Suave Washes Away Value Play

Unilever's $800 Million Brand Joins those Ditching More-for-Less Approach

By Published on .

CINCINNATI (AdAge.com) -- Good value isn't what it used to be. Unilever's $800 million Suave shampoo brand is rethinking its more-for-the-money selling proposition after 69 years of depending on that tack, and in doing so is joining the ranks of marketers such as Wal-Mart, Kia and Hyundai who have realized that their once-surefire value-focused marketing hooks just aren't cutting it anymore.
New Unilever ads put more emphasis on the idea that Suave is a beauty brand and de-emphasize the price- and performance-comparison claims of recent years.
New Unilever ads put more emphasis on the idea that Suave is a beauty brand and de-emphasize the price- and performance-comparison claims of recent years.

"Seven or eight years ago, when value was really hot in a lot of categories, I think a lot of the premium brands were guilty of lack of innovation and lack of strong messaging," said Ralph Blessing, a consultant with Arbor Strategy Group and a former Suave brand manager. Today, however, players across categories are putting a new spin on value brands such as Target, Costco, Kohl's and Southwest Airlines with marketing and merchandising that's "hip and has a strong point of view," he said.

That's forcing Unilever to move beyond its long-standing "Suave does what theirs does for a lot less" tagline, created in the 1970s by Bayer Bess Vanderwalker, Chicago, when the brand was still owned by Helene Curtis.

While not departing completely from the value positioning embodied by that line, new ads put more emphasis on the idea that Suave is a beauty brand and de-emphasize the price- and performance-comparison claims of recent years. In a $30 million print, online, TV, poster and pizza-box campaign breaking today from WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, Chicago, Suave goes after guilt-racked moms who want to look good without sacrificing their kids' college funds.

The Suave brand appears to be losing share lately to pricier brands in categories, such as hair-care and body lotion, that have been the focus of considerable new-product and marketing activity. Although Suave sales rose 3% last quarter in all channels, according to Unilever, that's well below the double-digit growth the brand was recording earlier in the decade-despite the retreat of rival Procter & Gamble Co. from the value hair-care segment last year.

"The value category in hair-care is under pressure domestically and around the world," Alberto-Culver Co. CEO Howard Bernick said in a conference call last month, citing struggles for the company's value brands in the U.S., U.K., Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. Fortunately, he said, the company is getting a lift from its premium Tresemme and super-premium Nexxus.

Unilever research shows growing numbers of consumers each year coming to expect high quality at low prices, and Mr. Blessing said consumers increasingly expect as a given what value brands once promised as a novelty.

Ogilvy terms the new branding campaign for Suave "Pretty mom," casting it as a solution for mothers torn between their desires to take care of themselves and do right by their kids.

"We wanted to create a new emotional space for Suave to own," said Donna Charlton-Perrin, creative director on Suave at Ogilvy.

Consumer research showed that Suave's value positioning was relevant to moms because "if you reach for that $20 bottle of salon shampoo, you feel guilty," Ms. Charlton-Perrin said. "But even though you're a mom, you don't want to show up every day at preschool drop-off in sweatpants and a ponytail."

The ads don't do the guilt-tripping quite so brazenly, instead focusing on attractively coiffed women in domestic situations, with the tagline: "Say yes to beautiful without paying the price." Ads on pizza boxes in several major markets promise "Saturday-night hair for Tuesday-night cardboard-box dinners."

contributing: jean halliday

In this article:
Most Popular