In recent ads for Clorox's Tilex, a series of oddball characters shout "No!" at the top of their lungs as they vehemently deny there's mold in their homes. Clorox's Liquid Plummr shows a romantic dinner at a French cafe ruined as what looks like a furry turd plops on the table. (It's a hair clog disgorged a little too forcefully from a drain.) In another ad, a whiff of PineSol from a janitor's bucket snaps a hospital patient out of a coma.
Such efforts have brought Clorox its first Lion in recent memory (a bronze last year in film for a surrealistic ad showing Glad Press 'n Seal preventing a splash from a kid's dive into a swimming pool) and rapidly rising effectiveness scores as measured by marketing-mix models.
Along the way, Clorox is defying conventional wisdom in the advertising and package-goods industries about how to overhaul stodgy creative approaches. While heavyweights Unilever and more recently Procter & Gamble Co. have turned to smaller "challenger" agencies such as Publicis Groupe-backed Bartle Bogle Hegarty and independent Wieden & Kennedy, Clorox is drawing literally closer to Omnicom Group legacy brand DDB Worldwide in San Francisco.
DDB, the 100-employee shop that gets the majority of its business from Clorox, moved to a new San Francisco location next to a Bay Area-regional transit station last year just to make the commute easier to Clorox headquarters in downtown Oakland. The marketer last year consolidated all of its consumer promotion with DDB, too.
While creatives often rail at working with highly analytical package-goods executives and pine for Nike-esque freedom from copy tests, number- crunching actually seems to have emboldened executives at Clorox.
"As much as I love [DDB's creative] work, reacting to it as a business person, I love that our advertising effectiveness in 2004 went up 30% and in 2005 went up 37% as measured by MMA [Aegis Group's marketing-mix analytics firm]," said Tarang Amin, VP-marketing for Clorox's laundry and home division.
Even better: Clorox has had strong sales and share gains across all brands where new creative campaigns have had time to take hold. Its already-dominant share in bleach rose 1.8 points to 71.2% last year, according to Information Resources Inc. Tilex's share in bathroom cleaners was up four points last year to 33%, the second consecutive year of more than 8% growth for the brand. Glad saw its shares in trash bags and plastic wraps rise 2.3 and 10.3 points respectively last year and by more than 10 points and 20 points respectively over the past two years.
Like several top Clorox executives, including Chairman-CEO Jerry Johnston, Mr. Amin is a P&G alum, having worked on the ground floor of the effort to transform Pantene from a department-store brand to a billion-dollar global mass juggernaut in the 1990s.
Clorox was briefly a division of P&G in the 1960s before the link was severed in an antitrust settlement. But the umbilical cord still seems to stretch to the West Coast at times. Last year, Mr. Johnston and Mr. Amin led a Clorox delegation to Cannes two years after P&G Global Marketing Officer Jim Stengel and a year after P&G Chairman-CEO A.G. Lafley did the same.
Yet, the P&Gers in Oakland seem to have warmed to the new emphasis on creativity faster than the ones in Cincinnati at times. For work in the U.S., Clorox took a film Lion last year from Cannes while P&G was shut out.
One difference may be Clorox's willingness to let personal judgment trump copy-test scores at times. "One of the most refreshing things from an agency perspective is that Clorox doesn't rely solely on [copy] testing," said Lisa Bennett, DDB managing partner-chief creative officer. "They believe in a combination of tools, including their own judgment. And they have good judgment."
Tools like marketing-mix models, which analyze real-world sales impact from ads, do play a role in evaluating creative, Mr. Amin said, but mainly because "it gives us greater confidence that we didn't have before."
Clorox still does probably more consumer research than in the past, Ms. Bennett said. But it's focused on unearthing what she calls "emotional benefits," rather than functional ones.
One result has been a "health and wellness" campaign across all products in the billion-dollar Clorox franchise, focusing on keeping kids safe from germs and featuring ads like a recent one with a dad using Clorox wipes to sop up a mess at the table while dancing with his daughter. For Mr. Amin, copy testing is no longer "a gate" but an advisory tool, he said.
Benno Dorer, VP-general manager of Clorox's Glad business and another P&G alum, still requires DDB to hit copy-testing benchmarks. But once they have, he lets the team provide other alternatives. "It's been very popular," he said.