P&G earlier this month began test marketing its first truly new brand in five years, Bella & Birch, a line of textured paints already applied to a wallpaperlike roll that consumers hang without paste or wallpaper tools. The brand, which appears to be a first in the $9 billion U.S. paint and wallcovering market, rolled into six St. Louis-area Home Depot stores Sept. 1, helped along by P&G's Home Made Simple online relationship-marketing program.
P&G marketing materials describe Bella & Birch as "dry-patterned paint that comes on a roll." It "looks and feels like paint but goes on dry," according to the brand's website, bellaandbirch.com.
P&G has yet to name an agency of record for the project, which has relied heavily on PR, interactive and in-store marketing, though a pop-up questionnaire on the website indicates the brand also has used local TV, radio and magazine advertising. This month's rollout in Home Depot includes appearances by HGTV personality Vern Yip.
reminiscent of the '90s
The brand takes P&G into far loftier price-points than its usual $4 shampoos or even $25 anti-aging creams. The dry-paint rolls go for as much as $69.99, and covering a single room costs hundreds of dollars.
Interpublic Group of Cos.' DeVries, New York, is handling PR, while Cincinnati independent Barefoot Advertising handles Home Made Simple marketing around the brand.
P&G hasn't launched a fully new consumer brand in more than five years, and the move far outside P&G's core categories is reminiscent of the late 1990s and early years of this decade, when P&G unleashed a torrent of brands.
Former Chairman-CEO Durk Jager at the time sought to launch as many as two dozen brands or major geographic expansions. The effort produced some certifiable hits, such as the home-care brands Swiffer and Febreze, and some lesser brands that have struggled to gain traction, such as Dryel. Some of the more colorful projects of the era included Juvian-a valet laundry service that handled everything from washing underwear to dry cleaning suits-and Culinary Sol, a cooking school and ingredient supplier tested in Cincinnati.
Both ultimately shut down as Mr. Jager's successor, A.G. Lafley, shifted focus to P&G's biggest brands and businesses. For growth, he turned to developing markets and acquisitions, expanding into faster-growing, lower-capital beauty and personal-care categories.
P&G later divested some of those late-1990s projects, such as Impress food wrap, which became part of a joint venture with Clorox Co.'s Glad business, in which P&G took a 20% stake.
Hedging his bets, however, Mr. Lafley two years ago stepped up investment in the company's FutureWorks skunk-works unit, headed by general manager Nathan Estruth, who is in charge of the Bella & Birch test.
But while it's well outside P&G's usual business, Bella & Birch might not be such a stretch in the aftermath of last year's Gillette acquisition, which gave P&G not just the Duracell battery and flashlight brand but a much bigger presence in home-improvement stores. Developing that retail channel is another P&G ambition dating to the Jager era.