Tide's 'Washday Miracle': Not Doing Laundry

Brand Uses Pop-Up Store, Web to Get Gen Y Swashing Not Washing

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Tide has run generations of ads showing women whose identities strangely hinged on how clean they got clothes. Tricia Fairman, a senior music-education major at Ohio State University, isn't one of those women. In fact, she said she often rewears jeans without washing them.
Cooler than the laundromat: Swash store on Ohio State campus lets students watch DVDs and use laptops to go online.
Cooler than the laundromat: Swash store on Ohio State campus lets students watch DVDs and use laptops to go online.

No worry. Tide has a product for that, too -- well, five, actually. The brand that brought America the "washday miracle" is experimenting with a new mission: marketing to the great unwashed masses at the country's biggest university.

Luring frat brothers
Not only is Procter & Gamble Co.'s iconic brand telling college students it's OK to rewear their clothes between washes, it's actually encouraging them to do so. Swash by Tide, a sort of megabrand for laundry slackers, has set up a pop-up store just off campus on High Street in Columbus, close enough to Ohio State's fraternity row for visitors to practically smell the dirty laundry (or maybe it's generations of stale beer in the carpet).

Swash is offering students dryer sheets, dewrinkling spray, stain-removing pens, odor-removing sprays and lint rollers that can help give their clothes the look and smell of having been washed without the trouble or expense of actual washing. In the process, the brand's helping eliminate the one domestic chore most college students do.

The products aren't actually new, but along the lines of P&G's "commercial innovation" movement under Chairman-CEO A.G. Lafley, they're old offerings cleverly repositioned to fit the lifestyle of multi-slackers -- students juggling the demands of not doing their laundry, not finishing their homework and not cleaning their rooms.

"Clothes on the floor, books in the closet -- that sounds about right," says a tip on rewearathon.com, which is pitching a contest encouraging students to rewear their clothes between washes and track how long they can go. Some rewearers claim to be on day 12.

Between life's pleasures
Swash is fittingly nestled on High Street between a tattoo parlor and Cane's, a restaurant specializing in chicken fingers for college students who've yet to graduate from the children's menu.

Besides showcasing product, the Swash store helps students do some of the many things they likely find more interesting than laundry. It includes a pillow-strewn lounge with a plasma TV showing DVDs all day and laptop computers with broadband access around a coffee bar (in a more festive atmosphere than the nose-to-the-grindstone, university-sponsored computer lab next door). There's also free candy and coffee (P&G's Millstone, not Starbucks).

Tearing a page from the playbook of Unilever's Axe, some of the store's collateral material notes that freshened, scented dirty clothes can be sexier than unfreshened dirty clothes. Freebies include mock business cards, one of them labeled "free agent," with the pitch "I'm playing the field. For tickets call ..."

"We do have a few regulars who come here to hang out between classes," said Swash clerk Jared Linder last week. "The weather is starting to get cold, so we're starting to get a few more people coming in just to get warm."

Swash is here to tell them it's OK, even environmentally heroic, to pick their wardrobes off the floor in the morning. A segment on SwashItOut.com labeled "The Rewear Movement" touts reuse of unwashed clothes as "the effortless way to save water." "Swash brings the experience and trust of Tide into a revolutionary way to care for clothes, helping you rewear with confidence and conserve water between washes," the site says.

In another effort that must have Messrs. Procter and Gamble spinning in their graves, Swash's Rewear-a-thon contest is handing out $50 gift cards daily to lucky entrants and a grand prize of $2,500 to folks who join the movement to rewear clothes between washes.

While the Swash store is only in Columbus, SwashItOut.com is taking online orders from all over. Almost needless to say, the site is also trying its hand at social networking, though only about 125 "Swashers" are listed so far.

What drew Ms. Fairman to the store was a direct-mail sample of a Swash dryer sheet. "I was intrigued," she said. Unfortunately, she lost it somewhere in her on-campus apartment. So she stopped by the store to get more information and buy a package of Swash Steam It Out 10-Minute Clothing Tumblers.

The sheets are a repurposed version of the Dryel home-dry-cleaning sheets P&G launched nearly a decade ago. They never caught on, and P&G has since licensed the brand to an outside manufacturer. But Swash is now positioning the sheets as a way to freshen jeans and other non-dry-clean-only clothes in a dryer in only 10 minutes.

Febreze your jeans
Ms. Fairman noted that the campus dryers have a 10-minute cycle for only 25ยข, compared with $1 for the full cycle. Since it costs $2.25 overall to do a load of wash, not to mention $6 for a bottle of detergent and $4 for a box of fabric-softener sheets, she figures the $4 for a box of Swash sheets that can freshen more than 20 loads of three garments is a pretty good deal.

"Usually now I just use Febreze" to freshen jeans, she said, pointing to another P&G brand that has aimed to tap students' aversion to cleansing.

P&G probably made a good choice targeting the 52,000-student Midwest university.

A quick look around the school's sprawling campus shows a lot of students in hoodies that don't appear to have been in contact with Tide's high-powered surfactants and enzymes recently, so there may not be much risk in pandering to the laundry-averse. To its credit, P&G, a company filled with some of the most meticulously scrubbed marketers on earth, still was able to recognize that laundry doesn't wash with a large segment of Gen Y.

Detergent isn't enough
P&G isn't the first to tap youths' laundry aversion. Rival Unilever made it the centerpiece of a campaign in the mid-1990s for Surf detergent featuring hip, funny ads by BBDO, New York, about the pains youths take to avoid washing clothes. The trouble was, Surf was still trying to sell them detergent, and it wasn't clear that it was any easier to use than any other detergent.

"Our intentions at this time are simply to gather additional consumer insights for this category," said a P&G spokesman in an e-mail. "As we are in the very early stages of exploration, we could not comment on any future plans."

Swash's Rewear-a-thon contest runs through Nov. 30, and Mr. Linder said the lease for the retail space is open-ended, so Swash can come or go as it pleases without any long-term commitment.

Think of it as dirty clothes with benefits.

Swash lineup

The Swash offerings are all older products that have been cleverly repositioned.
SMOOTH IT OUT "Just because you slept in your clothes doesn't mean everyone has to know it," SwashItOut.com says. Similar product launched in 2000 as Downy Wrinkle Releaser. $6 for 8.3 ounces
ROLL IT OFF "When you're out of the house and Mom's not around, who will be there to nitpick?" No P&G precursor, but several similar lint rollers are already on the market. $4
GET IT OUT "The idea is to keep your clothes off the laundry pile, and not let a little 'Oops' ruin your day." The Tide To Go stain pen, launched in 2004. $3
STEAM IT OUT "Take your jeans from not quite dirty to laundry-fresh scent in 10 minutes flat [in the dryer]." Dryel home dry-cleaning kits, launched in 1998. $4
FRESH IT UP "The atomized mist helps take out smells on contact with quick, easy coverage." Febreze odor neutralizer, which launched in 1996 and is popular on college campuses. $4 for 2.6 ounces
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