Design matters

Next time you're in a drugstore, check out who's in the condom aisle. Chances are you won't see many female shoppers lurking about. Frankly, there isn't much about the product's manly packaging, clinical merchandising or its latex-odoured, intimacy-quashing attributes that turn on the fair sex.

Next time you’re in a drugstore, check out who’s in the condom aisle. Chances are you won’t see many female shoppers lurking about. Frankly, there isn’t much about the product’s manly packaging, clinical merchandising or its latex-odoured, intimacy-quashing attributes that turn on the fair sex.

Or at least that’s what women told Toronto-based Church & Dwight Canada, producer of the condom-category-leading Trojan brand, over two years of extensive research. As a result, the firm has conceived Elexa, a line of ‘sexual well-being products’ designed for females.

The fact that Church & Dwight has crafted a brand new product with the end user in mind isn’t an anomaly. In fact, companies as varied as Campbell’s (as witnessed by its new conveniently portable Soup-at-Hand invention), General Motors, Lexus, Procter & Gamble, and SC Johnson are taking a market-back approach – keeping the consumer front-and-centre as they toil on brand introductions from beginning to end. This fundamental shift has allowed them to pursue previously untapped markets, and, in some cases, define new channels of distribution for their products.

Jeannette Hanna, VP brand strategy at Toronto-based design firm Spencer Francey Peters, says design’s prominence in business circles is growing, as indicated by a new mandate at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business to bring the discipline into its curriculum.

‘Design has to be embedded in how an organization thinks about how to deliver a service or product,’ she notes. ‘It’s a customer-centric approach and [means] understanding the [importance of] being able to marry those visceral experiences with a strategic context.’

That is clearly the raison d’être for the Elexa brand. Veronique Hamel, director of marketing at Church & Dwight, says everything from the product attributes to packaging and merchandising have been revamped to suit women. ‘Condoms [were] mainly purchased by men. So you start wondering why. What are you doing that [females] don’t get – is it in the message? Is it the product offer? Is it in the shopping experience?’

The answer, apparently, was all of the above. Research indicated that women defined condoms as a barrier to intimacy (thus new products carry names like ‘Elexa Natural Feel Condoms’), and that they were reluctant to be spotted hanging out in the condom aisle.

So Church & Dwight convinced most of its retail partners to display Elexa in the feminine care aisle, where its cosmetic-inspired packaging, designed by U.S.-based shop Colangelo, sits pretty on shelves. Advertising, in the form of TV, print, and Web, launched this month and touts Elexa as a brand that revolutionizes the way women approach sex.

Of course, one of the organizations leading the charge in design innovation right now is Procter & Gamble, whose most recent entry is Tide To Go, a marker-shaped stain remover that consumers can carry in their bags or stash in their cars. The benefit to the brand, according to Toronto-based P&G spokesperson Win Sakdinan, is that it takes Tide outside the traditional laundry category, enabling P&G to expand its distribution. ‘Normally you wouldn’t have wide distribution of laundry products in convenience stores, but this product lends to it, especially with how it’s merchandised,’ says Sakdinan. ‘It has a little button at the top and then you hang it on the racks.’

Tide to Go launched in May, and is supported by a TV spot by Saatchi & Saatchi – depicting a businesswoman using the product to eradicate a stain before giving a presentation – as well as novel marketing executions such as branded hot dog stands (ketchup, get it?). Sakdinan says: ‘At P&G, we spend a lot of time in consumers’ homes…. By seeing and viewing them in their home environment, and how they use products, you see the challenges and opportunities you can meet.’

According to Christopher Lynch, an alum of Procter & Gamble, and now a consultant with Toronto-based Deloitte, companies that have truly embraced design do so organizationally. He says P&G’s success has largely been due to its Innovation Council, which brings design experts together to examine the CPG firm’s next wave of products. ‘They decide based on design expertise and consumer insight what kinds of products make the cut or not. So that’s really a good example of bringing the consumer into the overall design of an organization.’

Brantford, Ont.-based SC Johnson has also unveiled brand extensions to reach more consumers via more channels. Two recent examples include the Fantastik Fresh Brush, featuring a flushable toilet cleaner head, and Glade Ultra, a minute version of Glade air freshener spray.

Unlike its larger sibling that tends to live under the sink, Glade Ultra can be taken ‘from the bathroom to the kitchen, and [even] to the gym,’ says VP marketing Neil Chin, who adds ‘actually we’re finding a lot of teens take it [to school] for their lockers…. We’re seeing the demos skew much larger.’ Along with TV and mag ads from FCB Toronto, Glade Ultra was promoted through an on-pack co-promo with Irving tissue, and sampling at home shows.

And from a channel standpoint, Glade Ultra has found its way to multiple locations because of its handy lipstick-like size – whether it’s near the checkout at Canadian Tire, or in c-stores.

But, Chin points out, you can’t launch a brand extension without monitoring consumer response on an ongoing basis. ‘You want to ensure you have a valuable stream of ‘continual consumer insights.’ This allows you to grow your target, offer up more new items and strike a balance between those and the base business.’ After all, why flush money down the toilet?