing unpleasant chores.

In the end the marketing was what moved the merchandise. According to the article, within two months of the "Febreze revamp" based on this insight, the results were astounding:

  • Sales doubled.
  • $230 million in sales one year later
  • $1 billion in sales of "dozens" of spinoffs including air fresheners, candles, and laundry detergents
  • "Today it's one of the top-selling products inthe world."

When you really stop and think about the impact of marketing, it's sort of amazing that we sit anywhere below the very top of the corporate food chain - no?

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!
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This is an expanded version of an answer I originally posted this to Quora in response to the question, "What's The Role of Marketing?"




After P&G had spent several years and millions of dollars developing Febreze, it sold poorly. An analysis of this failure led to a radical revision of its marketing that relied on an understanding of how people connected the use of a product to their daily routines and habits. The company found that it had to sell different aspects of the product than those it was designed to have.

In the mid-1990s, when the company rolled out the product across the U.S. after having test marketed it for the previous several years, P&G depended heavily on television commercials to introduce the public to its revolutionary new product that could eliminate unwanted odors. They showed people spraying clothing and furniture with Febreze to remove smells left by cigarette smoke and pets.

The company and its marketing team expected it to be an unqualified success. Instead, as Charles Duhigg wrote years later, “sales started small and got smaller. Febreze was a dud.” The marketers began earnestly researching the product to find out why it wasn’t selling. They interviewed customers and visited their homes. On one visit to a woman’s living room where her nine cats spent most of their time, the researchers recoiled from the odor. The woman, by contrast, had grown used to it from living with the animals and did not notice the smell at all. They found similar results in other houses with strong scents. The people who most needed Febreze did not realize it, they realized.

With that in mind, they watched videos of people cleaning various rooms in their houses, to see if they could figure out where and how to suggest people use Febreze. These results were inconclusive, so they again went into the field to interview people at their homes. They found one woman who used it regularly, and she let them follow her around as she cleaned. Her house had no serious odor problems, but she sprayed things down afterwards anyway, saying it felt “like a little minicelebration when I’m done with a room.”

“The marketers” Duhigg wrote, “needed to position Febreze as something that came at the end of the cleaning ritual, the reward, rather than as a whole new cleaning routine.” The company increased the perfume content, giving it a distinct smell, and redid the ad campaign in summer of 1998. Commercials for the product showed it being used the way the woman had, and print ads showed breezes blowing through open windows with curtains. “Febreze, the ads implied, was a pleasant treat, not a reminder that your home stinks.”

Sales doubled within two months and reached $230 million a year later.

From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Febreze

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