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The dirty business of branding

Fabuloso. Spanish for Fabulous. English for why are my eyes burning?

Also a household cleaner, bargain hunters know Fabuloso as an affordable and deodorizing alternative to big name brands. In reality, Fabuloso is undoubtedly unsuitable for use by any living creature—but then again, most of the popular household cleaning brands sitting under your kitchen sink fit the same bill. How’s that…? Our perception of clean is in large part a byproduct of generations-old branding.

Case in point, on a recent visit to my mother-in-law’s house, she began to “clean” the kitchen table. This being the very same table where my organically fed, farmer’s market obsessed, botanically cleaned children were eating meals, drawing pictures and playing board games.

I watched in stunned silence as she vigorously sprayed copious amounts of Fabuloso on the table and well beyond: into our eyes, mouths, throats, and even purposely on my husband’s feet. Wiping, spraying, wiping, spraying, until her glass table took on a cloudy finish and seemed to wilt into submission.

As we waited (and waited) for the radioactive fog to clear, I had time to reflect on the “brand of clean” and how the notion of housekeeping with chemicals has been a part of our collective consciousness and cultural zeitgeist for over a century. Evergreen brands like, Clorox, Lysol and Pine-Sol started it all by focusing their energies and marketing dollars on powerful, desirable brand benefits, not formulations. Pioneers in the art of brand, they sold housewives on superlative product outcomes: cleaner, faster, better, whiter, germ-free, cheaper; while failing miserably in the art of corporate social responsibility. Ignoring product unmentionables like deadly carcinogens, neurotoxins, formaldehyde, ethanol, organochlorines, VOCs, butoxyethanol, sulfates, parabens, irritants, pollutants, perfumes, and dyes—these "cleaners" are acts of brand and marketing fiction since the means do not justify the ends.

To this day, each of these brands remains a top-seller and an undisputed owner of all things white, clean, disinfected and deodorized. A fact, that in an absurdly informed, connected, researched, blogged, opined day and age, is both impressive and grim. It’s difficult to say whether a brand that is able to transcend our combined brainpower—defying common sense and openly hoodwinking generations of enthusiasts—is a success or a disappointment? To me its simple—brands that fail audiences, fail plain and simple.

Sell your cigarettes, your alcohol, your pharmaceuticals, your aerosol spray, your strip club—but do so with integrity. In our modern, connected world disclosure and authenticity help more than they hurt… As consumers continue to become savvier, more informed, and more cautious, honesty about what your brand is and isn’t pays dividends. For the household product set, as the Methods and Seventh Generations of the world continue their near-complete journey into the mainstream, there will be no other choice for the Clorox's then to amend their brand messages, change their formulations… or just step aside.

So, if you’re selling something with a notable downside—heed my advice… Keep the consumers’ best interests in mind--always. Follow in the footsteps of “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”, and own your transgressions; making them a part of your brand personality and appeal. Otherwise, someone will catch you with dirty hands that will not come clean no matter how effective the product may be under your brand’s sink.

  A digital veteran, and creative and brand strategist, Julie has worked as Creative Director and Brand Visionary for a host of traditional and interactive agencies including: Publicis & Hal Riney, USWeb/CKS, marchFIRST and Schematic. She...

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