Marketing Case Studies: Tide – Bridging the Empathy Gap and Selling the Top Brass (Part 2)
By Patrick Barwise and Seán Meehan, Authors, “Beyond the Familiar: Long-Term Growth through Customer Focus and Innovation”
Editor’s note: A challenge for many businesses is that executives and most consumers lead such different lives. The resulting ‘empathy gap’ makes it hard for companies to ensure that their products, services and communications stay relevant to consumers. Formal market research can help, but the best companies complement it with direct face-to-face contact between executives and consumers. Patrick Barwise and Seán Meehan show how Tide used this approach to develop new, more empathetic, US advertising – and to sell the campaign to the top brass at P&G.
Despite a series of successful product innovations, in 2005 US household penetration of Tide was in decline, reflecting long-term societal trends. Women still did the laundry in most homes but Tide’s functional superiority was steadily becoming less emotionally relevant. Increasingly, women felt that Tide was arrogant and out of touch – reinforced by its boisterous ‘Family Tide’ advertising campaign, which relentlessly drove home its functional performance. Tide needed to reconnect with consumers by understanding their lives beyond the laundry room.
To generate richer insights, a joint team from Tide and its ad agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, recruited 25 women: working and non-working, single and married, with and without children and at varying ages and income levels. Their only common feature was that they all did their own laundry. The team spent three weeks immersed in these women’s lives, in their homes or out with their friends, in coffee shops, manicurists, clothes stores or over dinner.
Despite the women’s diversity, they had many commonalities:
- Pressed by full calendars and little time for me: “When do I have free time? I barely have time to do my laundry. But when I do, I like to go out with my friends to eat, drink and socialize.”
- Enduring challenge with determination: “What am I most proud of? Being a mom. I’m a great mom. I had to work because my now ex-husband wouldn’t do his part.”
- Feeling the need for appreciation: “It’s nice to be reminded that you are attractive.”
- Having an appreciation of the meaning of garments: “My mom had a stroke last May. I would give her my blanket. I would wash it, make sure it was clean… perfect. I just wanted something of mine that would be close to her while I was gone. It’s a blanket I use when I snuggle up to read a book.”
- Feeling the burden on women from having to do the laundry: “I hate coming home from work, while there are dirty dishes piled up in the sink, laundry to be done.”
Tide needed radically different advertising to communicate an understanding of real women’s lives and what mattered to them.
Developing and selling the new campaign
The team developed the ‘Tide knows fabrics best’ campaign to reconnect with 21st century American women. One commercial showed a working woman’s hectic days as a mother, professional and homemaker; she was first shown in a professional setting wearing white trousers and then playing with her daughter in a park in the same outfit. Another showed a woman feeding her baby and then being sensuously cuddled by her husband. All the ads referred to Tide’s superior functional performance but the emphasis was on real women’s lives.
The next problem was selling the campaign to the P&G top brass, who had all worked on Tide and would need some persuasion to accept this risky proposal. The team again used the immersive research to achieve buy-in. Eschewing Powerpoint, it hired three actresses to perform for top management a series of monologues using only verbatim quotes from the research such as:
- “The most important thing in my life right now is raising my children. Who they become will affect our whole family — forever. I long to hear my children say that they feel good about themselves.”
- “I am single and live with my epileptic dog. The last time I cried was about a month ago when she had 13 seizures in one night. The vet suggested I have her put to sleep. But I won’t.”
At the end of the performance, P&G’s top management simply said, “Just do it.” The depth of consumer understanding revealed in the script left no reasonable room for doubt.
The campaign strengthened core users’ relationship with the brand while also striking a chord with less-committed users. It reversed the long-term decline in Tide’s household penetration, which increased from 33.6 per cent in 2005 to 37.0 per cent in 2007, while market share increased to an even more commanding 44.5 per cent by value.
Even in companies without P&G’s resources, managers can use direct consumer contact to bridge the empathy gap with consumers – and can also use the resulting insights, alongside more formal research, to achieve buy-in.
This even works in a business-to-business context: if a successful partner in a professional service firm sees a video of a top client saying that his technical knowledge is great but he doesn’t listen, he’ll find it hard to deny the problem.