Why Clorox’s CMO Isn’t Afraid of Ecommerce—or How Millennials Are Disrupting the Industry

Eric Reynolds discusses brand building, Amazon and social

Clorox CMO Eric Reynolds

“First name Stephen, last name Curry/He came into my life and now everything is less blurry.”

Those catchy lyrics are from a Brita stream commercial that premiered earlier this month. It was corny but laughable and instantly became an internet ear worm.

Brita, a Clorox Company brand, had little choice but to let it become a meme. And according to, Eric Reynolds, Clorox’s chief marketing officer and senior vice president, it’s fine. Needed, even. Reynolds believes that by letting content evolve with and by its audience, it can create a better “experience.” It doesn’t want to bleach anything out.

At last week’s annual Clorox iConnect conference, which brings together the brand’s entire marketing organization, Reynolds sat down with us to talk about millennials, memes and what Clorox is doing to stay competitive in the ecommerce world.

Amazon is a friend, not the enemy

Clorox wants to reach any and all consumers and to do so, it’s built relationships with companies like Amazon and Walmart to meet them there. It appears to be a win-win relationship, with Clorox gaining access to new features—like the rumored ads coming to Alexa.

“They’ve asked us to come in to help contemplate this question ‘what does advertising look like on Alexa?’” I don’t know where it’s going to end but I like the fact that we’re part of the discussion as they’re trying to figure it out.”

Participating in ecommerce decisions—like the Alexa ads— is what Clorox wants, to learn and be at the forefront of what’s going in the industry.

“It’s only five percent of [our] sales but we treat it like it’s almost 50. But eventually 20 to 25 percent of our sales will be on ecommerce and the time to figure out that is not when consumers are buying 25 percent of their stuff on ecommerce.”

Reynolds also isn’t afraid of a bit of competition from a company like Amazon, which also has an in-house brand called Amazon Basics that competes with Clorox products (and tend to appear above brands).

“We’ve competed against private label for most of our life. And store brands are another brand that we compete with and our share versus store brands or private labels have been pretty stable over the last decade or two. We don’t mind competition from the platform; makes us better and sharper and again, we tend to win because we have the leading brand.”

Ecommerce isn’t just a selling platform

To Reynolds, ecommerce is more than just another platform Clorox needs to figure out. It’s also an opportunity for the brand to connect with the consumer, such as creating more vibrant product descriptions or keeping a regularly updated company blog.

For example, the page for Clorox Disinfecting Wipes includes how to use the product in different parts of the home, answers questions about the ingredients, addresses safety concerns and includes customer reviews. A recent company blog details one Clorox executive’s essay on why vacations are necessary.

“It’s one of the most significant investment areas for the company today,” said Reynolds. “[Ecommerce is] just a better experience so we better be there and joyfully.”

Ecommerce has also made Clorox realize just how much power the consumer has over brands.

“No ecommerce platform, including Amazon, reveals the exact math that leads to what order products appear in,” Reynolds said. “[But] we know that their math heavy favors people that read a lot of favorable reviews. We have to start with quality products, great experience in the home [and] we need people to write reviews about them.”

Quality doesn’t stop at the product either; it also includes content on how to use an item and in what quantity and packing it arrives in.

“Our content has to be pretty comprehensive, but it has to be easily understood by the consumer and it sounds obvious but we’ve had to learn the best way to do that,” Reynolds said. “The irony of ecommerce is you have an infinite shelf but people don’t do a lot of scrolling. So our job is to stay at the top of the rankings and you have to earn your way there, you can’t pay your way there. So we think it’s the ultimate democracy of packaged goods because the consumer has all the power.”

Brands still matter to millennials

According to press reports, millennials are killing everything. Millennials are killing jewelers, the real estate industry, restaurants, cable, marriage and even motorcycles. Reynolds doesn’t see it that way at all.

“[Millenials] vote with their money and more consciously want to be associated with brands that not just have good product but perhaps stand for something they care about or support a cause or whatever have you,” he said.

And finding a way to make a brand relevant to millennials isn’t a chore—it’s part of the job and necessary to keep the company alive.

“I think millennials are demanding more from brands, and it’s my job to make our brands as relevant and interesting and vibrant. One of the best things millennials have done for brand building is they’ve forced us all to raise our game significantly because you don’t accept things at face value. And that puts a real challenge on us to get off our chairs and make brands interesting.”

Letting go of control on social

If the Tide Pod meme is any indication, it’s clear that no company owns their brand—especially on social. Instead, companies are shaped by the conversation that happens on social.

“We are no longer in as much control as we think we were, if we ever were. And it’s kind of fun because it makes brand building more of a rodeo and more unpredictable and I think that makes it more real and fun.”

No plans for the Super Bowl

While Clorox values how the Super Bowl brings people together, it has no ad plans.

“We’ll always respond to the cultural conversation and the brands we think are right, but we have nothing planned for any paid media around the event. For us, when we look at how we want to invest the money and where we think it is, we always contemplate that choice,” Reynolds said.

Humility is key in today’s marketing world

Reynolds acknowledges that some of Clorox’s “early mistakes” with ecommerce included simply applying whatever worked for a physical, in-store experience to online.

“I think today we have the humility to say these are two totally new technologies, totally new platforms. Let’s be sure we have the humility to go in and really learn and assume like we’re all just starting over again.”

He applies this mindset to other parts beyond ecommerce, like search. That doesn’t mean Clorox is moving a glacial place; instead the company is trying to move faster and not “study things for a year and half anymore.”

“In the last five years, the way we market is everyone gets to be a student now,” Renyolds said. “If anyone tells you they’ve figured out this out, be very suspicious because it’s a time for learning.”