Making People Passionate For Toilet-Bowl Cleaners And Other "Low-Interest" Products

Method has proved there is no such thing as a low-interest product category, just low-interest brands. Attracting attention in a traditionally low-interest category like soap or underwear just takes a bit more thought than, say, beer or cellphones.

We admit it: We were never passionate about cleaning before we launched Method. But building a belief brand with a social mission taught us that there is no such thing as a low-interest category, just low-interest brands. Anyone can generate excitement about a new cellphone technology or a new beer brand. Attracting attention in a traditionally low-interest category (like soap) takes a bit more thought. This is one of the best benefits of belief brands--they work equally well in crowded high-interest categories and in overlooked categories. Beyond the emotional engagement created by sharing similar beliefs and values with their advocates, belief brands have a philosophy, an attitude, and a story to tell. Their personalities aren't created in some office on Madison Avenue; they're woven into the very fabric of the organization. Below, a few examples of high-interest brands in low-interest categories:

Joe Boxer. By injecting irreverence and controversy into his Joe Boxer brand, Nicholas Graham transformed everyday boxer briefs into a conversation piece.

Dyson. Ten years ago, it would have been difficult to imagine anyone getting excited about a vacuum cleaner. Dyson shook up the dusty category with innovative technology and beautiful design.

Swingline. An unremarkable and ubiquitous tool, staplers were the poster boy of low interest before Mike Judd cast a red Swingline as an object of devotion in his 1999 corporate satire, Office Space.

While we rely primarily on style and substance to inspire interest in cleaning products, we also tap into an often overlooked subset of consumers: people who actually love to clean. You probably even know a few friends whom you consider to be clean freaks. We believe in making the act of cleaning more enjoyable and, if we may say so, aspirational. But virtually every commercial treats cleaning as if it were a huge hassle, virtually screaming promises of convenience and ease. Pandering to women with images of grinning maids in aprons, it was as if taking care of your things was something to be ashamed of, something you'd rather leave to someone else. This is typical problem-solution marketing, in which you set up a problem (mildew in the bathroom) and then present your product as the hero solution (Pow! mildew gone). The problem with this approach is that it forces the consumer to enter through the problem, so your brand will always live in low-interest land. Even if you don't find an ounce of joy in cleaning, virtually everyone loves the end state, a clean home. So we focused on talking about the aspirational end state of cleaning, and we found that, to many people, cleaning is an important part of life. It's the ritual of connecting to their homes and families by putting life back in order. To many, cleaning is a form of caring for their children or pets by providing a safe haven for those they care about most. Seeking to draw out our audience's inner clean freaks, we filled our ad campaigns with young, great-looking naked people in gorgeous, hip homes, using (or maybe just caressing) a rainbow of beautiful Method products. Rather than the "quick and painless" promises in our competitors' ads, we communicated with clever, cheeky messages intended to promote the aspirational idea that cleaning could be cool (gasp!). Flying in the face of decades of traditional cleaning commercials, the ads resonated with people of all ages.

To many people, jogging is a chore. Imagine if Nike ran advertisements featuring unhappy joggers forcing themselves through another grueling early morning routine. Not likely. To the contrary, the brand celebrates every sport it touches, with aspirational imagery. We'd even bet there are some fierce badminton ads out there that would inspire you to Just Do It with a birdie! Nike ties this to its social mission of bringing inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. As Bill Bowerman, track coach and cofounder of Nike, said, "If you have a body, you are an athlete."

Bottom line: If you're struggling to shift your brand from low to high interest, seek to reframe your communications from presenting the problem to projecting the desired end state and wrap that in a social mission.

Excerpted from The Method Method by Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry by arrangement with Portfolio Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright © 2011 by Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry.

[Image: Flickr user AllStarsYouth]

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4 Comments

  • Dee Lieber

    This is a very timely article for a new client I'm working with, who's looking to brand a self-storage company. Cleaning is prime time entertainment compared to Self Storage. Or is it?  I'm a firm believer in branding from a belief - or, values-centric- perspective.  In our increasingly socialized market, it's imperative to inject that personal element into every brand, regardless of size, or inherent sex appeal. cheers! 

  • DK

    This is a great example and quite a stretch between 'traditional wisdom' and reality.Brands are personalities with characters and values and eccentricities and everything. It's always sad when brands get bogged down because of dated category communication or because people just believe 'soap is dull'. It's like saying a kid can't have friends because he's not the team captain - absolute rubbish.

    Take a look at our CharacterLab.com to see who so called "boring brands" can be. 

  • KPR

    Every brand should be a belief brand. You can't work backwards anymore. You can't take a brand and make it mean something by wrapping it in a communications message. 

    I say props to method for having a belief system that comes from the inside out. 

  • Kathy Heasley

    Love this example. Great article. What you are talking about here is what we at Heasley&Partners call Heart & Mind® Branding. Google it to learn more about how we do this very thing to breathe the heart into businesses, products, programs and people. Our five-stage process melds the heart into the  mind-based goals of the business. The end result is a purpose-driven, results-based company that breaks through the clutter of the category and becomes wildly successful. This has been our method of branding and marketing since 1994 and I have given talks in six different countries about it. It is so wonderful to read about this example because too often people think low involvement problems have no heart. Of course they do if you feel first and empathize with the people you wish to serve. Thank you for furthering our mission of bettering the lives of people, one business, one brand at a time!