The performance of brands over the long term is cyclical. There are upswings and downturns. But one brand at Clorox had been particularly challenged for a number of years, beyond a typical cycle. And it wasn’t in the most exciting of categories: drain cleaners. People don't think about a clogged drain until it happens. They have other priorities -- family, friends, work and weekends. In fact, if you search “clogs” on Google, the entire first page of results is about the carved wooden shoes.
So, how do you get people to think about a product like drain clog removers and, in particular, the brand Liquid-Plumr, over its competitors? What's more, how do you do this when the brand doesn't have a particularly interesting product story?
There are some universal lessons we can learn from Liquid-Plumr about how to turn a brand around with timely marketing communications choices. In this case, it was the combination of a great idea and the successful execution of that idea. The campaign, titled “Will It Clog?” started as a low-budget influencer test and turned into the opening this drain cleaner needed.
Here are five key marketing moves that helped turn things around for the brand and how you can apply them to your own campaigns:
1. Create (real) drama around the benefit.
“Will It Clog?” was an homage to the popular “Will It?” format (e.g., "Will It Blend?" and "Will It Slime?") and also capitalized on the challenge-culture trend on YouTube. But the key to its success, to driving sales and share, was to create drama out of the product benefit.
By using an over-the-top torture test to show the product benefits, the creative was captivating. It wasn't just compelling and entertaining to the brand team, but to actual people (which isn't easy)! Everything else flowed from that. My advice is to ensure your product or service is organically incorporated in your content and brought to life in an arresting way.
2. Make it seasonal and adaptable.
These days, the bar for great creative ideas is whether they are scalable and can be adapted for many platforms. The "Will It Clog?" creative was updated seasonally, starting with a massive bacon grease clog for International Bacon Day, a huge candy clog for Halloween, a gross Thanksgiving food clog for Thanksgiving and a fruitcake for Christmas. The content was made relevant to the mindset people were in. And while it started on YouTube, it was adaptable to many platforms, including social, display and even TV.
The lesson? Ensure your idea is big enough to be expanded across seasons and occasions and is adaptable to the various places people consume content.
3. Rely on influencer authenticity.
Liquid-Plumr tapped the authenticity of influencers to tell its story. It tested two macro-influencer groups and chose the one that got the most traction.
When using influencers, search for someone with an established following, high credibility and a unique way to express their creativity. This can add a lot of power to your brand message. In Liquid-Plumr's case, once the influencers nailed the story and views and comments started to grow, the creative was cut down, packaged and scaled in paid media. This is Influencer 202.
4. Experiment with media sequencing.
Play around with different sequencing until you find the winning combination. Try serving people 15 seconds first. If they watch it, serve them another 15 or 30 seconds. Then, follow with a bumper. Or start with a 30-second ad, and then hit them with a 15-second and a six-second ad to get your frequency. Determine which sequence works best, and put your dollars behind it.
5. Lean in.
If it’s working, keep it going. This campaign started as a small test. The entire year’s budget was spent in the first two quarters of the year on this idea, with the understanding that as sales increase, money becomes available.
In the end, you have to be bold. Liquid-Plumr added more and more media spend and included celebrity power, which made the campaign work even harder.
There were many other factors that drove the brand's success, including critical in-store decisions to simplify the shelf set to add visual appeal and pop. In addition, the brand focused on the best-selling SKUs versus trying to sell all things to all people. And to ensure the content stayed true to the name “Will It Clog?” the brand ran some executions even when Liquid-Plumr didn’t clear the clog. The infamous fruitcake had its revenge simply by being too gross to unclog. This added drama and intrigue because the viewer never knew if the massive clog would be unclogged.
Finally, the team didn’t buy into the conventional wisdom; conventional wisdom and best practices are backward-looking and don't illuminate the path forward for the new marketing world we inhabit. Both said that YouTube/social media didn’t work for drain cleaners and couldn’t be measured in terms of ROI. The wisdom was not wise.
To summarize, success was determined by an expansive creative idea that tested the power of the product and was told by credible third-party influencers. Within months of the campaign launching, Liquid-Plumr started growing share and household penetration again, and it has maintained that momentum for the last year. I can’t say the same for carved wooden clogs.