In 2016, Unilever recognized that it was not well represented in the burgeoning "natural" shampoo space; a particularly incongruous hole in its product portfolio given the corporate-wide commitment to sustainability and the rapid growth in this segment. To seize this opportunity, Unilever had purchased a few small "natural" shampoo brands and extended some of its existing shampoo lines to include "natural" offerings. The company also began work on a new brand with "natural in its DNA" and vowed to have a new offering on the market in short order.
To lead the effort to develop a brand in just a year, Unilever tapped Piyush Jain, general manager of hair care for North America. Jain assembled a small, handpicked team of company veterans to work on the project. Though they only had short time, he insisted that the team rigorously test their ideas with panels of consumers.
The survey results were critical because developing a "natural" brand that would be successful in the mass market was difficult. On one hand, the product had to demonstrate its bona fides in the sustainability and "natural" space. On the other hand, consumers did not want to sacrifice “category norms” such as a formulation that insured pretty hair and could easily be used in bath and shower. On top of everything, the shampoo had to fall within an affordable price point.
Even a few weeks before the brand was to launch, the team was questioning its choices. Designers had created packaging that was the color of a brown paper bag to draw attention to the recycled plastic container. However, the team began to have doubts that consumers would associate the shampoo with beauty and the designers agreed to try again. They came up with a brighter design featuring botanical images on the label. However, the old design had tested well with consumers and there was no time to test the new design.
Packaging was a critical element influencing consumer choice at the point of sale, whether on the drug store shelf or supermarket aisle. If the team got it wrong, the whole brand could be in jeopardy. Should the team change packaging designs on the eve of launch, or go with the design that had already tested well?
Publication date: October 18, 2019
Citation: Jaan Elias and Aniko Öry, "Love Beauty and Planet," Yale SOM Case 19-018, October 18, 2019.