For Jessica Buttimer, Clorox Green Works wasn’t just a pet project. It was a cause, rooted in her “very liberal” upbringing. The daughter of a Peace Corps worker, Buttimer joined corporate America to make a difference.
But the Marin County mom, an active hiker and supporter of local organic farmers, was also aware that there needed to be a good business reason for Clorox to get into the green space. At first, that didn’t seem so obvious.
“The biggest challenge was the whole orthodoxy that this wasn’t a big enough idea. The category was so small at the time. There were so many consumer barriers two and a half years ago involving price, perception of efficacy, availability at stores, trust,” says Buttimer, referring to the market for green cleaning products. Buttimer pegs that niche, at least at the time Clorox was studying it, at somewhere south of 1 percent. “It was too small, too emerging and the size of those barriers too large.”
Buttimer found a way to overcome those barriers and convince Clorox to roll the dice. The result was a success, not only in ecological terms, but measured in the other kind of green as well. Six months after Green Works’ January 2008 launch, the line had surpassed Clorox’s initial projections, posting sales of $13.6 million, according to IRI. (That amount does not include sales at Walmart.) As sales have continued to climb, the line has sprouted into new areas like detergents and stain removers. Buttimer’s belief that the category would grow was also confirmed: The green segment now accounts for about 3 percent of sales of all U.S. cleaning products, and Green Works commands a 45-50 percent share of that.
It’s no secret that Clorox is stealing share from other entrenched green brands. For the 52 weeks ended Aug. 9, Green Works’ all-purpose cleaner posted a 96 percent increase in sales while a comparable product from Method was off about 20 percent and Seventh Generation, down 15 percent, per IRI.
In retrospect, it all seems so simple, but a green product by a major consumer packaged-goods company was hardly a guaranteed hit. None of the other major players—Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Reckitt Benckiser—have one (although SC Johnson has since jumped in with its Nature’s Source line and Church & Dwight has introduced a green line called Arm & Hammer Essentials), so Clorox’s launch was clearly a gamble. But Buttimer had a hunch that there was an audience for a mainstream green product that didn’t cost too much.
The target psychographic, says Buttimer, “was a pretty mainstream consumer who wanted to take small steps toward a greener lifestyle. She’s not necessarily a member of the Sierra Club, doesn’t wear Birkenstocks or live in the Bay Area. The relevance was there for her, the access was not,” she says noting that pricing and distribution addressed those barriers. “We did things like shelving Green Works next to conventional cleaning products, not next to green ones.”
Pricing also helped. In a category of green products selling at 50-100 percent premiums over conventional brands, Clorox is holding to a 15-20 percent difference. Bill Patterson, a senior market analyst with Mintel, Chicago, says he expected the green wave to crest as the economy faltered, but Green Works has defied those predictions: “We were surprised that Green Works took off the way it did but we feel that confirms the latent pent-up demand that exists for these products when done right.”
Buttimer refers to Green Works as Clorox’s “small, social brand,” and its launch broke ranks with the more media-driven conventions of its larger corporate siblings. Her team, including Marc Umscheid, who took over as Green Works’ marketing director in November 2007 when Buttimer went on maternity leave prior to launch, has placed heavy emphasis, appropriately enough, on grassroots marketing. Clorox gives away Green Works samples at eco festivals and events, has become active on Facebook and reaches out to influential bloggers. Last month, Green Works announced a new partnership to host a yearlong series of clothes swapping and recycling events around the country.
In an effort awarded at Cannes this year, Clorox used the high-traffic, filthy entrance to San Francisco’s Broadway tunnel as a product demo opportunity. Working with agency partner DDB West, Clorox got an artist to use Green Works to etch out drawings of plants and trees on the wall in an effort known as “Reverse Graffiti” that soon became a YouTube hit.
So did Buttimer achieve her dream of making a difference? Stacey Grier, chief strategic officer at DDB, says the initiative was a triumph for Buttimer as well as Clorox: “Jessica put her heart and soul in this launch. This was a passionate project for her, and she loved and believed in the product concept.”