Procter & Gamble: Understanding the Hair-Mood Connection (WSJ 30/6/10)
Wash Away Bad Hair Days
In the Lab as Procter & Gamble Tries to Figure Out Pantene, Fickle Shampoo Shoppers and Other Marketing Mysteries
Believing better data leads to happier shoppers, Procter & Gamble Co. recently mobilized its market researchers to scientifically define those infinitely varied unhappy days when a woman’s hair has gone rogue.
They are the dreaded bad hair days, and P&G has put them at the center of a massive research and advertising effort aimed at winning back women to Pantene shampoos and conditioners. At stake are millions of dollars in sales lost during the recession, when consumers cut back discretionary spending and economized on things like hair products.
Scientists at the consumer-products giant surveyed women and found they felt less “hostile,” “ashamed,” “nervous,” “guilty” or “jittery,” depending on the hair products they used, while at other times they said they felt more “excited,” “proud” and “interested.”
Users of a new version of Pantene, one researcher concluded, “reported more joy than those in the control group.”
Understanding the Hair-Mood Connection
P&G researchers had
women take a psychological survey to get insights into their hair-related emotions. Using neuroscience equipment, they measured brainwaves as women watched ads to make sure they were paying attention.
Bad hair days are one focus of the latest Pantene ad. Which one is the bad hair? This is advertising, so they both look pretty good. The bad hair is on the left.
P&G changed the product and packaging to make it easier to shop the ‘wall of white’ bottles in drugstore aisles.
P&G’s ad shows how bad hair makes women feel. In its research, consumers said they felt less ‘hostile’ and ‘nervous,’ depending on the hair products they used.
With an estimated $3 billion in world-wide sales, Pantene is one of P&G’s blockbusters and the longtime top-selling drugstore brand. But it is still hurting from the economic downturn, when women traded down to low-priced rivals like Suave and trendy Tresemmé. Those brands made gains in market share while Pantene’s slipped, according to estimates from data firm Euromonitor International Inc. In 2009, Pantene’s U.S. sales dropped 9% to $812 million, far steeper than the 3% decline for shampoos, conditioners and styling products overall, Euromonitor says.
Bad hair is a touchy subject, and companies step cautiously around the topic. Women blame weather, a bad haircut or a bad night’s sleep—but damaged, unhealthy hair is a big factor in bad hair, too, says David Rubin, director of U.S. hair-care marketing at rival Unilever. New ads for Unilever’s Dove line find humor in the damaging ways women style their hair. “We don’t talk bad hair days very much,” Mr. Rubin says.
Some 25% of women say they feel they don’t want to leave the house on a bad hair day, says Bob Gorman, Alberto-Culver Co.’s U.S. marketing director for Tresemmé. Yet because bad hair is so subjective, it’s difficult to sell a “bad hair” solution.
“Someone with curly hair might want it straight, and someone with straight hair could want it curly,” Mr. Gorman says. “Somebody’s bad hair day could be a good one for you.”
Women are fickle when it comes to shampoo. Only about a third of hair-care users say they stick to a single brand, according to market-research firm Mintel International, and about half say they switch between a couple of brands; the rest say they change “constantly.”
Shampoo tends to be bought on impulse—meaning many women keep some personal inventory at home. “During the recession, people used up what they already had, and then they consolidated to just one or two products instead of three or four,” says Thom Blischok, president of global innovation and strategy for SymphonyIRI Group, a market-research firm.
In spring 2009, scientists at P&G undertook research that was extreme even by the company’s standards, making a deep dive into women’s feelings about their hair. The effort capped years of work at P&G to reformulate Pantene products, redesign the packages and pare the line down from 14 “collections” to eight. Finally, P&G created ads scientifically proven to command attention.
“A ‘good hair day’ is the ultimate goal of our work,” says Jeni Thomas, a senior scientist at P&G, shaking her own thick, smoothly coiffed hair. “If you get it right, it’s a huge emotional lift. If you get it wrong, it’s not.”
P&G is famous for the lengths it will go to get insights into its customers’ needs—measuring toothbrush strokes or counting mascara coats and then devising products that make users feel good.
History of Pantene: The Highlights
Pantene, named for the ingredient panthenol, was launched in 1947 by Swiss drug company Hoffman-LaRoche. The high-end line featured glass bottles.
1960s: Pantene arrives in the U.S. It is sold in luxury settings like the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and Saks Fifth Avenue.
1970s: Gold caps, introduced around 1975, would become an iconic feature of the brand’s packaging.
1985: P&G buys Pantene, with annual sales of about $40 million, as part of the acquisition of consumer-products maker Richardson-Vicks.
1990s: P&G’s global expansion of Pantene begins; sales hit $1 billion in 1995.
2007: Simplified packaging was meant to make selecting Pantene products easier—but sales would drop sharply in the recession.
Pantene, P&G figured, could do more than wash your hair: It could erase your negative feelings about having unattractive hair.
“We wanted to go beyond just talking to consumers about a specific benefit, like smoothness or volume,” Dr. Thomas says. “To gauge the performance of Pantene’s reinvention, it was important to look deeper at these overall feelings about hair.”
The researchers administered the Positive Affect Negative Affect Schedule—a questionnaire psychology researchers employ to measure mood. P&G surveyed almost 3,400 women, who rated how intensely they felt 20 specific emotions in relation to their hair. Then, about 1,300 women went on to use Pantene hair products for one week and afterward completed the questionnaire a second time. About 900 of these women used new Pantene formulas and packaging, and about 400 used the old version.
Both before and after using Pantene, subjects rated how strongly they experienced moods ranging from “enthusiastic,” “determined” and “inspired” to “hostile,” “ashamed” and “irritable.”
“This allows us to understand what people mean when they talk about ‘bad hair,’ ” says Marianne LaFrance, a Yale University professor of psychology who analyzed the P&G test data.
In a separate earlier study of the hair-mood connection conducted in 2000, Dr. LaFrance concluded that “bad hair negatively influences self-esteem, brings out social insecurities and causes people to concentrate on the negative aspects of themselves.”
Comparing the new-Pantene and old-Pantene groups, researchers got insight into how the shampoo and conditioner formulas might affect someone’s emotional state. Dr. LaFrance says overall she found a “statistically significant difference” in the positive emotion scores between the new versus old product users.
New-Pantene users gave especially high scores to four emotions—”excited,” “proud,” “interested” and “attentive.” Test administrators classify the feelings “excited” and “proud” as components of “joy.”
But there were variations among this group. Women using products for “fine hair” reported feeling less “hostile,” “ashamed” and “nervous.” Users of products for color-treated hair reported feeling less “guilty” and “jittery.”
“Jittery might not be the first emotion that comes to mind,” says Dr. LaFrance. “It’s the non-direct link that we’re interested in.”
P&G took a closer look at some of the emotions a number of individuals reported feeling—especially “attentive.” “If people are having a good hair day, do they focus more on what they’re doing?” says Dr. Thomas. “It raised a lot of interesting questions we need to consider on the power of a good hair day.”
As part of the relaunch, P&G simplified the product lineup. Before the relaunch there were 14 Pantene collections spanning 165 individual items—a number that P&G executives concede probably confused shoppers. In fact, people inside P&G sometimes called their brand’s section of the shampoo aisle “the wall of white,” referring to the vast array of Pantene packages.
“It was a tough shopping experience,” says Craig Bahner, P&G’s vice president of North American hair care. “We learned that the brand had become too complex.”
The new formulas are grouped into four main categories—curly, fine, medium/thick and color-treated—and packages are accented with bright colors. P&G also retained the “Classic Care,” “Nature Fusion” and “Relaxed & Natural” lines, and upgraded a fourth line now called “Restore Beautiful Lengths.” In all, they pared the Pantene line down to 120 items.
Finally, to test television ads for new Pantene, P&G, working with a firm it declines to name, hooked viewers up for a high-resolution electroencephalogram, placing caps on subjects’ heads to measure their brainwaves as they watched commercials.
“We know based on what’s firing in the brain whether or not we were tapping into her emotions, whether there is potential she will remember it, and whether she is paying attention to it,” says Catherine Grzymajlo, a senior manager in P&G’s consumer-market knowledge group.
Brainwave activity,or the lack of it,guided changes in Pantene’s commercials, which began airing in May. In one ad, P&G noticed viewers were distracted when a model, with a look of frustration, was trying to deal with her unruly hair; they were wondering why she was upset and stopped focusing on the rest of the ad, Ms. Grzymajlo says. P&G re-edited the spot to focus less on the model’s expression and more on her hair.
Pleased with the insights they gained, P&G researchers say they expect to do similar tests measuring brainwave responses to ads in the future.
“The sky’s the limit in terms of what we can do with it,” says Ms. Grzymajlo.
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