Herbal Essence Snags 2007 ReBrand 100 Global Award

P&G's rebranding of Herbal Essences has been named among the top five most effective in the 2007 ReBrand 100 Global Awards.

The annual awards, organized by ReBrand (rebrand.com), a forum for rebranding case studies, are judged by an international panel of business executives. Products, services, companies, non-profit organizations, cities, countries, buildings and interior environments rebranded between January 2004 and September 2006 were eligible to enter this year's worldwide competition.

Other rebrands named among the best were for DAI, Duhan d.d. Rijeka, Hard Rock International and Lovelace Health System.

P&G faces no small challenge with Herbal Essences, part of its 2001 acquisition of Clairol. The brand experienced its heyday in the '70s, capturing the loyalty of real and would-be flower children with its positioning as a botanically based, highly aromatic "Garden of Earthly Delights" experience. By the '90s, the brand had wilted in the face of competition from all sides, including natural and organic hair-care products from major consumer marketers and boutique brands like the Body Shop.

KTG's "Totally Organic Experience" ad campaign, which portrayed shampooing with Herbal Essences as a positively orgasmic experience, aroused interest for a time, but soon became overused and anti-climactic. Sales and distribution suffered, and the brand faced "irrelevancy and D-listing in the marketplace," in ReBrand's wording.

P&G, working with Cincinnati-based branding agency LPK, dove into 18 months of exhaustive consumer research and emerged in May 2006 with new brand strategy tailored to attract the "spontaneous, optimistic, altruistic, experiential" Gen Y female.

The from-scratch strategy included a new logo (an old-fashioned-looking rose illustration was dropped in favor of a streamlined circle with a "feminine flourish" and a much more prominent brand name), several catchily-named new product collections ("Body Envy," "Break's Over," etc.) and perhaps most important, totally new packaging.

Since the shampoo aisle is a riot of colors, the packaging instead emphasizes shape as a differentiator. Furthermore, the curvy new shampoo and conditioner bottles were designed to nest together, making them a delivery system that encourages tandem buys.

Herbal Essences Marketing Director Christopher Keith credits the packaging, plus "cutting-edge technology, fragrances and our holistic marketing campaign" as key elements in the rebranding. He confirms that the holistic marketing approach has been continued this year, with vehicles including TV, print, interactive, public relations and in-store programs.

According to Nielsen Monitor-Plus, the rebranding was supported by $37.8 million in ad expenditures in major media last year (versus $18.7 million for the brand in 2005), with a particular push on the "Totally Twisted" curls and waves collection ($15.3 million) and the "Hello Hydration" collection ($7 million). (The latter collection also has been a main focus for this year, accounting for $6.2 million of its total $8.6 million in ad spend as of April.)

According to P&G's awards entry, the rebranding's initial results included increasing Herbal Essences' distribution among three of its top five customers by over 25%. Four times as many displays were shipped as in past launches. In the first three months, overall volume share jumped by 6%, with some customers seeing 9% volume share increases.

P&G isn't sharing to-date sales data, but its financial statements since the relaunch have consistently cited Herbal Essences as among the drivers of its double-digit hair care sales growth.

A strong first year doesn't guarantee sustained success, of course. "They've done a really good job at updating the brand to be resonant with the values of their target audience," says Robert Passikoff, president of the Brand Keys, Inc. branding agency. "Now we'll have to see what happens. Only time will tell."

Passikoff notes that package redesign is often a strategy of last resort--"companies too often believe that 'If I repackage it, they will come,'" he says. However, he stresses that P&G "generally doesn't make such mistakes," and seems to have sought to tackle the core issues in its rebranding initiative.

Branding consultant Rob Frankel is considerably more skeptical. "This is one small part of a much larger issue, which is companies exhuming and retooling old brands to try to get some remaining leverage out of the original brand value," as opposed to creating new brands that have clear, resonant benefits and positioning that enable them to withstand time, he contends. "Many of the big brands built in recent years look strong to us, but if their advertising and marketing budgets were to dry up, you'd quickly see them turn to dust."

The relaunched Herbal Essences brand is likely to ride on female Boomers' nostalgia and willingness to buy the product for their daughters, rather than be driven by Gen Y's themselves, Frankel maintains. "Sure, they're using a youthful advertising message, and this only makes sense, because older people are going to 'buy down' anyway"--whereas the reverse strategy of trying to use a mature advertising approach to young people is a recipe for failure, he says.

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