The Loneliest Brand Attribute: A Marketing Fable

Once upon a time, there was a brand attribute named Simple, Effective Cleaning. Simple, Effective Cleaning was the sole attribute for a toothpaste brand. In fact, Simple, Effective Cleaning’s brand was the best-selling toothpaste in the world (although there were some significant growth opportunities on the Indian subcontinent).

But life was lonely for Simple, Effective Cleaning. One day, Gary the Global Brand Manager saw Simple, Effective Cleaning moping around. Simple, Effective Cleaning looked very sad. “What’s wrong, Simple, Effective Cleaning?” Gary asked. “You look glum.”

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Simple, Effective Cleaning answered. “Just a little lonely, that’s all.” Then Simple, Effective Cleaning let out a long sigh and stared at the floor.

Gary the Global Brand Manager was concerned. Simple, Effective Cleaning wasn’t just the best brand attribute his best-selling toothpaste had—it was its only brand attribute. If Simple, Effective Cleaning was unhappy, there was no telling how it could harm the brand’s efforts to increase sales worldwide by at least 3.7% in Q3. Then Gary the Global Brand Manager had an idea.

“I have an idea,” Gary the Global Brand Manager said to Sharon the Global Personal Products Group Vice President. “I want to market a new brand attribute for my best-selling toothpaste brand.”

“Well, you know ideas are strongly discouraged in an environment where we are trying to leverage our existing core brand values to maximize marketing return,” Sharon the Global Personal Products Group Vice President said. “But your best-selling toothpaste is an important player in our portfolio. So I am willing to listen. What is the new brand attribute?”

“The new attribute I would like to market is ‘Brightens and Whitens’” Gary the Global Brand Manager said.

Six months later, after the market research was completed, the legal approvals were obtained, and the packaging redesign was finalized, Brightens and Whitens joined Simple, Effective Cleaning as a brand attribute for the best-selling toothpaste in the world. And even though Brightens and Whitens seemed to have little to no impact on market penetration on the Indian subcontinent, Gary the Global Brand Manager was pleased, because Simple, Effective Cleaning was no longer lonely.

But a few months later, Gary the Global Brand Manager noticed that Simple, Effective Cleaning was in a foul mood. “Now what’s wrong?” he asked.

“Brightens and Whitens is causing problems. I love having Brightens and Whitens around, because now I’m not so lonely. But Brightens and Whitens is jealous. ‘You’ve got me to keep you company,’ it says. ‘Who’s going to keep me company?’ So I was wondering if we could maybe add another brand attribute to keep Brightens and Whitens from being so upset.”

Gary the Global Brand Manager was annoyed, though he tried not to show it. Getting Brightens and Whitens added as a brand attribute took a herculean effort, and now Simple, Effective Cleaning was saying it wasn’t enough. Still, Simple, Effective Cleaning was so important to him, and Brightens and Whitens was so important to Simple, Effective Cleaning. So Gary the Global Brand Manager felt he should do what he could to keep both of them happy. And eight months later, Multi-Ingredient Cavity Fighting made its debut.

Two years passed. By now, the world’s best-selling toothpaste brand had seven more brand attributes in addition to Simple, Effective Cleaning and Brightens and Whitens. It was performing adequately and meeting sales growth goals, and was even making some headway on the Indian subcontinent. But once again, Gary the Global Brand Manager noticed that Simple, Effective Cleaning was down in the dumps.

“Who am I?” Simple, Effective Cleaning said to Gary the Global Brand Manager. “I don’t even know myself anymore. Ever since Proven to Maintain the Health of Tooth Enamel, With Dentist-Approved Ingredients, and May Enhance Overall Dental Health came on board, I feel like I don’t matter anymore.”

“I understand where you’re coming from,” Gary the Global Brand Manager said. “And you’re right. Our research shows that our core message is getting lost, and sales projections show growth starting to slow in Q2 of next year. This calls for a radical rethink. Maybe we need to strip away all the noise and refocus on our core brand values.”

“I like the sound of that,” Simple, Effective Cleaning said.

Ten months later came the brand relaunch. The new simplified packaging featured one prominent callout, and that was, of course, Simple, Effective Cleaning.

The strategy worked. The slowdown in sales growth was averted, and market penetration on the Indian subcontinent showed a small but not insignificant uptick.

But one evening as he was leaving the office, Gary the Global Brand Manager heard something. Eventually, he found Simple, Effective Cleaning crying softly in a dark corner of the office.

“What’s wrong?” Gary the Global Brand Manager asked once again.

“I’m lonely,” Simple, Effective Cleaning said.

“OK, we’ll talk about that in the morning,” Gary the Global Brand Manager said.

Then Gary the Global Brand Manager went home. Like most nights, he drank himself into a stupor. But this night, Gary the Global Brand Manager was so zonked out, he actually forgot to brush his teeth.

The End