I’m Dreaming of an Ivory Christmas…

…just like the ones I used to know. Well, it’s hard not to be cynical when so many illusions of purity in life are revealed for their fantasy. The first big crisis of belief for many of us as we grow up is, of course, Santa Claus. Then usually following quickly after are the Easter Bunny, then the Tooth Fairy, then Reaganomics….

But not Ivory Soap! Say it isn’t so! It was first sold as White Soap in 1879, then branded Ivory Soap in 1883. Ivory was not Procter & Gamble’s very first product, but it was the company’s first true brand. The rise of this institutional brand and its fall from grace closely follow the turbulent trajectory of Western Civilization over the same time. The purity of the Ivory brand has been on a steady decline since it first boasted of being “99-44/100% Pure!”

Of course, I’m joking. Nevertheless, Ivory’s brand history does follow the trajectory of national brand strategy over the last 100 years. The purity of its brand promise has declined as the market has compelled its brand owners to compromise its values. The last two years especially have seen an ill-advised attempt to reinvent the brand as ironically hip—both retro and modern in its simplicity. Yet in this decline I will still try to find hope, as it is Christmastime, and it’s important to be hopeful (I guess).

Christmas Snow
But let’s get the Christmas and Ivory associations out of the way. First, there’s this charming 1912 Christmas Ad:

Next, there’s Ivory Snow. This soap-flake version of Ivory was popular in the first half of the 20th Century for washing dishes and clothes. In fact, Ivory flakes and bars were advertised as the one soap for all cleaning occasions.

So it’s not a big stretch to use Ivory Snow as, well, snow. Ivory enthusiasts sprinkled Ivory Snow on their Christmas trees and other decorations to simulate indoor snow. It also had the added benefit of being easy to clean up—it even aided in the clean up.

More recently, people with too much time on their hands have been using Ivory to produce “flocking” for their trees and decorations. This is a simulation of wet snow that starts out wet and dries for a clumpier, wet snow effect. A good recipe is here.

Ivory Snow flakey laundry detergent is still sold today, but there’s even a more fun way to make snow from Ivory—and it involves a microwave! Make sure you have a big enough plate, or use only a quarter of a bar. Microwave the Ivory bar, or segments, for 60 to 90 seconds. What you’ll get is an airy, foamy, dry concoction that is about 20 times the size of the dry bar you started with. Crumble that up and sprinkle it like snow on all your Christmas decorations.

Back to the story…
The spark for this lengthy diatribe occurred only a few weeks ago when I grabbed a fresh bar of soap out of the plastic-wrapped grocery ten-pack. After unwrapping the paper wrap, I noticed the soft-edged rectangle felt different in my hand. It looked to be the same length, but it was narrower. The brand experience, over 100 years old, was immediately tainted forever in my mind and soul. In this season of giving, P&G took away .5 ounces from the original 4.5 ounces.

Brands keep disappointing me. I don’t believe in the purity of Santa Claus anymore, especially because the big guy became who is today by shilling for Coca-Cola.

Ever hopeful as I am, though, I know brands can be used for good as easily as they can be used for evil. (Okay, I’ll grant you, it takes a little more effort.) Sad to say, Ivory has been a victim of its own iconic success. It’s not easy to reinvent yourself when you’re already the purest of the pure. But when it slipped to number three behind Dove and Dial, I guess something had to be done.

So, a rebranding campaign last year and a bold ad campaign this year hoped to revitalize the tired brand.

I originally thought the new branding was influenced by the trend toward generic packaging and another national brand stooping to private label’s level, however fast that level is rising. But thanks to a rare “Beauty Bundle” Ivory ad from the 1950s and the astute brand observers at UnderConsideration.com, it appears that the new logo is as much an homage to a 1950s design as it is a new direction.

Does Purity Equal Floating?
When my brother told me there was no Santa Claus, I started questioning everything. As a young boy, when Ivory told me it was so pure that it floated, I wondered: Does “floating” really prove “purity”? And does purity of product mean a cleaner clean?

Ivory’s first slogan in the 1890s—“It Floats!”—was not necessarily boastful. It was just a point of differentiation. Often the two claims of floating and purity were separate, and the floating claim would precede the purity claim.

But, over time, the claims were joined together, and the floating-equals-purity connection was made permanently, suggesting causality. Of course, it’s small air bubbles in the soap that make it float. Today’s slogan is: “Keep it pure, clean & simple.”

Ivory’s progression over the last century reflects the history of many brands and the progression of advertising strategies of each era. From mass marketing, brand promises, points of differentiation, appeals to simplicity, brand extensions, modernizations, returns to heritage, etc. etc. etc., through cycles of economic prosperity and decline.

Of course, cleanliness is next to godliness, as well, but the 20th century advertising industry’s ungodly, misguided obsession for the cleanest hands, whitest socks, and the greenest lawns is a topic for another time. But finally, I just wish the soap photo on the plastic wrap for the new diminished bars would represent the new shape, at least to be more honest about the change. And maybe P&G will realize the error of its ways and return to the fuller shape, so on future Christmases, I won’t have just be dreaming of past Ivory Christmases, “…just like the ones I used to know.”

Hope among the ruins
Like I said at the beginning, since it is Christmastime, I am duty-bound to find hope among the ruins. My suggestion then, is to just buy Dove, which has been, after all, a symbol of peace and hope for centuries, and, as a brand, offers hope to many young women with an ambitious Self-Esteem improvement campaign.

Wishing All…
Peace and Hope
During the Holidays!

Ron

BONUS LINKS:

A brief history of P&G.

Consumer Reports – Other Packaging “Gotchas”

1920s Ivory Ad – “The Best Taste Is the Simplest Taste”

Ken Burns Explains Transcendent Stories

Ken Burns knows how to tell a story. The award-winning filmmaker of the epic Civil  War and Baseball series on PBS tell broad, sweeping stories about history with a mix of facts, perspective, anecdote and testimony.

Burns is hyperaware of his craft. And he’s also hyperaware of his signature style and the strengths and weaknesses of the format. And he freely admits that storytelling is a craft of manipulation, which undeniable of any story.

Every story—fiction, film, novel, editorial, news—is manipulation just for the simple fact that someone has to decide what to include and what to exclude. Beyond that, there’s the level of detail, the order of information, and the emotional elements that make a story come alive. A number of little white lies, cleverly ordered, can add up to a great story.

Burns has a new documentary, The Dust Bowl, debuting on PBS in November. (Here’s a quick USA Today preview and a trailer.) In a fascinating documentary about the documentarian on The Atlantic website, Burns discusses his craft. In this short film, Burns emphasizes a number of story elements that create lasting emotional resonance with audiences.

For one, Mr. Burns reminds us that there are many different kinds of truth. There are factual truths, emotional truths, truths about history, and truths about human nature.

He also cleverly postulates that 1 + 1 = 3. That two pieces of information put together add up to a larger context of truth, whether emotional or merely cognitive. It’s not a tired cliché because it’s universal: “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

Today’s brands have a nearly boundless opportunity to tell more compelling, authentic stories, and reveal deep truths about the things that matter most to consumers. But these truths are bound by certain fundamentals that make them resonate. For instance, Burns’ urges: “Do it sincerely.”

Sincerity may be more valued today than ever. Consumers don’t trust brands, packages, or advertising any more than they are tricked into trusting them. One way to convey sincerity is to include detail that does not convey the whitewashed singularity of purpose that many brands hide behind. Burns says that he tries to reveal flaws in the “good guys” and find ways to make “bad guys” compelling to viewers.

In the end, truth can lose its power when used explicitly as marketing. It is more powerful when it forms in consumers minds as a result of the authentic stories you tell, sincerely.

The New 3 Rs?: Reuse, Restore, Replenish

It’s high-time I embraced the blog format and its truncated editorial format. You have to forgive me and my editorial background, but it’s almost painful for me to write any article less than 600 words. It just feels like a partial treatment. But I’ll learn to adapt.

It’s been a year since the Replenish package was introduced to the public. Whether it is on the verge of widespread acceptance is not clear, but the effort was a bold and courageous one nonetheless.

First, the brand name is substantial and loaded with connotations. It means—almost literally—“refill.” The name also suggests the next (or current?) wave of sustainability consciousness, Restore. Replenish means to make complete again, or Restore to its original condition.

Second, the integration of the refill portion and the bottle itself is ingenious. The process in using the bottle may not be completely intuitive, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort. The man behind the bottle explains in a CORE77 article how he tapped into the latest materials, technology and design thinking to create his concept.

The understated logo lets the product and the bottle be the star and the brand messages are concise. A nice water-level line in the logo’s middle “e” seems to convey wide meaning with minimal disruption. The marketing is a bit cheeky to grab interest, but it never betrays any of the green propositions.

The website, spare with only a few pages, even features a “Reuser Pledge.” This pledge includes a nice mix of sustainability messages pleasantly presented:

“I pledge, to the best of my ability, to squeeze every drop out of every last drop. To challenge the notion that nothing lasts forever. To take matters into my own hands and Mix Local. To think what I do through to the end. And to enjoy a clean home and tidy conscience. I pledge to be a Reuser.”

Clever turns of phrase here include Mix Local (echoing Buy Local) and a switcheroo of common clichés, in “A clean home and a tidy conscience.” The messages are all there, though it will be interesting to see how soon these ideas can become mainstream. New packaging innovations often need substantial educational campaigns to assuage the public’s reluctance to try something new.

Sustainable Brands ’12: Inspiration Grounded in the Real World

The first week of June in San Diego was an exceptional congregation of thought leaders sharing their insights and successful case studies of sustainability and corporate social responsibility that have been widely successful.

The conference drew about 1,400 attendees eager to learn more about how to implement sustainable production and marketing strategies. The tagline was on target and timely, “The Revolution Will Be Branded,” as President Clinton echoed the same sentiment recently.

Videos of the main stage plenary speakers at SB 12 are here.

My part in the proceedings was bringing together four packaging sustainability experts:

Jon Dettling, managing director US, Quantis
Michael Dupee, VP of corporate social responsibility, Green Mountain Coffee
Arnold Barlow, senior manager, sustainable solutions, UPS
David Lear, executive director of Corporate Responsibility at Dell Computers

Each relayed how their companies strive to create efficient shipping practices by finding the sweet spot between product protection and reduced, or more sustainable, materials. I added a few comments to the proceedings, shared here:

Sustainability is not a new movement in the packaging world. In 2005, when architect and sustainability visionary Will McDonough spoke at the first Sustainable Packaging Forum in 2005, in Philadelphia, he challenged the packaging industry to rethink everything. At the time, I was Editor-in-Chief of Package Design Magazine, and it was certainly a significant event. At the same event in 2005, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition launched the first draft of its ambitious sustainable packaging definition. It was 10 pages long then, which gives you some indication of how the seemingly simple concept of packaging can turn complex very quickly.
Secondly, With the scale of packaging for fast moving consumer goods, small, incremental changes can make large contributions to sustainability goals. That’s why many consumer goods companies first looked to more sustainable materials as an easy way to move the needle. But, as our panelists will discuss, now the industry understands that more often the conversation should be about supply chain efficiencies.
And thirdly, Working so much inside the branding industry for the past 10 years, I always have to remind myself that most of the public thinks of a product and its package as separate things. However, For many consumer goods that you find in grocery stores and drug stores, this is simply not true. In consumers’ subconscious, the package is the brand and is the product. This has actually been proven in several different ways, though we don’t have time to go into that here.
But because the package is the brand, any change, however small, comes with risk.
Beyond all that, I know packaging is powerful media that can change attitudes, create expectations, and expand use occasions. It can be marketing both with words and marketing without words, and it can change behavior not just by verbally convincing users to change behavior, but by the design itself, often intuitively.
Burt’s Bees is a great brand model to learn from. The “The Greater Good” is a trademarked brand promise, and the company created a flow diagram is to show the most green consumer how the company views the interconnectedness of the well-being of all their constituents, as they call them. Which is, well, everyone.
And they use sustainable packaging as a marketing benefit. Even though sustainability symbols have become alphabet soup to a degree, certification and symbols still convey believability and credibility. They certainly push the limits of consumers’ ability – or you might say desireto process all of the information.
Sustainable packaging mission statements are always complicated. What’s important to note here is Burt’s Bees stresses “Systems” twice – finding the best systems and searching for new systems. As we all know now, it’s not just about recycled materials and recyclability.

Sustainable Brands Conference 2012

The Intersection of Branding and Marketing: Guest Blogging at Talent Zoo

Fewer Posts here have been due to increased posts at TalentZoo.com, where I took a Lead Blogger role temporarily. My catalogue is here.

One blog I particularly enjoyed writing was the debunking of a Harvard Business Review article debunking marketing myths. The blog is titled: “HBR Article: 77% of Consumers Don’t Want Brand Relationships?!”

The HBR article, “Three Myths about What Customers Want,” researchers at the Corporate Executive Board company try to debunk three marketing myths. Myth #1 in the article is “Most consumers want to have relationships with your brand,” which is certainly up for debate.

The biggest issue that may have skewed the research results is the fact that they asked such an obvious question in the first place. A series of related questions that probed habits, values, and desires might have been much more revealing. Consumers are not good judges of their own motivations. The 77% may “say” they don’t have relationships with brands. But what they actually do in real life would probably reveal a different story.

That complete blog post, with more detailed analysis, is here.

I will continue to define the new age of branding and marketing both on this platform and at TalentZoo.com.

 

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