The $1B Reason That Febreze Abandoned Cat Ladies

The $1B Reason That Febreze Abandoned Cat Ladies

How ‘The Cat Lady Effect’ nearly destroyed one of P&Gs biggest brands.

One of P&G’s chemists was working on a new chemical at the lab. The vapor had spritzed on his clothes before heading home.

When he walked through the door and hugged his wife, she said, “Did you quit smoking?”

“No? Why do you ask?” he said.

He’d stumbled onto an idea. He tested the chemical out on various, horrible smelling products — cat urine, oil stains, cigarette smells — proving the substance was remarkably effective at hiding stenches.¹

Proctor and Gamble’s management loved his pitch. They were certain of the product’s success. Their customers said they loved it during testing.

And thus, Febreze was born.

They ran TV ads with women complaining about smoking in a restaurant.

They ran ads of ladies complaining about the cat smell in their house.

The campaign was a disaster.

Sales tanked. Excess inventory piled up. P&G was losing millions.

They hired market experts to help them. They had one fundamental question to answer:

Why was a high-quality product that people said they loved, doing so poorly?

His Big Breakthrough

Drake Stimson and his fellow researcher stepped into a house in Phoenix, Arizona.

She was a young, attractive woman.

During surveys, she’d said she liked the smell of Febreze. She even had Febreze in her closet that she hadn’t used.

As Drake sat on her couch, he noted the living room was perfectly designed. It was organized. He could tell the woman cared about cleanliness. He felt like he was sitting in a magazine cover.

Yet her house stunk — terribly. A wall of stench hit them the moment she’d opened the door. Stimson had clenched his teeth to avoid coughing in front of her.

She owned nine cats. They were crawling all over the couches and chairs as Stimson sat and did their survey.

This invited the obvious question, “Why wasn’t she using Febreze? She was the perfect candidate.”

Stimson worked his way towards the question, hoping to be subtle about it. Unfortunately, his associate beat him to it, in fairly blunt terms, “What do you do about the cat smell?”

She said, “That’s not really a problem.”

Puzzled, Stimson followed up, “So… you don’t smell anything right now?”

She said, “Nope! My cats don’t smell. Great, right?”

Stimson and his associate looked at each other.

They saw this pattern repeat itself in the smelliest homes they visited. Smokers didn’t think their house smelled like smoke — despite them chain-smoking in their living room chair.

People with dirty clothes draped all over their house thought there was no odor, citing they didn’t sweat so it wasn’t a problem (it was).

They discovered what I’ve always called, The Cat Lady Effect — people who perpetually smell bad often have no idea. They’re acclimated to it.

This was the same problem that deodorant solved a hundred years prior: most people didn’t think they had BO. They assumed a daily shower was all that was needed.

Stimson worried that if he couldn’t sell Febreze to cat hoarders, he’d never be able to sell it to anyone.

He needed to flip the script somehow.

The Solution to the Problem

A month later, Stimson was sitting in yet another living room.

He was speaking with a middle-aged mother who had three active teenage sons. Her house was otherwise clean. There were no pets. It smelled nice enough. She was already an active buyer of Febreze.

Stimson asked her, “So what smell are you trying to fix?”

She said, “Oh I’m not really using it for that reason. I just like using Febreze as an extra touch.”

The spray was her way of solidifying the act of cleaning her house.

This Became a Significant Comment

Stimson recorded a dozen different cleaning routines of non-Febreze users (with consent).

Upon review, his team noticed a fascinating trend. After a woman finished making a bed, wiping down a table, she would often smile in satisfaction, before stretching and relaxing.

They realized they could attach Febreze as part of this final act, a reward to themselves after cleaning a house. This would embed the product in the habit.

Stimson took this insight back to Proctor and Gamble.

He told his team, “We shouldn’t be marketing to solve a negative problem.” They did away with ads featuring women pinching their noses in front of cats.

They changed the product, adding more perfume.

Then, in ads, they showed shiny kitchens and bathrooms, with people smiling. Over and over, they showed women spraying the Febreze on a freshly made bed.

Febreze became a reward.

The Result

The campaign was a massive success. Their sales went up by $230 million that year. Today, their spinoffs have brought in more than $1 billion.

In post-market research, many of their customers said they felt their cleaning wasn’t complete until they sprayed the Febreze.

The product’s purpose had been reversed, going from getting rid of smells, to creating them. Cat Ladies were never their ideal target.

Stimson and his team unlocked an avalanche of profits, simply by talking to their customers and challenging their own premise.

The simple fact is this: if you can embed your product into your customer’s habits — you will win against any foe.

Source : Medium