Case study: P&G’s Tide: Going the extra mile – how to manage expectations

  • Click here to read the cover story ’Above and beyond the call of duty’
  • Click here to read about brands that have gone above & beyond the call of duty
  • Click here for a Q&A with Louise Fowler business leader of brand and marketing for The Co-operative Financial Services
  • Click here to read why Charlotte McEleny thinks acts of kindness must be spontaneous

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, many residents of the area were instructed to evacuate immediately – only to return to find their houses and personal belongings destroyed.

Procter & Gamble-owned US laundry brand Tide saw an opportunity to go above and beyond its normal function by going to the heart of devastated communities.

It fitted a truck with 32 washers and dryers and covered its exterior with colourful branding. The truck was then dispatched to selected communities, whose residents were invited to each bring two loads of washing for each day the truck was in town.

Tide staff then washed, dried and folded the clothes, and wrapped them like a gift before returning them to their owners.

Since the Loads of Hope initiative launched, more than 30,000 loads of washing have been done for disaster-stricken people, extending beyond the US to Haiti, which was hit by an earthquake last year.

Funding comes out of the marketing budget, but while the truck is brightly branded, media relations manager Amanda Treeby says Tide has resisted the temptation to heavily advertise it, instead preferring to let people on social media do the talking.

Treeby claims awareness of the programme stands at about 50% in the US. While related sales are difficult to quantify, she says the impact on consumers’ minds lasts all the way to the supermarket shelf. “These people are going to choose the brand that helped them over one that might be cheaper,” she reasons.

Treeby says that since the Tide truck first appeared, people now expect to see it at every disaster, and P&G has to live up to that or risk losing the positive brand equity it has built.

“If you are going to tell people about it, they expect you to show up. It becomes more of an expectation than a delight.”

Managing consumer demand can be tricky, especially when the decision must be made not to send a truck. Treeby reveals: “When California was hit by wildfires, people emailed us to ask why we hadn’t sent the truck. The American Red Cross told us the fires were mainly in non-residential areas so the number of people affected wasn’t that high, and the few people affected were typically very affluent.

“We got in touch with the authorities to see if we could wash the clothes of the firefighters and policemen involved, but they had already contracted a special service because of the danger involved. So we had to release a statement to explain why we weren’t sending the truck.”

This inevitably creates a backlash where people see this as the brand stepping away from the duty it commissioned itself, even if it was above and beyond its original responsibility. Such a backlash will make it to social media, Treeby acknowledges, but brands have to accept they cannot please all of the people all of the time.

“You get some people who are really grateful and some that are really annoyed that they missed out,” she advises. “You have to take the rough with the smooth, especially in today’s media world, and know how to deal with that.”

Tide’s drive to go beyond what the brand stood for traditionally has given it a differentiator from its competitors, but Treeby believes differentiating in this way will become standard brand strategy.

“It’s almost an expectation of brands these days to give something back. If you can find a way to give back that fits with what your brand stands for, people come to know your brand for your action – cleaning clothes links directly with our brand’s function so it’s a win-win situation. We’re able to show the kinds of conditions our product can work in at the same time as building brand equity.”

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