Two of the most terrific marketing ideas

Alka-Seltzer and Febreze. What do these two products have in common? They both were propelled forward in terms of sales by two uniquely brilliant marketing ideas. For those of you who sell or market products or services for a living, the previous sentence probably got your attention. For customers, this will likely interest you as well.

Courtesy of author Malcolm Gladwell in his compilation book of news stories he wrote in The New Yorker magazine, called “What the dog saw,” these two products are explored. First, let’s discuss Alka-Seltzer, the product that combines aspirin and bicarbonate soda to help with heartburn and indigestion.

Here is the little known fact about Alka-Seltzer. While sold in pouches of two tablets within a box of pouches, the customer really only needs one tablet to help alleviate the problem. When Bayer was putting together the ad campaign, a jingle writer came up with the song, “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.” This jingle conveyed the message that you needed two tablets, so Alka-Seltzer was packaged that way going forward (note two tablets were not deemed to be too much of a dose). One small jingle immediately doubled sales of the product.

Febreze had a tougher road to hoe, but it should not have been so hard. Like Alka-Seltzer, the product worked, in this case in eliminating odors. But, no one was buying it. Febreze was almost pulled from the market by Proctor and Gamble. Then, the company looked at footage of the product being used which revealed a surprising development. Women who used the product on their sheets would sniff the pleasant scent after they sprayed it on.

The light bulb came on. The ad campaign immediately shifted to sell Febreze as a fresher smelling odor fighter. Commercials showed women sniffing the nicer smell produced by the Febreze spray on their sheets and in bathrooms. Sales took off from there. And, Febreze now has many copiers in other products.

In both of these situations, the companies started off with a product that worked. Yet, in both situations, the marketing folks earned their keep. The sad fact is these same kinds of marketing efforts are used with products that are not as good as advertised or are over-sold as higher quality experiences. You pay more because you feel “you are worth it” as one slogan says. So, we buyers must beware.


18 thoughts on “Two of the most terrific marketing ideas

    • Ang, so true. There are numerous stories of how things have been upsold. There is a well known Scotch that is sold as higher quality than it is. It was a conscious decision that works. The slogan I ended the piece with is from a famous women’s make up line. When I was renting my first apartment, only a few were advertised as “luxury apartments.” Now, almost every one advertises as such. Keith

  1. Note to Readers: Thinking back on slogans and marketing campaigns, sometimes when the slogan is lifted by the spokesperson or character. Fram Oil filters used a seasoned mechanic to utter the famous line “You can pay me now, or pay me later” to see the preventive maintenance of a Fram filter. The pompous acting John Houseman sold the wisdom of Smith Barney’s investment advice saying “They make money the old fashioned way, they earn it.”

  2. That’s interesting Keith, those association of ideas becoming embedded.
    We had an interesting turn around of a product back in the 1990s.
    The dry stout beer Guinness, originally brewed in Ireland was looked on either as a worker’s drink, or essentially something the Irish drank, essentially blue collar. A marketing team came up with a series of image heavy surrealistic adverts which ended with Rutger Hauer seated in some improbable place making a wry comment as he drank the brew.
    With in a short space of time, the young professionals’ market was captured.

    • Roger, I did not know that. Excellent analogy. There is a joke I heard around that time of a beer brewer’s conference. At the table, each of the CEO’s ordered their own beer. The Guinness CEO ordered water. When the waiter asked if he wanted his own beer, he said “If the others are not going to drink a beer, then I won’t either.” Keith

  3. Note to Readers: A couple of tips to save money. Don’t be starry eyed over brand names. For the most part, generic drugs have shown us they are just as effective and often made by the same process, just stamped differently. Plus, some store brands of other products are just as good. My wife likes a cottage cheese store brand better than brand names, eg.

      • I worked in the advertising industry for about 8 years before I moved into film.
        Some of the awful things they pushed in a merry way made me feel rotten about myself. So, I moved on!

      • Resa, I was unaware of your history. It goes to say, one has to be proud of what the company does or it will eventually repel you. Keith

    • I think in some respects selling a product beyond its value has often been a subtle implication and has been around since advertising took off.. Think of the luxury car brands that convey extra quality – Lexus, with the choice of its name, was easier to sell as quality than Infiniti or Acura. But, your point is well taken. Keith

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