BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Marcal was perhaps the greenest brand nobody had heard of for its first 50-plus years of life. Then the New Jersey-based maker of value-priced tissue products went bankrupt and was purchased by Highland Capital Management in 2008. MJ Jolda, a veteran of Philip Morris, Reckitt Benckiser and Pinnacle Foods, joined the company from Nestle's Gerber in 2009, part of the team brought in to turn around the brand and the business.
And the senior VP-marketing, who reports to CEO Shawn Lederman, found some buried treasure in the 100% recycled fiber Marcal uses to make its products. "The company had gone bankrupt and was now privately held," she said. "We were looking [at], where do we take the brand? I knew they had some green background and heritage, but unless you knew the brand and had looked at the packaging, you couldn't really discern that."
With sales of less than $500 million, Marcal is dwarfed by such multibillion-dollar behemoths as Procter & Gamble Co., Kimberly-Clark Corp. and Koch Industries' Georgia-Pacific Corp. But it's the heavyweight in the 100% recycled toilet paper and paper-towel segment, where the competition comes from Seventh Generation, private-label products from Trader Joe's and Walmart, and other regional players.
Ms. Jolda discovered that most consumers would like to buy greener tissue, but they don't want to pay more for it, and they often had little idea that Marcal was 100% recycled. So, 100 days into her job, she had a plan in place to relaunch the brand as Marcal Small Steps, still value-priced but with new yellow-and-green packaging, along with $30 million in annual TV, print, coupon and other marketing support, the likes of which the company had never seen before. "There wasn't as much of a focus on marketing and branding at the company prior to our coming in," she said. "There was very little marketing spending. There was not really a unified approach in how they went to market," the result, she said, of prior management being focused on turning out volume for value.
Marcal now works with a host of agencies including DIY Partners, New York; Consumer Dynamics, New York, which works on marketing strategy; Topspin Group, Princeton, N.J., for consumer promotion; Zunda Group, Norwalk, Conn.; Schupp Co., St. Louis, for media; 360 Public Relations, Boston, for PR; and eCity Interactive, Philadelphia, for digital.
A year after its Earth Day 2009 relaunch, Marcal sales were up 15% and retail distribution climbed from around 40% to around 50% of the market, Ms. Jolda said.
In an interview with Ad Age, Ms. Jolda explained why "light"-green consumers -- those who consider the environmental impact important, but give as much or more weight to other factors such as price and performance -- and an appeal to value, along with environmental concern, are making a difference for Marcal.
Ad Age: What steps did you take to reposition the brand?
Ms. Jolda: We did a lot of research, but we had to do it very quickly. Within my first 100 days here we aggressively talked with consumers, announced a plan to relaunch and then took the plan to the national sales meeting. First was understanding the consumer insights on the business. From there we had some very specific insight, which was that consumers in general want to do good and help the environment but they simply don't know how. The brand's heritage was green and had been since the 1950s. It's probably one of the oldest green brands out there. We've since taken the Marcal Small Steps brand and relaunched the entire portfolio. Instead of a value positioning, it's now "green without compromise." We're not premium. We're giving you good value at a good price, which really derived from some of the consumer insights we gleaned.
Consumers told us everyone should be doing the right thing. They were pushing back and saying that all brands should be green. If green is so good, brands that are doing harm to the environment should be costing us more and green brands less.
Every consumer should, for the health of the environment, be driving a Prius. But it's too expensive. They can't afford it.
Ad Age: You didn't go after the "dark-green" consumers. Why?
1. Develop your first 100-day plan and stick to it.
2. Understand your competition and consumer; develop insights that give you a competitive advantage.
3. Align with your CEO and senior leadership team on vision and strategy for driving the business. Dismantle silos that keep you apart.
4. Continually test different tactics to reach your target consumer to see what moves the needle.
5. Think about how your brand affects the environment from cradle to grave.
Ad Age: How did you implement the strategy?
Ms. Jolda: We introduced it to the market on Earth Day 2009. We've highlighted the performance aspect with the new packaging. We've introduced a full marketing plan behind the brand. We have advertising, media, public-relations support. We had a marketing plan. We had retailer tie-ins. And we're just now getting into social media, which is something we think we can leverage going forward.
Ad Age: How?
Ms. Jolda: We're just getting our toes in the water. We're tweeting. We're out on Facebook. We don't really have a lot of results yet to talk strongly about. I do feel that's something we can get a lot of these passionate consumers to begin to talk to us [about].
There are a lot of people who feel passionately about cutting down trees. Greenpeace and Kimberly-Clark finally have called a truce, but they're after the consumer brands to change their ways.
Ad Age: It's an awfully tough business to be in as a small player, isn't it?
Ms. Jolda: It is. One of the messages we've been trying to get through in the media is that 98% of the industry makes its paper by cutting down trees and are really only still made from recycled paper. For most people, what bath tissue is made of is clearly not top of mind. So we're trying to raise awareness that you are cutting down trees each and every time you choose to use one of our competitors.
This year, we put an "environmental facts" panel on the packaging to call out that we're 100% recycled. Some of our competitors have come out with 40% recycled product. And 100% is always better than 40%. We call out that we don't use any trees. We don't use any chlorine bleach or dyes.
Ad Age: How will the FTC's updated Green Guide definitions affect Marcal and green marketing generally?
Ms. Jolda: I'm hoping the net effects will be standardization and transparency. They are intertwined and vital if there is to be a healthy next phase of environmental consumerism, and why we recently took the step of placing an environmental facts panel on every pack.
Ad Age: How do you measure ROI?
Ms. Jolda: With everything in marketing, you always have to go in and defend what you spend. So, yes, we look at our syndicated data where we have it. Because we're also in home improvement and office, where we don't have data, we have to use industry reports or factory data that our suppliers give us.
We use attitudinal research in some cases because that's how we can best measure it. But we have to measure it, because at the end of the day we need to defend the money I'm asking for and we also want to be efficient in how we spend.
Ad Age: Ultimately do you think the bigger brands will take notice and get into this segment?
Ms. Jolda: I'm not sure all the brands are interested longer term in jumping into the fray. Obviously, we're not going to be naïve and say they couldn't.
Ad Age: What keeps you up at night?
Ms. Jolda: Honestly, I think about the environment, and it sickens me what we're doing in the Gulf. But for me it's that we as a society are still cutting down trees for something we don't need to.