issue 172 - June 1987
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.
Great Inventions case study number 1.
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.
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: