Clairol, Inc.

views updated

Clairol, Inc.

1 Blachley Road
Stamford, Connecticut 06922
Telephone: (203) 357-5000
Fax: (203) 357-5000
Web site:



Clairol, Inc.'s Herbal Essence was a top-ranked shampoo in the 1970s. Although it retained a following in California, by the 1990s it had dropped in popularity elsewhere. In 1994 Clairol introduced a new Herbal Essences brand that offered a variety of shampoos and conditioners made from organic materials. Other Herbal Essences hair-care products followed. Instead of imitating the marketing strategy of other shampoo brands, Clairol, a subsidiary of Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, wanted to advertise the sensual experience of washing hair, not how its shampoo made hair shiny or silky. Hoping to increase sales and make the Herbal Essences brand stand out against the noise of competing advertisers, Clairol introduced a campaign titled "Totally Organic."

The print, television, and radio campaign, created by the ad agency Wells Rich Greene BDDP in New York, was released in 1994. Adweek estimated its budget to be between $15 million and $20 million. The natural makeup of the new shampoos was a strong selling point, but it was advertisements using sexual humor that helped Herbal Essences gain recognition over other environmentally sound competitors. Commercials featured women who simulated sexual ecstasy while shampooing their hair, usually in a public setting such as a crowded super market. The campaign shifted its strategy in 2000, when pop singer Britney Spears recorded a song for Herbal Essences titled "I've Got the Urge to Herbal" and posed for print ads. Her contribution lowered the campaign's female target age range from 18 to 49 down to 16 to 49. Despite the brand's ownership changing hands and the campaign being transferred to a second ad agency, "Totally Organic" continued until 2004.

While using sex in advertising was a controversial, or in some views anachronistic, approach, incorporating humor made the Herbal Essences ads contemporary and effective. The "Totally Organic" campaign was considered a solid success by Clairol executives, and it inspired a relaunch of another Clairol standard, Nice 'n Easy hair color. "Totally Organic" helped the brand triple its market share between 1994 and 1999—making Herbal Essences the second-largest shampoo brand in America.


In 1994 Clairol, a division of Bristol-Myers Squibb, introduced Herbal Essences, a collection of four shampoos and four conditioners sold in 12-ounce bottles for $3.29. Marketing began in 1995 with approximately $20 million in print and television advertising. Styling products—gels, mousses, and spritzes—and body-wash products were added to the line in 1996, and in 1997 Herbal Essences products were introduced to the United Kingdom and other markets.

The new product traded on the name recognition of a previous Clairol product, Herbal Essence, which was ranked the number three shampoo in the early 1970s, with an 8 percent market share. That share had fallen to 0.1 percent by the 1990s, however. Herbal Essence was not a natural product, while the new Herbal Essences products were made almost exclusively of herbs, botanicals, and other plant ingredients derived from renewable resources. The formulas were biodegradable and not tested on animals, and the packaging material was made out of recyclable plastic.

Clairol said that the old Herbal Essence would be continued because it retained favor with Hispanic consumers. To avoid confusion between the two products, however, it would be merchandised separately from the new Herbal Essences line.


An association with nature was part of the original Herbal Essence shampoo's appeal, but the product's green credentials were more image than fact. "Consumer research has shown us that people remember Herbal Essence as a natural product, even though it really wasn't," said Jeanne Matson, Clairol's marketing director for hair care. The new Herbal Essences products, said to be 99 percent natural, were created and marketed with environmentally informed consumers in mind. "With companies like the Body Shop and Aveda introducing natural hair products in the specialty arena, it seemed like the perfect time to revive Herbal Essence and make it truly natural and environmentally sound," Matson said.

A trend toward upgrading shampoos for the mass market had resulted in a new niche. This new market was for hair-care products that offered salon-quality treatment—such as alpha hydroxy acid—or natural ingredients—such as those used in specialty shampoos from companies like the Body Shop or Aveda—at less than salon or specialty prices. At $3.29 for 12 ounces, a bottle of Herbal Essences shampoo was more expensive than the old Herbal Essence, which continued to be merchandised at $2.99 for a 14.5-ounce bottle, but it was still inexpensive.

The new Herbal Essences was first aimed at "women aged 18 to 49 who are interested in natural products and do not mind paying premium prices in order be environmentally sound," said Jane Owen, senior product manager. This demographic group apparently included fans of television shows like Seinfeld, programs noted not for their environmental stance but for pushing the envelope in questions of taste. A controversial but effective marketing strategy used by Clairol for its new Herbal Essences products sidestepped the environmental question altogether and instead focused on the sensual act of shampooing by playing the word "organic" off "orgasmic." After adding print and radio spots featuring 18-year-old singer Britney Spears in 2000, the campaign's target expanded to include women between the ages of 16 to 49.


Clairol was the number one hair-products company in the United States. Procter & Gamble, however, dominated the shampoo market in 1997, with its leading product, Pantene. Nonetheless, Clairol's Herbal Essences was "making plenty of noise," as characterized by market reports. The company's shampoo sales rose 89.3 percent, to $52.8 million, for the year ending August 25, 1996, and conditioner sales were up 94 percent, to $31.8 million. The Body Shop and Aveda were the two competitors most commonly cited by the creators of Herbal Essences. These companies sold environmentally sound products at above-average but not exorbitant prices, and the Body Shop especially appealed to the global consciousness of consumers.


Competition, even within specific categories, was becoming increasingly intense in television advertising in the 1990s. Stock products had been done to death and without much originality, according to Judith Werme, group creative director at ad agency DDB Needham Chicago. "A blitzed-out population has become increasingly blasé," said Mark Crispin Miller, professor of media studies at New York University. "So there's an accelerating desperation to make an impression, to stand out."


Clairol advertised its reformulated Nice 'n Easy hair coloring during the final episode of the sitcom Seinfeld, on May 14, 1998. The spots starred comedian Kristen Johnston of the sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun. Seinfeld star Julia Louis-Dreyfus had been a former spokeswoman for Nice 'n Easy.

Print copy for Clairol's Herbal Essences shampoos and conditioners stated that they contained a combination of natural organic herbs, botanicals, and spring-water, giving users "a totally organic experience." Television commercials, however, turned this straightforward environmental description into a whole different story. A TV spot developed by Wells Rich Greene BDDP, New York, showed a woman "really, really enjoying her shampoo," wrote Tom Soter for Shoot magazine. "In the piece, a woman shampooing her hair in the shower murmurs, 'Feels so good,' then progresses to 'yes, yes, yes,' until the spot ends with an orgasmic cry. The punchline is lifted straight out of the famous deli orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally." A woman watching the commercial on television at home then said, "I want to get the shampoo she's using." Another version showed a woman who, to the puzzlement of the passengers overhearing her, moaned with pleasure as she shampooed with Clairol Herbal Essences in the restroom of an airplane.

The $15 million to $20 million campaign was an example of "shock advertising," which Bob Garfield, critic for Advertising Age, described as "calculatingly taking license to offend and inflame." But Linda Kaplan Thaler, who developed the Herbal Essences advertisements for Wells Rich Greene BDDP—and who soon after took the entire Clairol account to her new company, Kaplan Thaler Group—described the Herbal Essences "Totally Organic" campaign as based on "the theory of disruption." "If the convention in the shampoo category is to show the benefit of making hair shiny and healthy, we would go against that. Instead of finding some molecule of evidence that our product made hair slightly shinier, we thought we'd get more bang for the buck by doing something that everyone else isn't doing, but is equally as inviting. We said, 'Why not concentrate on the actual experience of washing hair rather than the end benefit? When you're cleaning yourself, it's a cathartic experience—you're naked, it's deeply sensual."

The commercials were developed within a climate of permissiveness in television in 1994, manifested in shows such as Seinfeld, Friends, and NYPD Blue as well as on MTV. "There is such an onslaught of wild, weird and wacky stuff on MTV," explained DDB Needham's Werme, "that in advertising, there's almost nothing you can't do." But programs such as Seinfeld and Friends, while pushing the boundaries for acceptable topics and language, also operated in a climate of sensitivity to women's rights and, perhaps, with ennui toward a sex-saturated medium. "It's not acceptable to have T&A in beer advertising anymore," commented Jeff Funicular, creative director at ad agency Leo Burnett, Toronto. "It's not acceptable to have women draped over the hood of a car." If sex was going to sell or even be noticed, it had to be self-deprecating and witty. "We decided a comedic experience would work best," said Kaplan Thaler about the Herbal Essences advertisements.

Other television spots that featured racy material with a high quotient of humor included those for Fruit of the Loom underwear, Westin Hotels, Coca-Cola, Mercedes-Benz, and the Bermuda Department of Tourism. "Television permissibility was clearly enjoying a renaissance," wrote Soter in Shoot, but humor was a key ingredient for success.

In late 1997 another disruption spot was created for Clairol by Kaplan Thaler to launch a new hair-care line called Daily Defense. The spot showed a fleet of stylists at a commercial shoot grooming the opulent blond tresses of a model. The scene was interrupted with images of a no-nonsense brunette explaining the benefits of Daily Defense, said to provide protection from damaging environmental effects, including pollution, solar radiation, and chlorine from swimming pools. "We're poking fun at what goes on behind the scenes at many [shampoo] commercials," said Kaplan Thaler. Research showed that many women were tired of seeing "unrealistic" females in ads, she added. A simple scientific look was planned for the product's packaging. "This is about a product that is high-tech," said Bill Decker, president of Clairol's retail division. "It is not a natural or sensory story."


Clairol, Inc., based in Stamford, Connecticut, spruced up its Employee Commuter Program to reflect the images used to market environmentally friendly products such as Herbal Essences. The Clairol shuttle bus, which transported employees to and from the Stamford train station, was decorated with depictions of fresh herbs and flowers so as to resemble the design of the new shampoo bottles. The Clairol Employee Commuter Program provided the train-station shuttle, low-cost vanpooling, and emergency rides home for commuters who needed them. In 1995 Clairol won the Governor's Circle Transportation Award, presented annually to recognize individual and corporate contributions to alternative transportation that helped to improve Connecticut's air quality and reduce congestion on its highways.

In 1999 the ad agency Kaplan Thaler Group, New York, was awarded the Herbal Essences account. The all-female agency, helmed by the campaign's creator, Linda Kaplan Thaler, released new television spots and print ads with the expanded $30 million Herbal Essences ad budget. One courtroom-themed spot featured the sex therapist Dr. Ruth promoting the new Herbal Essences body wash while a female lawyer delved into a sensuous hair-washing daydream. Handsome men in the courtroom began singing, "She's got the urge to Herbal." Pop star Britney Spears recorded her own 60-second version of "She's Got the Urge to Herbal" for a 2000 radio spot. Her song was also used for a preconcert video presentation during Spears's 50-city summer concert tour, which was sponsored by Clairol. In addition Spears posed for Herbal Essences print ads, which appeared in youth-oriented magazines such as Teen People, Seventeen, and YM. Spears lowered the campaign's target age to girls as young as 16.

The Procter & Gamble Company purchased Clairol from Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2001 and renamed the company P&G-Clairol, Inc. In March 2001 members of the boy band 98 Degrees appeared in provocative print ads and television spots for Herbal Essences. In addition Herbal Essences sponsored the band's 2001 spring concert tour. In 2003 the campaign featured Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall, who provided spots with voice-overs. The blonde bombshell was shown moaning in a shower while shampooing her hair in one commercial—drawing a backlash from the watchdog group the American Family Association. In 2004 Herbal Essences put its 10-year-old "Totally Organic" campaign on hiatus in America, according to Advertising Age, in favor of a campaign that was less sexually charged.


A USA Today Ad Track survey of 41 commercials in 1997 showed that only 8 percent of those questioned responded that they liked the Herbal Essences ads "a lot." A mere 14 percent rated the ads "very effective." Nonetheless, Clairol was pleased with the campaign. "This has been Clairol's most successful product launch in the history of the company," said Bill Susetka, senior vice president and general manager of Clairol U.S. "It has greatly exceeded our initial expectations."

In 1997 Clairol reported a 36 percent increase in sales, which was attributed to its Herbal Essences line. That year the line had a sales increase of 168 percent, to $351 million. Herbal Essences products were introduced or expanded in more than 40 countries. Clairol became a market leader in Peru and Puerto Rico in 1997, and in Asia Clairol's Herbal Essences product line "put it on the map," according to Steve Sadove, president of worldwide Beauty Care & Nutritional at Bristol-Myers Squibb (then the parent company of Clairol). "It's the most successful thing we've done at Clairol," Sadove added. "We believe Herbal Essences has the potential to be a mega brand spanning many different product categories."

During the first five years of "Totally Organic" Herbal Essences tripled its market share and eventually became the second-largest shampoo brand, behind Pantene. In 2003 its consumer-awareness scores were higher than that of any other shampoo, according to the newspaper the Hamilton Spectator. By 2004 some ad analysts had begun criticizing the campaign for its lack of fresh material. Such accusations were later validated by Herbal Essences' bottom line. In the campaign's final full year in the United States, the brand lost 1.9 market-share points in shampoo and 1.1 market-share points for conditioner.


Berkowitz, Harry. "Sex Sells in Latest TV Commercials: Even Cautious Mercedes Has Racy Run in New Ads." Newsday, May 10, 1996.

Elliott, Stuart. "A Vivid-Livid Divide: Madison Ave.'s New Explicitness Is Open to Debate." New York Times, June 19, 1998.

Enrico, Dottie. "'Seinfeld' Finale Advertisers Put On Game Faces." USA Today, April 29, 1998.

"How the Ad Track Ads of 1997 Stack Up." USA Today, December 29, 1997.

Kagan, Cara. "Styling Products Take Shape for Clairol's Herbal Essence." Women's Wear Daily, February 9, 1996, p. 6.

Kim, Hank. "Kaplan Thaler Unveils TV Spot." Adweek (eastern ed.), December 8, 1997.

―――――――. "2 Assignments For Kaplan Thaler." Adweek (eastern ed.), January 19, 1998.

Neff, Jack. "P&G Retains Clairol Planners." Advertising Age, March 18, 2002, p. 3.

Robb, Jay. "Ads You Can't Wash Out of Your Hair." Hamilton (ON) Spectator, December 9, 2003, p. G15.

Soter, Tom. "Sex-Smitten." Shoot, September 27, 1996.

Tode, Chantal. "Clairol's Daily Defense Strategy." Women's Wear Daily, July 18, 1997.

                                        Megan McNamer

                                            Kevin Teague