Gordon varies the playbook to target Clorox consumers

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You might expect Derek Gordon to be highly disciplined, since he spent 10 formative years of his career at two of the most disciplined organizations in the world-the Air Force and Procter & Gamble Co. You would not be disappointed.

As the new chief marketing officer of Clorox Co., he talks enthusiastically about Clorox's "High Flyer" analytical process for finding and capitalizing upon insights into the psyches of its consumers (who, given its stable of disinfecting products, tend to be microphobes).

But beneath that buttoned-down package-goods discipline lies a meandering intellectual curiosity that recently had Mr. Gordon reading four books simultaneously in his spare time-only one of them talking shop.

"I picked up `The Elegant Universe' [by physicist Brian Greene] because I'd heard about string theory for years and never knew what the heck it was," said Mr. Gordon.

Then there's "One Hundred Years of Solitude," the classic of mystical realism by Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And, just because "it looked interesting in the bookstore," he picked up a sci-fi galactic war epic, "Revelation Space."

Getting down to business, he was recently nearly finished with the quickest read of the bunch, "Lovemarks," by Kevin Roberts, CEO of Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, which handles rival P&G's flagship Tide detergent.

expanding training

"It's hard to disagree with anything that's in there," Mr. Gordon said. "There are some fundamental beliefs he drives home that as an industry we have walked away from-like the idea of branding-in the name of cost savings and business building."

Since he took over as VP-marketing in June after 10 years at Clorox, he has been working hard to make sure Clorox doesn't take that walk. "First, I've got to make sure we continue to recruit the best people," Mr. Gordon said. "I've got to make sure they have what they need to be successful in terms of the principles, processes and resources."

To those ends, Mr. Gordon, 45, is leading expansion of Clorox's training program, which includes 150 hours of structured classroom time for first-year marketers and a Diamond Leadership Institute for executives at the director level and above.

While he's teaching fundamentals, Mr. Gordon is not just teaching orthodoxy. One of Clorox's biggest success stories of the past year has been Tilex, an established mold-fighting brand that picked up about 10 share points by better targeting the mold-wary consumer and raising concerns for everyone else.

"People think of mold as a bathroom opportunity," Mr. Gordon said. "The truth is it is everywhere around the home."

To get that message out, Tilex isn't just relying on its tried-and-true 30-second ad. It's also benefited from a public-relations program that has generated 30 million impressions and a recent integration into an episode of Lifetime's "Strong Medicine" about a mold-related illness, after which one of the actors, who plays a doctor, delivers a 10-second Tilex-sponsored pitch about mold prevention.

Clorox will keep searching for new "embedded" tactics like that, said Mr. Gordon, to "reach our targeted consumers when they are sensitive to the message."

Stacey Grier, managing partner-chief strategic officer of Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, San Francisco, which handles all Clorox brands, sees Mr. Gordon as having the perfect temperament to lead Clorox into new territory.

"He has a dynamic energy," Ms. Grier said. "It's a quality leaders have. ... He has been an unbelievably good partner over the years, through businesses that were going through the roof and businesses where we really had to struggle. For a client, that's the ultimate compliment in my book."

Just Asking

Q. Why read four books at a time?

A. It has to do with being in the right mood at the right time. Sometimes I wonder myself how I keep track of them.

Q. What else do you do in your spare time?

A. With four kids, my personal life is all about basketball right now, and we're moving into baseball.

Q. How are you dealing with the declining effectiveness of mass media?

A. At the end of the day, mass-media vehicles continue to be the most effective way to reach people, but the proliferation has absolutely diminished the value of any dollar spent. We don't target a mass set of consumers. Our opportunity is to target a mass of individuals who have similar beliefs ... and not just understand what to say but how to say it.

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