Clorox joins bandwagon for ultra-strength brands

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Clorox Co. will become the next household products company to bet that less is more as it replaces its flagship Clorox liquid bleach with 25% more concentrated Clorox Ultra.

Clorox will begin launching Clorox Ultra nationwide in February, a spokeswoman said, but the rollout may not be complete until the end of 2001, as Clorox retools its 11 bleach plants nationwide to make the more concentrated formula.

Clorox rolled Ultra-priced the same as regular Clorox but in smaller bottles-into Texas last year behind more than $1 million in TV support from DDB Worldwide, San Francisco; that effort extended Clorox's ongoing talking bleach bottles campaign. If the same media weight were applied nationally, Clorox would be spending $15 million to $20 million to support Ultra.

Ads in Texas for Clorox Ultra have focused on driving home the point that a smaller amount of bleach packs an equal amount of cleaning power.

"It's important to get that message across," said James Dormer, an analyst with Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. "If you use too much [of a concentrated detergent], you just end up with some extra suds. But if you use too much bleach, you can actually end up damaging clothes."

INCREASINGLY COMMONPLACE

Ultra-concentrates have become increasingly common among detergents and household cleaners since Kao Corp. rolled its Attack laundry detergent into Japan in the early 1990s. Procter & Gamble Co. followed with two rounds of increasingly concentrated powdered detergents in the U.S. and, later, concentrated liquid detergent, with similar success.

"The Ultra bottles really address key consumer [dissatisfactions] with current bleach," a Clorox spokeswoman said. "The bigger bottle really increases your splashing and [affects] your ability to pour it into your bleach dispenser. The smaller container is easier to lug and pour and store."

But the biggest beneficiaries may be manufacturers and retailers, which save on shipping and can fit more bottles on their shelves, Mr. Dormer said.

Nevertheless, ultra rollouts aren't risk-free. P&G last year returned to regular concentrations for its Mr. Clean and Spic 'n Span household cleaners after a disastrous four-year fling with ultras that saw its share of the $630 million all-purpose cleaners category drop from 20.3% to 11.6%, according to Information Resources Inc. figures from Salomon Smith Barney.

Clorox didn't follow P&G's move to ultras, and ounce-per-ounce its Clorox Clean-Up, Formula 409 and Pine Sol brands looked cheaper than P&G's did on the shelves.

"It seems a little disingenuous [that Clorox is moving to ultra bleach] considering what happened in cleaners," said Tom Vierhile, president of new-product tracking service Marketing Intelligence. But he said ultras appear to have worked in most categories.

Clorox isn't taking any chances it might stumble with its namesake brand. The company first test-marketed Clorox Ultra in 1994 in eastern Pennsylvania and western New York, then launched a second test in Texas last year.

Private label is Clorox's only major competition in the $580 million liquid bleach category, and in Texas, Clorox persuaded such major retailers as H.E. Butt and Albertson's to adopt ultra versions of their own private-label bleaches, a move Clorox may be able to duplicate nationally thanks to the slow rollout.

The Ultra launch comes as Clorox's last liquid bleach introduction, Clorox Advantage, launched this spring behind more than $30 million in TV and print support, has disappointed some analysts.

BLEACH SALES CLIMB

After the launch, Clorox's overall chlorine bleach sales climbed only 2.3% and its dollar market share in liquid bleaches was up one percentage point to 59.1% in the third quarter, according to IRI figures from Merrill Lynch & Co.

Clorox Advantage is a thicker version of the liquid bleach, priced 40% higher per ounce than regular Clorox and designed to prevent splashing that can damage non-colorsafe clothes.

"Advantage actually has exceeded expectations in some markets, but there are others that are below expectations," the Clorox spokeswoman said, adding that the company is adjusting trade promotion in some markets.

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