CPG, Household: Purex’s GM of Laundry and Home Care, Henkel North America, Eric Schwartz

The art of making a budget brand top-shelf in less than three years

There’s a problem in the low-priced detergent category: parity performance. It’s the shopper’s assumption that all discount brands are pretty much the same. That assumption is normally a brand’s kiss of death—but if you’re Purex’s Eric Schwartz, it’s an opportunity. “The advantage of being a value brand,” he says, “is that you can offer a consumer new reasons to be interested—and she assumes there’s already value associated.”

For Schwartz, giving shoppers new reasons to be interested is something of an obsession—one he’s used to propel an 89-year-old budget brand into the top-shelf category in less than three years. Taking advantage of the market slack created when Unilever sold off its detergent behemoths (including Wisk and All) in 2008, Schwartz’s first move was to rush two premium extensions into stores: Purex Complete 3-in-1 and, this past year, Purex Crystals—detergent, softener, and anti-static combos that delivered a superior wash for about 30 cents.

Next, realizing that 70 percent of all purchase decisions are made in the store aisle, Schwartz worked with Zooka Creative and Energy BBDO to develop battery-driven, push-button video demonstration screens that clipped right to the store shelves. “All great technology ideas are ones just waiting for a product to bring them to life,” Schwartz says.

Meanwhile, Schwartz broadened Purex’s direct-marketing emphasis from TV to social media. Identifying the 2,000 most influential “mommy bloggers” in the U.S., Schwartz recruited them to be “Purex Insiders,” who got freebies of Purex products to test-drive in their own washing machines. The resulting word-of-mouth among moms pushed Purex’s Facebook fan base from 10,317 to 365,333—an increase of 3,441 percent.

Thanks to these efforts, Purex is notching its third straight year of market-share gains above 5 percent. The brand is on track to do $100 million in sales, soaping the company forecast of $57 million.

“We have a unique role in bringing innovation to the market that shows real differences, not just advertising,” Schwartz says.

Editor's Note: This is just one of ten Brand Genius winners being introduced by Adweek this week. Check back Wednesday through Thursday of this week for more!