Rob Walker reminded me to take a closer look at an article in Sunday’s edition of The New York Times.
The article discusses the efforts to create hand-washing habits in Africa as a disease prevention measure. But embedded in the piece is this pearl:
“For most of our history, we’ve sold newer and better products for habits that already existed,” said Dr. Berning, the P.& G. psychologist. “But about a decade ago, we realized we needed to create new products. So we began thinking about how to create habits for products that had never existed before.”
The article discusses in some detail how P.& G. initially wanted to market Febreze. They introduced Febreze in 1996 as a way to remove odors from smelly clothes. But bad smells occurred too infrequently for a Febreze habit to form, so P.& G. started looking for more regular cues on which they could capitalize.
The perfect cue, they eventually realized, was the act of cleaning a room, something studies showed their target audience did almost daily. P.& G. produced commercials showing women spraying Febreze on a perfectly made bed and spritzing freshly laundered clothing. The product’s imagery was revamped to incorporate open windows and gusts of fresh wind — an airing that is part of the physical and emotional cleaning ritual.
“We learned from consumer interviews that there was an opportunity to cue the clean smell of Febreze to a clean room,” Dr. Berning said. “We positioned it as the finishing touch to a mundane chore. It’s the icing that shows you did a good job.”
Today, Febreze is one of P.& G.’s greatest successes. Customers habitually spray tidied living rooms, clean kitchens, loads of fresh laundry and, according to one of the most recent commercials, spotless minivans. In the most recent fiscal year, consumers in North America alone spent $650 million buying Febreze, according to the company.