Monday, July 18, 2005

New Look, Same Great Formula

My anti-perspirant of choice is Ban. I’ve used it for more than 15 years. The Unscented version. Only Unscented. A few months ago, by mistake, I bought the Powder Fresh version. The moment I put it on I smelled like a newly cleaned toilet. It went straight to the trash. Why do they make these scented versions? Why would I use an anti-perspirant as a perfume? Can’t we assume there are better perfumes out there?

But that’s not what I wanted to write about. What I wanted to write about is the disapperance of the standard, blue and white Ban container, and it’s replacement with a light green, 60’s looking, UGLY new container. I can’t pinpoint the precise moment in time when this change took place, but this weekend, when I went to replenish my Ban supply, green was the color, and ugly was the look.

Marketing is part of my work, and I’m always fascinated by the behind-the-scenes machinations involved in getting top management to replace a perfectly good looking, classic design, with a horrid, makes-my-skin-crawl new one. What brilliant product manager came up with the idea that changing the look would boost sales? How many design agencies pitched their ideas? Which top manager ultimately settled on this one? How much was the design firm paid for their innovation? Did the product manager like it too, or did he/she kick themselves for even bringing it up?

And of course there’s the more personal problem. I used to keep my Ban on the little shelf to the right of my sink. In plain sight. But with this new look, I’ll have to start hiding it. The green doesn’t match anything in my bathroom.

My first job in the U.S. was with G----- Scientific Instruments. The running joke at the company was that any new product would be painted in G----- Beige. A light shade of beige, reminscent of nothing in particular, and horridly so. How was this color ever selected? Well, apparently the CEO had chosen it, and he loved it. The only problem was that the CEO was, apparently, certifiably color blind…

Later in my work life, I ran marketing communications for a telecomm equipment company. What’s the difference between marketing communications and engineering? That when you’re an engineer, the only requirement is that whatever you do has to work. No one second guesses how you did it, because they can’t understand it anyway. But in Marcom, everyone’s an expert. And the biggest expert is usually the CEO. Everyone above you in the heirarchy feels at liberty to comment on your work, and to correct it, before a failure has even been detected…

At least in the Ban case, there is a quantifiable outcome. Will Ban sales go up or go down? If I’m any example, they’ll go down. I’ve started a search for a new anti-perspirant. One that won’t embarrass me sitting in plain view on my bathroom shelf.


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