An American Marketer in Cannes

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Those availing themselves of their daily consultation have probably noticed the recent presence of some highly unusual ads representing the formerly unprovocative category of household cleaners, for products like Tilex and Pine Sol. Unusual in that they are there at all.

The Pine Sol spot, "Coma," opens on a man lying in the titular state in a hospital ward, the scene scored by a textbook tender piano track. A cleaner enters the room plying mop and bucket, and moments later the patient bolts up with a surprising and surprisingly funny "Woo!" The familiar Pine Sol lady then appears to attribute this dramatic result to "the power of Pine Sol, baby."

The first two thirds of the Tilex spot, directed by Douglas Avery, features nothing but rapid cuts of assorted homeowners screaming maniacally. A super appears in the closing moments reminding us that, like it or not, all homes have mold, followed by a slamming product shot. The spots, and others for a handy new Bath Wand and a new Glad Press n' Seal product were all created on behalf of the Clorox Co. by the marketer's longtime agency, DDB/San Francisco. Many of the spots have been entered in the Cannes ad fest, and while they're not likely to displace Honda "Grrr" as Grand Prix favorite, they are evidence the company has been making better creative moves from product through ads. They could also be considered evidence of the new ad world order, wherein even big bad packaged goods makers are acting on the fact that the category's long-held approach to advertising is not the gateway to the future. Last year's Gold Lion winning spot for Vim bathroom cleaner, from Zig Toronto, can be considered the writing on the soap scum-covered wall. And so, to Cannes, where, for the first time, Clorox CMO Derek Gordon, CEO Jerry Johnston and three colleagues will take in a world of creative in a week.

For Oakland, Calif.-based Clorox, a company that makes products ranging from bleach to Kingsford charcoal, the trip is just a stopover on a continuing mission to improve its creative. "From our perspective, Cannes is great opportunity to really get out there and see a range of breakthrough creative work, which can help us better understand how we can stretch ourselves, to be more open," says Gordon. The creative upswing of the last few years coincided with the company's renewed emphasis on consumer insights. "We've really evolved over the past couple of years where our primary questions start with, 'Is this the right thing for the consumer?'" Gordon also says that DDB has stepped up to the task of "stretching" the marketer creatively over the past few years, under creative director Lisa Bennett, and the trip to Cannes will deepen that stretch. "Ultimately, we know that if we want to deliver breakthrough relationships with our consumers we have to continue to step out there, to be able to reach them in a way that's different. We think that seeing the range of work at Cannes will help open our minds about just how far down the spectrum we would be able to go."

And while awards are a relevant form of recognition, according to Gordon, the process of getting good ad creative is about three things: the target, the target and the target. It's something Gordon comes back to again and again in a discussion of the marketer's creative goals. Having spent 10 years at Clorox and a previous long stint at P&G, Gordon speaks the carefully chosen language of the process-driven marketer. But the process seems to be working, in that it is geared to a single-minded goal of knowing, in great detail, who their consumer really is.

To any agency, Gordon's explanation of the marketer's approach to advertising and its agency would sound like something out of Four A's fantasy camp. "The partnership with the agency is the best I've ever seen," says Gordon. "We really do view them essentially as part of the company, as opposed to a supplier or a vendor. I view the partnership with them as strongly and as connected as I view our partnership with our internal sales guys, with our R&D guys." Such a mutually satisfying relationship rests on a shared dedication to consumer insight. "We make sure we are aligned on who the target is and we have a process we go through to try and make that choice."

The agency relationship was also refreshed with the arrival of Bennett at DDB just over a year ago. To the roster of existing strategic veterans, Bennett added a new set of fresh creative eyes-including those who had not been steeped in packaged goods experience.

Advertising is part of the bigger picture in a consumer-insights push that includes a spate of what Clorox's Johnston has called "game changing" products, like the Clorox Bath Wand, the Glad Press n' Seal wrap and the Glad Force Flex garbage bags. Clorox has also looked outside the commercials arena media-wise, with efforts to integrate its products into relevant cultural content. "We've said in our strategy both from the idea of understanding consumer insights and translating that into superior integrated marketing, we have to be able to reach our consumer whenever and wherever our brand message is going to be relevant," says Gordon. "We're calling it 'aperture marketing.' It means we have to ultimately be able to reach beyond traditional TV." Gordon says the company has increased its spending in other vehicles, including PR and brand integration-a recent episode of Lifetime's Strong Medicine revolved around the issue of mold and featured a Tilex-sponsored trailer, and the channel's How Clean is Your House? has featured Clorox products. "That said, I can't imagine a time in the near future," says Gordon, "when traditional TV will not be an important part of our mix. I think we may end up changing how we end up buying it as the industry evolves, but the fact is that it's still an efficient and relatively effective way of reaching our target consumer."

And in a category notoriously loathe to run afoul of the PC few, does Gordon see a risk in doing work that steps out of the old package? The Pine Sol spot, after all, does feature a man in a coma. Surely there are overly sensitive types out there who would object? Says Gordon, "My belief is, you don't take that much risk with a creative spot if you really understand who your target is."

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