28 August 2011

Rexona brand extension madness: It's the pits

A couple of years ago, Unilever's Rexona brand of deodorant had one "For Men" product variant. It came packaged in black, the standard colour for men's toiletries.
Now, like tall Daleks, Rexona For Men line extensions have taken over the deodorant shelf in the supermarket, apparently massing for some kind of attack and chanting "ANTI-PER-SPI-RATE... ANTI-PER-SPI-RATE...".

At Woolies yesterday, I counted at least nine different Rexonas For Men. Problem is, I had no idea which one might be right for me. When it comes to shampoos and conditioners or shaving products, we're used to self-identifying as "dry", "sensitive", "damaged", "oily" or "coloured" (as in hair), but Rexona gives us little to go on when it comes to categorising our armpits. All products appeared to contain the same ingredients and each boasted the same 48-hour protection.

Among the variants I considered were:
  • Original - Possible. I do still have my original armpits... and the hair
  • Extreme - Well, I can be a bit extreme at times, but I wouldn't say my armpits were
  • Sensitive - I'm a softy at heart, but not sure about my underarms
  • Ice Cool - To match my cool personality or to chill my axilla?
  • Extra Cool - For when "Ice Cool" just isn't cool enough, apparently. Liquid nitrogen...?
  • V8 - With the freshness of high octane fuel, or maybe a lubricant to make the arm move more freely?
  • Sport - Hmmm, not exactly me. At least that's one I could rule out.
But Rexona For Men Quantum and Forces left me even more puzzled. These brand extensions are neither trying to evoke the kind of man (or armpit) to which they were targeted, nor to describe the effect they might have when used. I have no idea what "Quantum" might mean (other than a geeky science show on ABC TV) and "Forces" sounds like the name of a soap opera.
This is a serious marketing issue - every new product variant costs money to manufacture, package, distribute and promote. Too many variants can confuse consumers (as it did with me), with the risk that they will flee to a competitor whose brand and product architecture is easier to navigate and understand. As a brand strategy consultant, I had to ask the obvious question - how could the gains Unilever was hoping for by flooding the men's deodorant market with bizarre variants outweigh the costs of launching and maintaining all of these different sub-brands?
Finally, I came up with a theory that might explain it. Maybe Unilever is being euphemistic. Maybe by using the words "quantum" and "forces" they are trying to tell us these Rexona products are... er... "intimate" deodorants for men.
So I bought them both. I intend to spray some Quantum on my sweaty quantum and use Forces to make sure my forces are always fresh.

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