Tide rolls on

As Tide turns 60 in Canada this year, strategy examines the research- and innovation-driven path that has kept Procter & Gamble's signature brand ahead of the pack.

As Tide turns 60 in Canada this year, strategy examines the research- and innovation-driven path that has kept Procter & Gamble’s signature brand ahead of the pack.

When Procter & Gamble first launched Tide laundry detergent, no one anticipated the impact it would have – not only on the detergent industry, but on a broader scientific scale. As the world’s first heavy-duty synthetic detergent, Tide was touted as a ‘washday miracle.’ It subsequently became the number-one selling brand, a title that it still holds today, with a global market share of approximately 35%.

Why? A fiercely competitive and never-ending wash innovation cycle. Scientists from the Cincinnati, Ohio-based company continued their pioneering approach to market research, and to date, the formula has been redesigned more than 60 times.

These constant additions to the Tide family seek to fulfill consumers’ every laundry desire: when white clothing was all the rage, P&G launched Tide with Bleach; when we wanted an environmentally friendly product, Tide Coldwater filled the void; and when Tide’s researchers heard the consumer had sensitive skin, they created Tide Free without dyes or perfumes. Now it’s taking on dry cleaning, testing eco-friendly retail options and launching pocketbook-friendly at-home solutions for taking care of delicate apparel.

Tide research also led to the development of other products – some in laundry care and others in unrelated categories. In fact, Tide ultimately transformed P&G from a soap company to a research and technology giant. In one instance, technology used to create synthetic detergents was leveraged by P&G’s pharmaceutical division in the creation of the drug Actonel (risedronate sodium tablets), which was approved by the FDA in 2000 for the treatment of post-menopausal osteoporosis. Actonel – which uses Tide’s metal ion-control technology to deliver increased bone mass – went on to become a billion-dollar brand.

Strategy spoke to the folks at P&G to see how Tide became – and remains – the brand you were ‘born and raised with’ through the decades.

1948 to 1958: The miracle years

At a time when housewives were still slaves to washboards and wringer washers, the market was ripe for a product that would make laundry less of a chore. P&G had created Dreft detergent in 1933 as a replacement for traditional soap flakes, but it was ineffective on tougher stains. In 1943 it created a new formula using more builders (to neutralize chemicals found in hard water, such as calcium and magnesium) and less synthetic surfactants (molecules that remove dirt from fabric). The result was a product that washed soiled clothes in hard water, leaving fabrics soft and clean without residue. Tide was first introduced to test markets in the U.S. during 1946 and was an instant hit. By 1948 it had reached the Canadian market, where it steamrolled the competition.

When it first launched, Tide was positioned as a product to meet all the cleaning needs of housewives, including dishwashing and even cleaning the milk separators on dairy farms. The image of a clean ocean beach after a powerful tide was the original inspiration for the brand name. The logo featured concentric orange and yellow rings representing the suds Tide created in the wash basin, while the typeface represented the strength of the product.

P&G cleverly cemented consumer loyalty by staying true to the original brand over the years. ‘The logo hasn’t changed much because it works,’ says Robb Hadley, brand manager for Tide at Toronto-based P&G Canada. ‘Today the logo is an iconic symbol that helps shop-ability at retail stores that are more cluttered now than they were 60 years ago.’

P&G was perhaps the original marketing innovator, introducing product sampling and promotional premiums and sponsoring daytime radio serials that became known as ‘soap operas,’ and was adept at promoting its new miracle suds. Advertising around the launch of Tide focused on radio, print, direct mail and couponing, and included a promotion for two dozen laundry pins for 25 cents and a proof of purchase. Newspaper advertising (created by New York agency Benton & Bowles) was an important medium for spreading the word, and headlines such as ‘amazing new discovery’ and ‘new freedom’ targeted weary housewives. Ads in magazines like Good Housekeeping were also a key influencer during the ’50s.

The ’50s’ focus on cleanliness and good housekeeping was also rampant in the advertising creative of this era. Print ads depicted alarmingly gleeful housewives holding a box of Tide aloft as if about to conquer the world. The message pushed the point that the product worked even in hard water, without the need for water softeners. ‘Oceans of suds’ was another phrase used in Tide’s advertising as housewives equated volumes of suds with cleaning power. In 1949, ‘Tide’s in, dirt’s out’ became a tagline.

By the early ’50s Tide had captured more than 30% of the laundry market. Advertising echoed some of the feedback that P&G received from its consumers, with comments such as ‘I’m just crazy about Tide.’

In 1952 Tide was advertised on TV for the first time, allowing its marketers to visually demonstrate the power of the product, and it was actually the first detergent to do a commercial. One spot depicts a euphoric woman hanging clothes to dry on a beach, and subsequently wrapping her tot in a sparkling clean Tide-washed towel. The tagline: ‘The cleanest clean under the sun.’

The science behind Tide began a revolution in cleaning technology. It was a catalyst for many other P&G products, including Cheer detergent in 1952, a highly successful follow-up to Tide. Mr Clean, which launched in 1958, was one of many products to make use of Tide’s surfactant technology.

1958 to 1968: New and improved and intensified

During the post-war economic boom, wringer washers were joyfully ditched for new-fangled automatic washing machines. P&G capitalized on this major shift by advertising Tide in conjunction with washer manufacturers.

Boxes of Tide were placed inside new machines to convince consumers to try the product. Print ads displayed the detergent and the washer, with the tagline ‘The makers of 25 automatics recommend Tide.’ One from 1965 pictures a housewife pulling a box of Tide out of her new washer. The headline reads: ‘The best recommendation for Tide comes inside every new Westinghouse Heavy Duty Washer.’ The subsequent tagline: ‘Waltz through washday with a new Westinghouse and Tide.’

As rival brands reached the market, Tide’s scientists made subtle changes to its formula, subsequently touting ‘Improved Tide’ and ‘New Intensified Tide.’ The packaging and the ‘washday miracle’ message remained unchanged.

P&G strove to meet consumer needs by making use of its market research department, created in 1924, to study buying habits. During the ’50s researchers at P&G Canada found that since the levels of water hardness varied from province to province, there was a demand for geographically localized products. They therefore created three different Tide formulas for distribution in different regions.

On the ad front, in the early ’60s Benton & Bowles handed the reins to N.Y.C.-based Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising Worldwide, which still holds the Tide account.

Print ads from this period started to feature the objective of the detergent, as opposed to the squeaky clean housewives. One ad from 1959 shows a small boy playing in a muddy puddle while another features a dog lying on a bed with muddy paw-prints on the blanket. The message on both: ‘It’s a good thing that Tide keeps on working after other suds have quit.’

TV spots began to demonstrate Tide’s cleaning ability, and compare it to other brands. A ‘hidden T-shirt test’ was a staple of the late ’60s, in which a dirty T-shirt comes out looking like new, even when hidden inside other dirty clothes in the washer. ‘Dirt can’t hide from intensified Tide’ was the tagline.

1968-1978: Cue the real women

Celebrity endorsement was used during this decade, with stars such as actress Jane Wyatt appearing in ads of the late ’60s. But as this was a time of empowered, savvy women, P&G also turned to real consumers to do the convincing. In 1970 Tide was actually the first detergent to go this route, with TV spots featuring real women refusing to swap their box of Tide for twice as much of another, unnamed detergent.

This decade also marked the emergence of enzymes in laundry products, a trend adopted from Europe. Enzymes such as protease were promoted as a powerful new way to break down protein and fat stains such as blood, grass, lipstick and chocolate, and consequently Procter & Gamble created Tide XK with added enzymes.

Once again, the linking of cleanliness with happiness was played up in the new Tide formula’s launch. One print ad from 1970 pictures a mother and a pristinely garbed baby, and the copy reads: ‘Tracey got baby food all over the handmade dress her grandmother gave her. But Tide XK cleaned it.’ And TV spots for Tide XK depict grubby children, juxtaposed with clean choirboys wearing white smocks.

1978-1988: Pouring on the research

P&G expanded considerably during this decade, purchasing more companies and dividing into specialized business segments, including an entire unit devoted to research and development. Surveys and focus groups designed by internal P&G knowledge experts were executed by outside research firms such as Ipsos Reid, but P&G marketing and sales managers attended focus groups and even carried out visits with Canadian women in their homes and in stores.

Research conducted during the ’80s found that as more and more women were working full-time and still doing more than 75% of the laundry, time-saving products were increasingly in demand.

This led to the 1984 launch of Liquid Tide. It added a new dimension to the Tide family and was marketed for its ability to remove greasy, oily food splatter without the need to pre-treat stains. Liquid Tide was a global effort from P&G, incorporating surfactants from Japan, fragrance from Europe and packaging from the U.S.

P&G leveraged Tide’s track record in launch advertising for the then-novel liquid version. Early print ads showed an orange liquid pouring into a liquid version of the familiar Tide bull’s eye logo. The caption asks: ‘Who could create a liquid laundry detergent that’s better than yours? Tide.’

Also on the research and development front, the same calcium-delivery technology that enables Tide to soften hard water was employed in the late ’70s in the development of the drug Didronel (etidronate disodium) for use in the treatment of Paget’s disease. And Tide’s ion-neutralizing technology was again reapplied for the 1985 launch of Crest Tartar Control to prevent calcium phosphates (tartar) from binding tightly to tooth enamel.

1988-1998: stereotypes come and go, but clean lasts

Tide’s target market broadened as P&G extended its marketing to reach more diverse family structures. Advertising presented more realistic women in differing roles, a far cry from the laundry-room slaves of earlier creative, and a flurry of new products launched to meet changing needs.

Research found that the consumer was looking for extra whitening power to handle the white clothing in fashion. Tide with Bleach was therefore launched in the U.S. in 1988, with print ads comparing a pristine white sock washed in Tide with Bleach with its filthy mate washed in a different detergent. A popular TV and print tagline during this decade was ‘If it’s got to be clean, it’s got to be Tide.’ In a further example of P&G’s ability to connect technology across categories in unexpected ways, Crest Whitestrips later made use of the same bleaching technology developed for Tide.

Ultra Tide, P&G’s first attempt to market the product in a compact form, hit the shelves in 1990. Although Ultra Tide is still alive and well, Hadley says that at the time, the launch was not successful, as shoppers tended to equate size with value.

During the ’90s both products had rolled out nationally in Canada, and in 1992 Tide Free launched, responding to skin irritations caused by chemicals in detergents.

1998-2008: Making it easier

Throughout the decades, approximately 25% of Tide’s advertising has been homegrown in Canada, with the bulk of the work being adaptations from the U.S. But Toronto-based Saatchi & Saatchi Canada is now delivering around 25% of Tide’s advertising content for North America. One recent example is a multimedia campaign for the launch of 2X Ultra Tide featuring TV personality Kelly Ripa. This campaign, which came out of the Toronto agency, has been among Tide’s strongest and most unusual work in recent history, according to Hadley. ‘It was a departure from Tide’s tradition of using real women in advertising, but Canadian consumers loved her,’ he says.

Brett Channer, chairman /ECD at Saatchi & Saatchi Canada, says of the campaign: ‘The idea was to use Kelly because real women can relate to her and her relationship with her husband and the values she personifies.’

Channer adds that the campaign is typical of recent efforts to demonstrate human insight in Tide’s advertising. ‘Ten years ago we were using a lot of side-by-side comparisons to other brands,’ he says. ‘Today it’s more about product innovation from a human insight point of view.’ Another recent TV spot Channer’s team created features a little boy who is deeply attached to a particular shirt, again making use of human insight.

In 1998 Tide Canada launched its first website and began interactive marketing, a medium that has enabled P&G to reach a broader audience including younger women. Tide.com now offers newsletters about laundry care and incentives such as coupons, sweepstakes and product samples.

Tide’s development in Canada is supported by a vast team including marketing, research, finance and sales experts. While Hadley will not reveal financial details, he does comment: ‘Return on Canadian Tide marketing investment is some of the strongest in the company.’

And of course, the product innovation hasn’t abated. P&G’s fabric softener, Downy, was combined with Tide in 2004 to create Tide with a touch of Downy. P&G’s researchers had tested more than 125 product ideas with consumers and found that Tide with a touch of Downy received the highest response due to its time-saving benefit. Marketing included in-store, TV, print, sampling, promotions and online contests.

In 2007 P&G launched an award-winning interactive campaign on YouTube to support its most recent ‘miracle’ product, the instant stain remover Tide to Go. The ‘Talking stain’ spot, which came from Saatchi’s New York office, was aired during the 2008 Super Bowl, a first for Tide. Like the original invention, word of mouth fuelled trial, and performance triggered further WOM.

Also launched last year, the Pure Essentials line met a consumer desire for a fragranced product to reduce stress levels and increase laundry enjoyment. And it contains some natural ingredients.

Environmental factors have become a major consideration. Tide Coldwater launched in Canada and the U.S. in 2005, following three years of research. More clothing manufacturers were recommending cold-water washing on their garment labels, and consumers wanted to conserve energy. In Canada an upgraded version of Tide Coldwater was created to cope with the extreme winter climate.

According to Hadley, Tide Coldwater is now P&G’s strongest sub-variant in Canada. Marketing came from Saatchi & Saatchi Canada, and the eco angle was touted via programs such as ‘Bring on the Cold,’ a partnership with the Canadian Energy Efficiency Alliance which involved the distribution of millions of Tide Coldwater discount coupons with electricity bills.

To complement this trend, this May P&G Canada converted its liquid laundry detergent portfolio to a concentrated formula which uses 43% less plastic and contains an average of 35% less water. P&G avoided the earlier pitfalls of Ultra Tide by educating consumers about the new packaging at consumer shows and through a contest, as well as mainstream advertising. Hadley describes 2X Ultra Tide as ‘one of our biggest innovations in over 10 years,’ adding that the consumer-research team is focusing on measuring response to the compacted liquid products. ‘There is a good opportunity to drive compaction in Canada on other parts of P&G’s fabric care product portfolio,’ he says.

And yet no one is ignoring the brand’s clean-freak heritage. In April, Tide with Dawn Stainscrubbers hit the shelves, offering a ‘pre-treating boost’ to remove tough stains.

The latest foray is an example of P&G’s willingness to share technology between divisions. A new Tide sub-brand dubbed Total Care, which launched in the U.S. in July (and is expected imminently in Canada), contains ingredients found in beauty care products such as Pantene and Olay. U.S. advertising focuses on the ‘seven signs of beautiful clothes,’ the product benefits being: thorough cleaning, preserved shape, preserved colour, no fabric pills, stain removal and enhanced softness. Tim Gunn of Project Runway is involved in the launch promotion, pushing the fashion link.

Meanwhile, P&G is testing the waters in the U.S. dry cleaning industry, following research indicating that most customers are unhappy with their service. Three ‘Tide Dry Cleaners’ stores opened in the Kansas City area in September, offering tailoring, a drive-through and valet service. A reward program also provides discounts. Marketing in the test area consists of out-of-home and direct mail.

‘A constant focus on the needs of our target has resulted in a steady stream of innovation over 60 years,’ concludes Hadley. And tinkering with Tide got results. ‘Innovation has been the cornerstone of our success.’