Turning the Tide

October 6, 2009 at 9:39 am 5 comments

Tide BasicThe Wall Street Journal reports the rollout of “Tide Basic,” a new, lower-priced version of America’s top laundry detergent. Tide’s parent Procter & Gamble is introducing the product to combat the surge of bargain and private label store brands amid the economic downturn.

Tide is to P&G what Chevrolet is to GM, a mega-brand in its own right with $3 billion in annual sales. Also like Chevy, Tide offers numerous “models,”  including Tide HE, Tide Free, Tide HE Free, Tide with a Touch of Downey, and Tide HE with a Touch of Downey. There is also Tide Stain Release “in-wash booster” and Tide to Go in a pen-style applicator. And of course, there is just plain old Tide.

Tide may be Chevy in terms of mass appeal and line extension, but it is Cadillac in price point. This creates P&G’s multipart marketing dilemma:

  • Reinvigorate Tide’s slipping market share as households cut back
  • Protect Tide’s “high end” positioning while responding to market trends toward cheaper products
  • Capture market share from competitors with the new product, not cannibalize existing Tide sales

The Wall Street Journal diagrams P&G’s tightrope act with Tide Basic:

  • Product: Tide Basic is a traditional powder with fewer of the unique ingredients that set apart the specialized versions of Tide. The trick is to show that Tide Basic is more than “good enough” without making the more expensive Tide sub-brands seem superfluous.
  • Packaging: The dominant color is yellow, an element of the Tide bullseye but not the iconic orange of the main Tide line. (Go to your supermarket’s laundry aisle and you will see the orange monolith that is the Tide display.) Recalling Tropicana’s sales disaster when Peter Arnell got ahold of their classic carton, packaging alone is a make-or-break proposition.
  • Placement: Tide Basic has been placed on shelves among its targeted lower price competitors. This is another critical strategy as shoppers look for “their brands” in accustomed locations. For example, if you want bargain-price, “bagged” cereal, you look on the lower shelves, not among the major brands at eye level.

Introduced in 1946, Tide is a post-war icon. It proudly touted itself as a synthetic detergent, another man-made wonder in the age of penicillin, jet planes, A-bombs and television. It boasted its premium status just as we were shaking off the deprivations of the Depression and hitting the freshly laid interstate for suburbia. Now many of us have adopted a pre-war mindset as we struggle in the worst economy since those years. With Tide Basic, the Tide brand continues its quest to be all things to all people including something it’s never been–cheap. If consumers respond, it may be the biggest breakthrough in over 60 years of R&D.


Entry filed under: Branding, Marketing. Tags: , , .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Walt Norwood  |  October 14, 2009 at 7:22 am

    While not a marketing guy I have to question whether they just split their market share. It seems to me that those most likely to move to the cheap version are consumers happy with Tide. My wife explained that using a laundry soap that doesn’t irritate the household skins is more important than price to her. Now that Tide has a cheaper model she thinks many of the current users will try the cheaper powder.

    • 2. jasonkarpf  |  October 14, 2009 at 9:23 pm

      Current Tide users jumping ship to the new cheaper version is exactly what P&G does NOT want to see, but it is a real possibility. The problem comes with the “have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too” approach to the brand, trying to leverage the powerful Tide name into cheaper offerings. Tide is essentially a company unto itself and it wants to protect its market share. At what price? By undermining the image of a premium brand? By slashing profit margins if current Tide customers stampede to the cheaper “Tide Basic?”

  • 3. Allan  |  October 29, 2009 at 1:33 am

    I’m going for the cheaper version as a substitute. Not moving from a different competitive brand at all.

    • 4. jasonkarpf  |  October 29, 2009 at 8:50 am

      That’s P&G’s marketing nightmare, but it may be the market reality they have to face. Some would argue that P&G should play up their cheaper brands as the discount alternative, but as I mention, “Tide” is a company unto itself and undoubtedly the brand’s management would not be happy with surrendering share to anyone else, even another P&G product.

  • 5. Turning the Tide, Part 2 «  |  December 19, 2010 at 12:29 am

    […] Procter & Gamble’s megabrand, is expanding its horizons again. Last year, I blogged about the introduction of Tide Basic, a stripped-down version of the iconic detergent intended to ply budget-minded consumers. Now, Tide […]


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