19 April 2007

Are your Harpics showing...?

Back in the 1970s, we all had a good snigger at the Durex joke. Australians knew Durex as a brand of sticky tape but elsewhere in the world it was a condom. This created the premise for hilarious stories about cultural miscommunication. You know the kind of thing: Did you hear about the Australian tourist who went into a chemist shop in London and asked for "a packet of Durex, sticky on both sides"?

And Americans who come here still find it funny that we use Jif to clean the bathroom, because in the US it's a brand of peanut butter... not so good on the porcelain!

Now comes the case of "White & Shine" - perhaps not such a problem for consumers, but a whole lot less amusing for the companies concerned. Macleans - the toothpaste people - and Harpic - the toilet cleaning people - have virtually simultaneously launched product variants with identical names.

While the risk that consumers will be harmed as a result of confusion seems relatively low (although you never know what some people do!), the shared name poses a real business risk for Macleans. No-one who makes toothpaste wants their product to be associated in any way with toilets or even toilet cleaners. Consumers are very sensitive when it comes to oral care products - it's a highly sensory category, as Pond's found when it tried to launch Pond's Toothpaste (as documented in Matt Haig's book "Brand Failures"). It's amazing how many people who hear the name "Pond's Toothpaste" instantly react with a "Yuk!" as they taste and feel greasy Pond's Cold Cream - a powerful association - in their mouths.

Anyway, I say shame on both Macleans and Harpic for choosing such a boringly obvious and descriptive name for a product variant. My prediction for "White & Shine"? Expect the Macleans version to disappear very quickly. Everyone wants white and shiny teeth, but no-one wants to use a dunny brush!

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