Eric Schwartz, VP-North American Laundry Marketing, Henkel

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Credit: Tony Pettinato

BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- U.S. laundry aisles saw plenty of broken dreams and discontinued products about 10 years ago, when marketers thought consumers were ready for new forms such as tablets and home dry-cleaning kits. They weren't. Tablets died, and home dry-cleaning products were discontinued or left to smaller private-equity-backed companies.

Dial and its subsequent acquirer Henkel were burned by both those failures. So it might have seemed crazy for Henkel to launch yet another laundry form -- Purex Complete 3-in-1 -- in May 2009 amid a deep recession, particularly when it was a premium product from what had long been a bargain brand. Yet two sets of concept and use tests from Nielsen Bases predicted the combination detergent, fabric softener and dry sheet would be a winner.

It was. Purex Complete generated $67 million in year-one sales per SymphonyIRI (more than $100 million if all outlets are included) and beat first-year sales for the next biggest laundry product launch of the year, P&G's Tide Stain Release. The Purex product took 82% of its volume from competitive brands as ads from Energy BBDO, Chicago, generated 80% product awareness among target consumers outside Purex's usual value-focused crowd.

Marketers misread signals from prior launches to conclude consumers wouldn't embrace any new laundry forms, said Eric Schwartz, VP-North American laundry marketing for Henkel. "We thought we could really shake up a sleepy category and stretch the identity of the brand," he said, making Purex about simplicity, problem-solving and innovation in addition to value.

Mr. Schwartz, who began his career working for nonprofits, later worked for Clorox Co. before coming to Henkel and spending time on global laundry-product development in Germany before returning to the U.S.

Purex Complete's ads focused simply on "what it is and how it works," said Mr. Schwartz.

Henkel also gave the product to bloggers, generating 2 million online impressions as part of a digital and social campaign by Night Agency, New York.

Among discoveries from social media was a use Henkel hadn't banked on -- travelers using the sheets. Retailers pushed for a single-use $1 pack to sell in trial and travel sections, and the product's portability also made for a strong sampling program driven by digital and social media.

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