Summer’s Eve Readies New Voice After Ad Misstep

Having published one of the more embarrassing ads of 2010, executives at Summer’s Eve say a new campaign breaking this month will pull the feminine-care brand out of the past and introduce a more “relevant” voice that will connect with the modern American woman.

The ad that ran last August—a magazine execution that recommended douching as the first step toward getting a raise at work—was widely criticized as out of touch and even offensive. And while it was more muddled than malicious, brand manager Angela Bryant admitted the misstep was part of a chronic problem in the way Summer’s Eve had been talking to its target audience.

“We have not been having that conversation in a relevant voice,” Bryant said. “The whole category has been stuck in the ’70s. We need it to evolve.”

The C.B. Fleet brand plans to evolve, Bryant said, simply by speaking to women in a more direct, confident voice about when to use the product, rather than couching the message in innuendo or (as with last year’s ad) vague notions of self-improvement that have little to do with the product.

“These ads have always spoken in code,” Bryant said. “It may not seem revolutionary, but [in the new ads] we’re saying, ‘Here are some times when you can use our product.’ ”

The new campaign, by The Richards Group in Dallas, will begin with print and online executions and eventually include TV. The first ads use the line “Freshen up in between,” with images representing everyday activities—for example, going to the gym and enjoying an evening out—between which Summer’s Eve products could be useful.

Beyond changing the voice, the campaign also aims to broaden the way women think of feminine care, which Bryant said has long been perceived as a “problem-solution” category. “There’s always been a stigma associated with it, that there’s something wrong with you if you use this product,” she said.

The new ads, by contrast, make an unashamedly straightforward and practical pitch—something that brands in other feminine categories, from tampons to personal lubricant, have been embracing in recent years. “K-Y has been doing a really great job of modernizing,” Bryant said, to name just one example. “That was considered a problem-solution category, too.”

Bryant said the brand has been talking about evolving its voice since August 2009. Last summer’s embarrassment accelerated that process, as brand managers and Richards executives quicky embarked on a listening tour last fall, seeking input from real women about how they would like to be spoken to.

Bryant said the new Summer’s Eve ads are “just the beginning” of a much larger campaign rolling out throughout 2011.