Method Co-Founder Offers Spin on Viral Video, Laundry

Method recently achieved a feat that many marketers will envy—it launched a hot viral video. The ad, via Droga5, showed a woman being first charmed and then harassed by “Shiny Suds,” animated critters that riffed on Dow’s (now S.C. Johnson’s) Scrubbing Bubbles ads and aimed to show how other cleaners leave a residue. Method, however, quickly took the video down (by week’s end, it had become the 40th most watched ad on YouTube globally ) after critics complained it was insensitive to victims of sexual assault. Though the video was short-lived, “Shiny Suds,” as a viral sensation, was anything but. In fact, the eco-friendly cleaning and personal care products maker is looking to make headlines some other ways, including the launch of a new laundry detergent, an increased investment in traditional ads and lobbying for full disclosure of all household cleaning products. Brandweek spoke with Method co-founder (and chief brand architect) Eric Ryan about these and other changes. Excerpts from Ryan’s conversation are below.

Brandweek:  Method is pushing for the Household Product Labeling Act of 2009 to pass Congress. How will legislation like that—if enacted—affect the household cleaning industry?
Eric Ryan:
It’ll result in more transparency, and that’s going to be a great thing for the industry. [Method has] been transparent since the very beginning in disclosing our ingredients. When we started to get into the business of household chemicals, we were appalled to find out that if you are a manufacturer of food or personal care products, you are required to disclose your ingredients, yet, with home care products, that’s not the case. This is ridiculous because when you spray or touch [a cleaning product], you absorb it into your bloodstream very quickly either by breathing or placing it on your skin.

BW: Regarding the “Shiny Suds” ad: What was the thinking behind this spot? Did Method ever think it would get such a response?
It has been a really fun journey. We shared this video at the [Association of National Advertisers’] conference, and we also shared it with Sen. Al Franken’s office before [we aired it on YouTube]. The challenge here is, there are two bills that are being sponsored—one by Congressman Steve Israel, the other by  Franken—but both try to achieve the same thing. Prior to my talk at the ANA, if you were to Google these bills, you would have found absolutely nothing being spoken about in the press and blogosphere. There was literally like one entry online, and that article didn’t even mention the bill when you clicked on the link. That was ultimately what we were trying to achieve. We think of ourselves very much as a challenger brand and a brand driven by a mission—hence, the idea of “people against dirty.” The goal was to try to create dialogue and build interest for this bill. The second challenge was, we had a budget of $200,000 for the back half of the year to build support for this bill, and to do it in a low-interest category is a pretty uphill battle—to take what’s [boring]: cleaning—and suddenly make it high interest. We were extremely proud of what we achieved. It’s pretty safe to say this ad has been viewed by a couple of million people…It was the 40th most viewed video on YouTube globally [within the week it aired].

BW: And the backlash?
We did have a very small minority of individuals who expressed concern over the content. It was due to the ad’s sensitive nature. We did receive an overall positive reaction to it, though. The media reaction was, “Wow, there must have been a bigger backlash,” but if you research it, you’ll find very little [negative] noise about it [from a consumer standpoint]. The perception in the media community, however, was that there was a backlash. Because we’re a company that takes to heart social issues and always wants to do the right thing, we decided to take down the viral video.

BW: How do you expect your new laundry detergent to change the category?
We’re really excited about this from a technological and disruptive point of view. It’s the biggest thing we’ve ever done in our company’s history. We couldn’t be prouder. We believe this is not only the world’s greenest, but also the most efficient [laundry detergent] from a small company. We’re challenging consumers to rethink the way they do laundry. The focus of [the campaign, which begins next month,] is to compare the laundry jug to the antiquated way of doing laundry. We have a history of influencing the category, whether it’s in cleaning, hand wash or air care. The last time we did a laundry care launch was [in 2004], the first superconcentrated detergent. It was the catalyst that inspired the entire industry to change. While we don’t have a goal here to bring as many customers into the category via something that’s better for the planet, we imagine this will certainly set off some sort of change.
BW: Method doesn’t spend a lot on advertising, but given the successes of the “Shiny Suds” viral hit, will you be doing more advertising this year?
We were pretty quiet for the most part in 2009, and 2010 will [mark] our highest expenditure on advertising and marketing in our company’s history. So, we’re starting off the first half of this year with the new laundry detergent, and we’re really treating that as a halo product that supports the entire Method brand. We’re also a brand that has very much been on the cutting edge for our use of “earned media” [which includes PR, advocacy and social media], but we’ll be leveraging traditional advertising more this year because of the credibility it gives.