Hommeyer helps Clorox sock it to the competition

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John Hommeyer spawned one of the most memorable advertising icons of the late 20th century. He wishes it was more forgettable.

As VP-marketing of Pets.com in 1999, Mr. Hommeyer commissioned the singing sock puppet that became a pop phenomenon-starring in 10 commercials, including a 2000 Super Bowl ad, and entering the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade as a float.

When Pets.com went belly up within a year, the sock puppet from Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa Del Rey, Calif., had a second life as poster-child for the dot-com bust and its advertising excesses. Adorned with tire marks and other assorted filth, the puppet made a 2000 cover of Advertising Age, a 2001 Super Bowl ad for E-Trade and the 2002 book "The Fall of Advertising and Rise of PR."

Unlike the icon, the chief marketing officer dusted himself off quickly. Mr. Hommeyer had left Pets.com months before it was humanely destroyed in November 2000. He'd already joined travel site Hotwire.com as chief marketing officer, helping launch one of the bigger successes of the late dot-com era and remaining there until it was sold to Barry Diller's Expedia in 2003.

A few months later, he joined Clorox Co., where as VP-laundry, Mr. Hommeyer has the more painstaking task of turning around a nearly century-old flagship brand. In doing so, he's applying lessons learned from Pets.com and Hotwire.

"We had in Hotwire an extremely strong business model that was fundamentally meeting an unmet consumer need," he said. "[Pets.com] really didn't measure up from the standpoint of long-term vision, focus on the consumer, a business model that makes sense, making tough choices, etc."

Clorox, he said, is a lot more like Hotwire. But when he got there, the Clorox brand was perhaps a little like Pets.com. Clorox was spending heavily on advertising from Omnicom's DDB Worldwide, San Francisco, featuring the retro "Momma's Got the Magic" jingle from the 1980s, yet losing market share to detergents with color-safe bleach and Orange Glo International's Oxi Clean, billed as safer and more environmentally friendly.

Under Mr. Hommeyer, Clorox shifted funds from ads to trade promotion and copy to focus on how bleach removes "body soil" left behind by detergent alone. Clorox is also addressing safety concerns with an unusual 30-minute infomercial about the history of bleach.

The result has been rising market share despite lower ad spending, and Mr. Hommeyer credits renewed focus on fundamentals. "As opposed to `Momma's Got the Magic' and that whole song and dance, we're telling people the truth about bleach and Clorox products. We need to increase the relevance and decrease the fear," he said.

great at pitches

Among dozens of Procter & Gamble Co. executives who jumped to dot-coms in the 1990s, Mr. Hommeyer was one of the biggest stars, said David Wiser, a fellow Procter alum and now executive recruiter. Mr. Hommeyer is one of the only U.S.-based P&Gers ever to get an overseas assignment as brand manager-helping launch Pantene in Japan in the early 1990s.

Mr. Wiser, a friend and baseball teammate of Mr. Hommeyer's in high school in Minnesota and college at Dartmouth, said the Clorox executive passed up a chance to be a pro pitcher.

Mr. Hommeyer, 40, isn't so sure about his arm, but maintains his interest in sports. He's on the board of the Positive Coaching Alliance, a group that trains youth-sports coaches, parents and players to emphasize fun and fair play along with athletic excellence.

"We want to win, but not at any cost," Mr. Hommeyer said of his coaching philosophy-and Clorox. "There are no shortcuts to business success, no shortcuts to building strong brand equities."

Just Asking

Q. What's your take on your Pets.com experience?

A. During that 12 months, we were called everything from the smartest people in the world to the dumbest. The truth was probably somewhere in between. Maybe closer to the dumbest.

Q. Why an infomercial on the history of bleach?

A. A lot of people chuckle. But the idea here is one of education, and we have an education challenge on our hands. ... We don't expect everyone to sit and watch the whole 30 minutes. It's really designed for someone to tune in, watch five or 10 minutes and get the core story.

Q. Why are you spending time with the Positive Coaching Alliance?

A. We're not encouraging coaches to be wallflowers or wimps. We don't want them to be Bobby Knight, either. The philosophy is ... as opposed to winning at all costs, be your best.

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