Ajax Shares the Finer Points of Marketing an American Spray Cleaner to European Consumers

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Regional variations are nothing new in branding, especially when it comes to selling to overseas markets. Film fans may remember the famous scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent (John Travolta) translates the name of an iconic fast food menu item for his fellow hitman, Jules (Samuel L. Jackson).

As Vincent explains, if you go to any McDonald’s in Paris, you can’t ask for “a Quarter Pounder with Cheese.” “They call it the Royale with Cheese,” says Vincent. (Technically, France’s McDonald’s list that particular burger order as a “Royal Cheese,” but you get Vincent’s point).

So when Colgate-Palmolive decided to expand Ajax’s market penetration in Europe, it faced a number of hurdles. With a creative assist from design firm JAM, Ajax’s parent company conducted consumer research that pointed to the need for changes that would speak more effectively to the sensibilities. It also sought to align its expectations of the continental market. Ultimately, its goal was to achieve an overall design refresh that would help the brand differentiate itself in stores.

“In an overly cluttered and polymorphous shelf like that of household cleaners, standing out and facilitating an easy and quick shopper navigation is a real challenge,” Colgate-Palmolive’s EU strategy and innovation manager Sofia Kalligeri told Adweek. “The JAM team redesigned our Ajax spray range in a distinctive way that allowed for the core values of the brand to be communicated through design while delivering the so-much-needed simplicity and clarity.”

What exactly does that look like? JAM founder Peter Johnson walked Adweek through some of the specific tweaks.

The colors

From proprietary research data, JAM discovered that the saturated colors on both Ajax’s kitchen and multipurpose degreasing cleaners were sending the wrong message to European shoppers. “Sprays are considered a quick and effective way of tackling smaller problems,” Johnson explained. “The problem with the dark colors is they communicated, first, this product was heavy duty and required effort and, second, [consumers] thought it communicated fragrance.” More white space and lighter hues solved that problem.

The extra brand

Optimal 7 is a sub brand that Ajax had created for across the pond, but research revealed that “it didn’t mean anything to anyone,” Johnson said. Overall, the redesign strategy was “about simplifying the message so it was easier for consumers to navigate,” and that meant relying on the Ajax name alone. “The Ajax logo is strong,” Johnson added. “Consumers trust it”—and they already knew what it does.

The logo

Part of simplifying the message was stripping out the various American-style flourishes of the logo itself. “You had this burst behind it, the yellow swoosh underneath and a ping off that—and it was all too complicated,” Johnson said. “Clearly the cleaning efficacy can be communicated through that background of white, and by putting that on, we didn’t walk away from the equity.”

The nomenclature

One glance at many stateside domestic cleaners reveals all sorts of boasting: Kills germs! Removes tough stains! Professional Strength! and so on. But in this instance, less was more. The old design for the kitchen cleaner had actually mentioned degreasing twice. JAM reduced the verbiage to a single mention in order to “focus on where you’ll use the product,” Johnson said. Meaning, the stove.

The stove

With 3.8 million square miles to stretch out in, Americans tend to forget that dwellings in other countries tend to be smaller. So when JAM reworked the visual elements on the kitchen cleaner, it installed a compact, four-burner stove more like what you’d see in Johnson’s native U.K. “Compared to American houses,” he said, “they’re very small.”





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