Opinion: Lessons Learned

Working for Summer’s Eve for nearly a decade, I’ve seen and heard everything—every vaginal euphemism, every douche joke—even a Saturday Night Live spoof a few years back. Nothing fazes us. You learn quickly to keep your head down and focus on the brand, and turn a deaf ear to wise cracks.
As happens to many brands, we had unknowingly become creatures of habit. We had stopped taking the risks necessary to really get into our consumers’ minds to find that ownable place, and the result was a wrong-headed advertorial and eye-opening backlash.
When every product—from soap to toilet paper to insurance—is fighting for a space in the overcrowded consumer’s mind, staying the course just isn’t an effective strategy.
To come out ahead—to be heard—means taking risks. But how many of us really take those leaps?
Old Spice can certainly be credited with taking a major brand leap. After decades of being perceived as a stodgy product for older men and losing share, Old Spice reinvented itself as a young, hip and even irreverent brand. And while it seems like an obvious marketing strategy now that the campaign had seen significant success, the move away from the brand’s core consumer of the past was a risky move.
Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” was certainly a risk-taking endeavor as well and, yet, one entirely driven by consumer insights. Dove could have taken the conservative marketing approach, ignored the undercurrent of self-esteem issues surfacing among women, and focused simply on the nuances of beauty product positioning. Instead, it dove head first into unsettled waters and arose a hero among women—and their daughters. Dove embraced the fact that women, no matter the age, wanted someone to recognize that beauty isn’t just about what’s on the surface—that it runs deep. The campaign’s success speaks for itself.

True, it’s daunting to embark on a new brand direction, and I’d bet many brand managers question a) whether it’s worth trying to turn the Titanic, so to speak, with new creative, or b) whether the return on investment will be there long term, and choose not to because they’ve got so much invested in one direction. There’s certainly no one answer.

I think the bigger question, however—one we at Summer’s Eve learned the hard way—is whether we, as brand managers, are really hearing our consumers. Forget the risk, forget “turning the Titanic.” At the end of the day are we really moving the needle on our businesses and creating lasting relationships with our consumers?
Since this past September, we asked ourselves just that, and embarked on a multimarket listening tour. Our intention was to leave behind any historical approaches and preconceived notions and really listen—to gain insight into women’s understanding of the role hygiene plays in their lives, both practically and emotionally.
We talked to hundreds of women through focus groups and conversations across the United States, and in the process, learned a lot about women’s needs—and about ourselves as brand managers.
Our goal was to reset and recharge our brand communication. Today, we’re refreshing our campaign with a more modern look and feel. And only a few months from now in July, we’ll build on that refresh to launch a completely new brand voice. Our consumers will have to tell us what they think.
Either way, every step Summer’s Eve takes going forward will be consumer driven. We’ve committed to walking in lockstep with the people that use our products and could be using our products—to listen and to take risks if that’s what it takes to cut through the industry clutter.

Angela Bryant is senior brand manager at Summer’s Eve. She can be reached at