Pumping Up Sales

new internationalist
issue 172 - June 1987

[image, unknown]
All illustrations: Alan Hughes
Pumping up sales
Unilever spends $400 million in advertising each year
and $715 million in developing new products. One such product
was the toothpaste pump. The company asserts that this
meets an existing customer need. Julian Champkin has
designed a questionnaire to test their claims.

The notes below are designed for corporate marketing executives to study two of the greatest inventions of civilization, namely the Wheel and the Automatic Toothpaste Dispenser. At the end of the notes we include multiple choice questions and answers; you can test your own marketing strategy skills.

Read the two case histories carefully, then try to answer the questions that follow.

[image, unknown] Great Inventions case study number 1.
The wheel
Brief description: The Wheel is a circular piece of stone, wood, metal etc.

History: The wheel was invented by Ugg, of the Lower Pleistocene.

Perceived advantage to consumer: It allowed people to roll things around instead of dragging them.

Advantage to developer: Ugg had previously tried to sell ordinary rocks to people, but no-one wanted to buy untreated lumps of rock. It was Ugg's genius to discover that he could sell rocks if he first chipped them into a different, circular shape.

Market penetration: The wheel took about five millennia to achieve total consumer penetration. In North America and the Tartar Steppes local resistance was met among Red Indians and Mongol Hordes.

Social effects: The Wheel encouraged social mobility and led, eventually, to awareness that the neighbour's wheels might be more desirable than one's own: increased sales of car-polish, chamois leathers, and petrol resulted. This would have been of great benefit to the originating company had not Ugg plc ceased trading about a million years before. Competitors therefore reaped the trade advantages of the invention.

Analysis: Ugg's marketing strategy was clearly inadequate. He failed to stimulate demand. By the time people in the next valley realized the benefits of the invention, or indeed realized that it had been invented at all, Ugg was an old man and over the hill (in both senses). For further history of Ugg plc. see answer 1 below.


[image, unknown] Case study number 2.
The automatic toothpaste dispenser
Brief description: The automatic toothpaste dispenser is made of plastic, about six inches tall and one in diameter, rounded at the top. It stands upright on the edge of the sink. When you press the knob on the top, toothpaste comes out

History: The automatic toothpaste pump dispenser was invented by an unknown genius somewhere in Germany. Its early history is somewhat obscure; however it is known that the technical problems to be overcome were severe. The containers must keep the toothpaste's flavour; must not allow it to dry out or become too liquid, or it would run off the brush; must be utterly reliable (consumers might be terrified by malfunctioning dispensers running amok); and hygienic. It must give a constant rhythm to the flow of toothpaste. Years of research by the world's finest minds went into the development of the toothpaste pump dispenser.

Advantage to developer: 125 ml of toothpaste in a tube sells for £1.00 ($1.60). 100 ml of the same toothpaste in a pump sells for £1 .20 ($1.90).

Market penetration: Henkel of West Germany were the first to introduce the product; the firm of Minnetonka of Minnesota bought the product to the US around 1984. Corporate giants Colgate and Proctor and Gamble entered the scene a little later; the small firm of Minnetonka was unable to compete and is now divesting itself of the product.

Marks and Spencers in the UK were the first to introduce a toothpaste pump in 1982. Unilever followed with their Gibbs Mentadent brand, and Colgate and Beechams (Macleans) are now in the market as well.

Pumps now have 10 to 12 per cent of the UK toothpaste market; they have been around only three years. The figure is higher in Europe, and highest in the US, where around 18 per cent of the population have abandoned toothpaste tubes for pumps.

Social effects: The toothpaste pump dispenser is expected to lead to a drastic reduction in the divorce rate. Couples will no longer accuse each other of squeezing the tube from the middle; young brides will no longer wake from their first honeymoon night to the awful and tearful realization that the man they thought they knew never puts the lid back on the toothpaste.

Perceived advantage to consumer: Squeezing a toothpaste tube is, presumably, too much like hard work. Thanks to modern science, that chore is a thing of the past.

Analysis: The analysis of toothpaste dispenser pumps is developed in the questions that follow:

Click the box next to each answer that
you think is correct in each case.

[image, unknown] Question 1 Where did Ugg go wrong?

a) He failed to advertise.
b) He failed to change with the times
c) He failed to have a coherent marketing strategy.

Correct Answer 1: All three answers are correct. Ugg persisted in making hand-crafted stone wheels long after his competitors had diversified into wooden wheels and customized chariots, such as the Boadicea Special which had knives sticking out of the hubs.

Question 2: Imagine that you are a market executive with Unilever or some other large firm. Given that most people already buy all the toothpaste they need and are not going to buy any more, will your firm flourish if you just try to sell them more toothpaste?

a) Yes.
b) Obviously not, you fool.

Correct answer 2: b).

Question 3: But will your firm flourish if you can persuade people to buy plastic from you as well as toothpaste?

a) Yes, yes, yes!

Correct answer 3: a). This is so obviously correct we felt it would be insulting to offer you any alternative answer.

Question 4: Given that you can't sell anyone more toothpaste, but you can sell them more plastic with their toothpaste, is there any point in trying to sell a square block of plastic with each tube of toothpaste?

a) Yes.
b) Don't be bloody stupid.

Correct answer 4: b).

Question 5: Given questions 3 and 4 above, is there any point in trying to sell plastic with toothpaste if you first shape the plastic into a pump dispenser?

a) Yes

Correct answer 5: a). You have chosen the correct answer to this question. You obviously remembered Ugg's genius in shaping unsellable stone. Well done!

Question 6: How many consumers were aware two years ago that they needed to buy toothpaste in automatic dispensers, and that their lives were incomplete without these things?

a) All of them.
b) Some of them.
c) The thought had not crossed their minds. Never in their worst nightmares had they imagined a world in which toothpaste came in pumps instead of proper tubes. If God had intended us to get our toothpaste out of pumps he would have... etc. etc.

Correct answer 8: c). Consumers are notoriously resistant to change.

Question 7: ls your life incomplete without toothpaste dispensers?

a) Yes
b) No.
c) Mind your own business.

Correct answer 7: a). If you answered b), then you are a total failure as a consumer. If c), how on earth do you manage to live in the twentieth century?

Question 8: But then, how many people thought their lives were incomplete without wheels before Ugg invented them?

a) Nobody at all.
b) Everyone.

Correct answer B: a). Ugg had to create a demand for his product. Since no-one had thought of the idea of wheels before, they obviously could not be missing what they never had.

Question 9: In view of questions 7 and 8 above, was Unilever satisfying a pre-existing consumer demand for toothpaste pumps when they introduced them, or did they have to create such a demand?

a) Yes
b) No.
c) Well, what do you think?

Correct answer 9: take a democratic vote on it.

Question 10: Given that no-one really needs a toothpaste dispenser, are they really going to pay $1.90 for less toothpaste plus a plastic dispenser, when they can buy more toothpaste in an old-fashioned tube for $1.60 if they do without the extra plastic?

a) Of course they're not.
b) Only if they're rich.
c) Only if they're stupid
d) Only if you persuade them to with a bit of advertising.
e) Apparently they will.

Correct answer 10: Choose from c), d) or e). a) is clearly wrong: experience shows that people do buy toothpaste in dispensers. b) is also wrong. Research shows that those in lower income groups (in old-fashioned literature these categories are referred to as the poor') also buy toothpaste in dispensers. Give yourself credit if you have circled answers c), d) or e).

[image, unknown] Question 11: Which selling points would you stress if you were a Unilever salesperson in order to sell your plastic pump?

a) 'Easy action pump - no mess, self sealing.'
b) 'Now the country's leading toothpaste is available in an advanced pump dispenser. It is:

Economic: even dose with every pump.
Practical: easy for all the family to handle.
Hygienic: no mess, stays clean, automatically seals'

c) 'The modern pump dispenser is:

Convenient: the toothpaste is dispensed in controlled doses
Practical: the pump dispenser stays clean and tidy throughout its working life.'

Correct answer 11: c). a) is the slogan used by Macleans; b) is used by Colgate. c) is used by Unilever/Gibbs

Question 12: Which other selling points can be stressed?

a) Arthritis sufferers can use it.
b) There is less waste; (of toothpaste, we mean; of course there is more waste of plastic).
c) It looks tidy set up on the wash-basin.
d) It looks phallic set up on the wash-basin.

Correct answer 12: Probably all these are wrong. a) is certainly so: the size of the arthritic market makes it probably uneconomic to appeal directly to them. b) may have an element of truth, but it does not feature widely in the advertising of any brand of toothpaste dispenser, and we may assume that the advertisers and market research people of Unilever, Proctor and Gamble, Colgate and so on have done their research properly. There are certainly some neurotic people so obsessed with appalling tidiness that they object to the sight of a half-dead tube of toothpaste with the lid missing and the contents gently drying out balanced against the wash-basin cold tap. c) is a valid answer in their case. I do not wish to comment on d).

[image, unknown] Question 13: Ugg went on making stone wheels long after everyone else had changed to wood and metal. Is Ugg still in business?

a) No.

Correct answer 13: a). Well done; once again you have circled the correct answer!

Question 14: In view of the fact that rivals were already about to launch a toothpaste dispenser, did Unilever have any choice in the matter?

a) Yes, it could have just gone on making toothpaste in tubes and watched its market decline.
b) No.

Correct answer 14: b).

You scored 27 points for each correct answer.
If you have scored 335, join Unilever.

Your total score =

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