Promotional Effort Subtly Pushes Soap Products

By Published on .

Most Popular
CINCINNATI -- Japan has no Martha Stewart -- and precious few automatic dishwashers and front-loading high-efficiency washing machines. Procter & Gamble Co. is betting that by filling the former void, it can address the latter.
Katie Brown is being promoted as the first Martha Stewart of Japan.

In a cleverly oblique entertainment marketing gambit, P&G is importing Katie Brown, one of America's second-tier domestic divas, as the first Martha Stewart of Japan. Ms. Brown has begun painting a glowing picture of an American lifestyle that just happens to include automatic dishwashers and front-loading washers. P&G hopes that translates into a bigger market for its automatic dishwashing detergent and laundry detergent.

Soap sales

"The strategy behind this the was basically to increase sales of [Joy], which is an auto dishwash detergent and Ariel Gel Wash, which is a laundry detergent," said Shigeyuki Matsui, external relations manager for P&G in Japan, who is heading up the program created by Omnicom Group's Fleishman-Hillard, Tokyo. "To do that we needed to increase the penetration of automatic dishwashers and front-loading washing machines."

Household penetration of automatic dishwasher is only about 10% to 15% in Japan, less than a quarter the rate in the U.S., Mr. Matsui said. Penetration of front-loading washers is in the single digits in Japan, less than half of the U.S. rate.

Enter Katie Brown, author of Katie Brown Entertains and Katie Brown Decorates and hostess of lifestyle shows on the Arts & Entertainment and Lifetime Real Women networks in the U.S.

'Martha Stewart for the meatloaf set'

"Japan does not really have a domestic diva or lifestyle guru," Mr. Matsui said. In trying to create one, P&G and Fleishman-Hillard executives put together lists. Ms. Brown, alternately billed in the U.S. as "Martha Stewart for the meatloaf set" and the "hip Martha Stewart," was the only one to appear on both.

So P&G last fall began backing Ms. Brown's expansion into Japan, sponsoring a 75-minute November TV special and backing events and publicity for her first Japanese book, an amalgam of her two U.S. titles titled Decorating and Entertaining with Katie Brown, published by Random House. As she touts her book, Ms. Brown is also slipping in kind words for certain appliances.

"I did interviews with various media where I talked not so much about Procter & Gamble, because they didn't want it to be too heavy handed, but I talked about the convenience and ease that comes when you use these types of appliances," Ms. Brown said in an interview. "In Japan, it's viewed as kind of cheating, that you're not being a good housewife if you don't wash dishes by hand." She compared it to the 1970s in the U.S., when the microwave was introduced but looked down upon by some people who "felt like it wasn't really cooking."

Impact of TV special

It's too early to tell how much impact Ms. Brown is having on the Japanese appliance market, Mr. Matsui said. But P&G is pleased with her media impact. Her TV special and publicity tour have so far generated the equivalent of $3 million in advertising.

The company is in advanced talks to sign her to a long-term deal in Japan. Ms. Brown will visit P&G's Cincinnati headquarters later this year to learn more about the company and, she hopes, possibly work toward extending her relationship to the U.S. In the works are a second book in Japan and a third in the U.S. for fall 2005.

At 40, Ms. Brown is the youngest of the domestic divas once touted as leading contenders to occupy the throne left vacant by Ms. Stewart when she was convicted and began serving time in a federal prison West Virginia. Ms. Brown now believes Ms. Stewart will be back strong as ever, and doesn't see that as bad news.

"I did not think it was a good thing for our industry that she was going away, because I think it gave people trepidations about linking themselves with a personality," Ms. Brown said. "I tend to think she's a huge survivor and a really strong woman. She's one of my heroes, and I think she's going to find a way to stage an incredible comeback."
In this article: