Discipline eases Vaseline’s upscale slide

With an agency philosophy of 'making strategies more creative, and creative more strategic,' it's no surprise that Doug Robinson relishes a good long-term brand builder. The campaign for the Vaseline Total Care line of skin lotions, with multiple goals including a...

With an agency philosophy of ‘making strategies more creative, and creative more strategic,’ it’s no surprise that Doug Robinson relishes a good long-term brand builder. The campaign for the Vaseline Total Care line of skin lotions, with multiple goals including a more upscale positioning at a higher price point, as well as introducing a new name, look and new sizes, was definitely pleading for a more disciplined approach.

From the campaign’s inception in 1999, Robinson’s first instinct was to simplify. To do this, his team employed ‘the art of distillation,’ an Ammirati Puris tool designed to yield a clear, concise and durable brand strategy. In regard to Vaseline Total Care, part of the Intensive Care line, the sense of attainable beauty was expressed through a creative theory of ‘skin that makes every woman feel good.’

Rather than having the client draw up a brief, hand it over to the creative team and let them work in relative isolation until several creative options were formulated, the Ammirati Puris method begins with a ‘ground zero’ session where everybody has a say.

‘The answer,’ says Robinson, ‘is always found in the briefing room.’ The process involves the client to such a high degree that the creatives never have to sell the creative strategy – the idea is as much the client’s as the agency’s.

The next step in the AP method is called ‘insight mining,’ where hypotheses formed in the ground zero phase are validated. The insight mining step establishes a cohesive unit that blends category, consumer and brand as one. It was this step that allowed client Unilever-Lever Ponds to initiate price increases to substantiate the image upgrade from value to upscale competitor. With the upgrade, Robinson’s team made Vaseline Total Care more modern, contemporary and sophisticated – empowered to compete with such brands as Keri Lotion and Lubriderm.

While the campaign involved an extensive image overhaul, Robinson’s use of strategic roots ensured that existing brand equity wasn’t lost. ‘Brands have a glass vault – a DNA,’ he explains, ‘and no one should be able to touch these things.’ In researching Vaseline’s roots, the team fixed on the durable green leaf icon. ‘It shorthands the environmental and health connotations of the logo behind the product,’ says Robinson, ‘and has become a core part of our branding campaign.’

The end result? A campaign targeting women in their 20s, 30s and early 40s built around the tag: ‘Vaseline. How beautiful feels.’

Creative for the debut was co-developed by Robinson along with art director Elspeth Lynn and writer Lorraine Tao (who moved on to become top strategic CDs in their own right. See page B2.)

The first execution was a black-and-white :30 called ‘Table Manners.’ Set in a traditional Italian restaurant, family members enjoy their meal as a young busboy crawls under the table to retrieve a fallen utensil. While reaching around different sets of feet and legs, he inadvertently touches the bare skin of a middle-aged woman. Entranced by her skin’s softness, the tentative busboy innocently touches the woman’s legs again, much to her surprise and pleasure. With a swift kick from the husband, the moment is over, but not forgotten, as the woman relishes feeling beautiful.

‘Blind Date’ followed shortly thereafter, hitting the national airwaves in March 1999. Earlier this year, ‘Palm Reader’ was introduced along with ‘Feline,’ which was executed by Robinson’s new creative team, including copywriter Tom Goudi and art director Debra Prenger. It shows a cat rubbing against the legs of two women and purring.

All four commercials, albeit different in setting and story, are consistent in tone and personality. Linkage has been achieved by shooting each spot in black and white, using a letter-box format, and featuring women within the product’s target age range. Robinson says he aims to produce more spots with the same look as the campaign evolves.

The campaign is still ongoing, but sales and brand awareness are already on the rise. ‘That, ultimately was the objective,’ says Unilever-Lever Ponds director of personal care group Michael Alexandor.

‘We did achieve our sales results, but that would not necessarily bear out that we had a dramatic increase in sales, due to the significant upgrading and price increase of the product,’ Alexandor explains. ‘It has, however, allowed us to do some very key strategic things internally.’