Herbal Essences hair-care products have been around since at least the 1960s, and I started noticing them during my early teens (in the mid-1990s) when I was first testing my independence: shaving my legs (with a real razor!), using makeup (sneaking it on with a girlfriend on the morning bus), and choosing the products that I thought defined me as a “woman.”
And of course, who didn’t notice the commercials with women having orgasmic shampooing experiences in the shower?
Herbal Essences products, to me, seemed somehow exotic. My mom didn’t use them; she bought the lower-priced brands, the brands her mom used. During store visits I’d open the flip-top Herbal Essences bottle and inhale what I thought was the scent of high-end, quality shampoo that I never got to use. Those wildflower-covered bottles defined “adult” and “fancy” for me.
Now, looking back, I honestly don’t know what the price of an Herbal Essences product was nearly 15 years ago. What I remember is my perception of their value—which was high—simply because a) my mom didn’t buy the brand, and I assumed it was because it was too expensive, and b) the shampoos and conditioners just smelled so damn good.
[At that time, a woman making orgasm sounds really didn't affect me all that much. Except that I noticed my mom chuckled every time one of those commercials came on.]
Over the years, from then until now, I haven’t given much thought to Herbal Essences products. The hair-care market today provides consumers with what author Robert Walker calls “The Pretty Good Problem.” In his 2008 book Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are, Walker says that once upon a time, the challenge for the consumer was navigating a world of faulty, shoddy or unsafe products.
This is obviously no longer the case.
“Most products on the market today are pretty good,” Walker say in his book. “So then the consumer must determine which is the very best of all, by absurdly small margins.”
Brand loyalty often wanes as saturation increases. But Walker says that brand loyalty, albeit decreasing, offers hope for “The Pretty Good Problem.”
“Having a successful brand solves this problem,” Walker writes. “Consumers then choose a product because of the brand—the story it tells and the consumer’s feeling toward it and the community it represents.” Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on who you ask) we go through several brands, choose one for a while, and then move on to the next new item to hit shelves.
I may start to consider settling down. It all began with (surprise!) word of mouth marketing. A friend told me about Herbal Essences’ “tousle me softly” product line she recently began using. She loved what the mousse did to her hair and how it made her hair smell. Women are very particular about how their hair smells.
Then I saw The Commercial (the one
at the top of this post linked to here). The Herbal Essences commercial that changed my life (or at least the shampoo and conditioner currently in my shower).
First of all, I instantly fell in love with the woman in the commercial. She’s me, she’s my friends. She woke up one morning, washed her hair and became a rock star.
Advertising 101, Lesson 1: Viewers need reasons to engage with and root for the subjects (not just the products) in any advertisement (think celebrity endorsements). Done.
Second, Herbal Essences’ tagline comes at the end of the commercial, as our girl (whose hair appears oh so bouncy and healthy) is rocking out on stage. The scene cuts to her at home, standing on a chair, playing air guitar. She’s in a world by herself. The voiceover says, coyly, “Clearly, someone’s been doing the herbal.” And our girl smiles into the camera and raises her eyebrows with a look that can only say…”Yep! Guilty!” She’s adorable.
Advertising 101, Lesson 2: Make your tagline brilliant and memorable. Done.
Yet…I’m not quite sold. But I can’t get our girl out of my head. Next time I’m at a store, I find myself in the hair-care aisle, staring at the Herbal Essences options.
I don’t need any hair-care products: at home, I have exactly two shampoos, six conditioners, and four 2-in-1 products (full or otherwise). I decide to compromise and get another 2-in-1 bottle, but the line I want (“dangerously straight”) isn’t available in that option. I stick with my rationalization that I don’t need two separate bottles, and I leave. But not before inhaling some “none of your frizzness” and “no flakin’ way.”
Fast forward a few weeks. It’s Saturday night, it’s around midnight, and I find myself with a friend at another store, browsing, filling up our shopping cart with things we really don’t need.
Hair-care aisle, again. Herbal Essences’ product line is before me, again. I peruse, I flip, I smell. Then I see what I hadn’t noticed a few weeks ago. A line of shampoo and conditioner formulated, so it says, for long hair.
I’m growing my hair out. And it smells like red raspberry. I love raspberries. The label asks, “who loves ya, baby?” I bet you do, Herbal Essences. Into the shopping cart they go. Three shampoos, seven conditioners, and no rationalizing.
[Although I did only spend around $5 all together on both products.]
Herbal Essences has redesigned the image of their hair-care products to attract a hip, image- and budget-conscious, fun market. Their demographic is obviously women, but as far as the type of woman targeted, all are being reached and influenced. (There’s a 20-year age difference between myself and my friend whose WOM first influenced me, in addition to educational, income and marital status differences).
And for this marketer, there’s another level to this. I’m not often taken by a commercial, and when I am, it’s exciting.
Our girl and our tagline thrill me – the combination is an advertising coup for a product whose market is so saturated there’s not much left to say about it. It’s edgy and a bit risqué. And I generally love any reference to anyone obviously “doing the herbal.”
On an even more personal level, I imagine the marketers who came up with this redesign and advertising campaign must have a lot in common with me. I mean, how else would they know just how to get me to buy two more bottles of something I don’t need? (I’m being facetious; but please don’t dash my fantasy by informing me this was created by 30-something men straight out of B-school.)
I hope it’s clear that I, too, am doing the herbal. And that maybe I’ve found a product that really feels and smells like me. That understands what I’m looking for in a personal care item. And helps me find my inner rock star. Or that makes me happy enough to stick with it for a while.
Advertising 101, Lesson 3: Everything’s in the name.
And the name of my new hair-care product? “long term relationship.” Done.