As is customary at the company where "the consumer is boss," P&G talked to consumers before it came up with the Tide push that broke the creative and strategic logjam. This time, however, they didn't spend a day focused on laundry rooms or basements. Executives from P&G and its longtime agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, spent a week with consumers in Kansas City, Mo., and Charlotte, N.C., going to work, movies, dinner, manicurists - even gambling together.
"We got to an incredibly deep and personal level," said Julie Woffington, Tide's North American associate marketing director. "We wanted to understand the role of laundry in their life. And it's really not a huge role like it was in the 1950s."
P&G managers also spent a day running errands and buying groceries for consumers - on the consumers' budget - just before seeing the campaign ideas for the first time, Ms. Woffington said, "so we could really get it in mind that maybe Tide and laundry aren't the most important things on [the consumer's] mind."
"One of the great things is we didn't talk [to consumers] about laundry or their habits," said Andrea Diquez, senior VP-management director of Publicis Groupe's Saatchi, New York. "We talked about their lives, what their needs were, how they felt as women. And we got a lot of rich stuff that we hadn't tapped into before."
Not all members of the Tide team, including senior managers and Saatchi creatives, could make the weeklong time commitment in the first round of research. For them, Saatchi took videotapes of consumer immersions, transformed them into verbatim scripts, and hired actresses to play the women in an hour of monologue-style theater titled "Pieces of Her."
A twist on tradition
"They were actually very good actresses who brought to life many dimensions of women," Ms. Diquez said. "It's difficult to inspire creatives sometimes. And [their reaction] was incredible. There was crying and laughing. And you can see it in the work. It's just very connected to women."
The result was the "Tide knows fabrics best" campaign that hearkens to the claims of past P&G advertising but with a twist: It relies on music, rich visual imagery and emotional benefits that break from the demonstrations and side-by-side comparisons that have filled the void since the brand's long-running "Family Tide" campaign ended in 2001.
In one 30-second TV spot for Tide with Febreze, set to break this spring, Tide's laundry-odor-removal benefit gets new emotional heft, billed as "the difference between smelling like a mom and smelling like a woman," amid shots of mom-baby, then wife-husband cuddling, all to the tune of "Be My Baby."
Another for liquid Tide shows a seven-months-pregnant woman as she spills richly photographed flavors of ice cream onto her one shirt that still fits. In a third, a mom plays with her daughter after work while still in her white slacks from the office thanks to confidence in Tide with Bleach.
"We've had insights in our advertising before, but it was all the same insight you've heard over and over again," Ms. Woffington said. "These were insights that were new for the category."
To prove the new campaign is flexible enough to encompass Tide's growing range of products - from stain-removal pens to detergent-softener combos - Saatchi already has produced 15 to 20 magazine spreads encompassing different products, Ms. Woffington said. She intends for all new-product advertising, including Internet and multicultural ads, to fit into the campaign, except for multibrand ads outing the P&G "regimen," including such products as Downy and Bounce fabric softeners.
Music plays a prominent role in each spot, in a bow to exhortations from Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts that P&G should make better use of music in its TV ads. Ms. Woffington is also hoping that the commercials will be visually distinctive enough for consumers to, within a year or so, recognize them as Tide ads well before the logo appears.
The effort behind the new campaign started largely from scratch in January 2005, a few months after Sarah Barclay, the Cannes Lion-winning global creative director specifically recruited to help develop a new Tide campaign for Saatchi, left for other P&G work. Then Marie McNeely, a longtime account executive whose career included helping develop the last campaign in the mid-1990s, left the agency to start a consulting business. Both made the moves in part out of frustration over getting more creative advertising approved by P&G, according to people familiar with the matter.
This time, both agency and client brought new people to the mix. P&G added Peter Carter, a well-regarded longtime beauty-care advertising development director, to work on the project. Saatchi brought in Barbara Boyle, the exec VP-global creative director behind the overhaul of Pampers advertising in recent years.
Despite being without a campaign, Tide has fared well behind a series of new products over the past two years, reaching its best market shares and momentum in decades. It now holds about a 43% share of the category and its shares have been climbing for nearly 18 months. Still, lacking a campaign with emotional resonance hurt, Ms. Woffington said.
"Our growth has all been based on launching initiatives and getting business build behind them," Ms. Woffington said. "But our base business doesn't have underlying growth from people becoming more committed to Tide. I think this [campaign] puts a relevance there that can ... build our base business."
The "knows fabrics best" tagline appears to move Tide's positioning somewhat closer to Cheer, a smaller brand focused heavily on fabric protection as opposed to cleaning power, that Ms. Woffington worked on prior to becoming Tide brand manager three years ago. But she doesn't believe that will be a problem.
"We'll make [Cheer] even more of a challenger brand," she said, "and do some different things with it."