The iPad of Air-Care

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P&G’s Febreze is about to announce that it has grown to annual sales of $1 billion of its Febreze brand in an “air-care” category that is down overall and in which its competitors’ results are flat, at best. And it did it without have a single conversation with its customers via social media.


In fact, products are sold in drug and grocery stores, which qualify as two of the most horrible, brand-unfriendly buying experiences known to mankind. While most of us would readily admit that certain homes of friends (and certainly some public spaces) smell bad, it’s hard to imagine that an artificial smell would be any better, or that it would even work. And air-care? If that’s a real product category, than so are “shoelace straighteners” and “milk carton customization,” right?

But it’s no joke. P&G is planning on making even more real money, and I hope it’s planning on doing it by continuing to do it the old-fashioned way: Selling products that people want to buy.

Today’s Conventional Wisdom would tell you that doing so isn’t enough. Febreze isn’t creating entertaining “content” for its consumers to enjoy on YouTube, or allowing them to share on its Facebook site their personal stories about overcoming odor problems (I can’t find an official-looking FB page for the brand). It hasn’t outsourced product recommendations to its users, and I couldn’t find a single customer complaint it fixed on Twitter. The Febreze website has some articles about using scents and cleaning but there’s no global charitable initiative or contest to make the world smell better.

No, it’s just doing the same thing that Apple does in CE. I’d say it’s the iPad of air-care.

There are other, more sensible ways to eliminate odors, the first of which is to clean up whatever’s causing the stink, and the second being keeping people and things clean so they don’t reek in the first place. Just like the iPad, however, Febreze makes the experiences dealing with such issues less pedestrian: Plug in, dip, light-up or schpritz are all easier than wetting a sponge or mop to clean something, and doing so with scents like “Thai Dragon Fruit” or “Sweet Citrus & Zest” just sounds like more fun.

Febreze introduced 37 new products or variations in the first nine months of 2010, choosing to let them “do the talking” for the brand much as Apple lets its less-frequent introductions do the same. Nobody wakes up feeling the need for an air-care no spill wood diffuser any more than people walk the planet unfulfilled because they don’t own an iPad. The products are designed, packaged, and directed toward fulfilling such needs, even those we didn’t know we possessed. So people buy ’em. In droves.

I say P&G should pause and try to learn from Febreze’s success. A number of its other premium brands are suffering, and many are wasting money under the mistaken belief that new social conversations that yield no sales are better than old social conversations that do. Febreze is incontrovertible proof — $1 billion and growing — that there are tragic flaws in today’s social media canon. Conversation isn’t an absolute good, consumers aren’t necessarily asking to be told more stuff by brands, and there’s no substitute for creating products that identify and fulfill consumer needs.

It’s just as likely that P&G will decide that Febreze needs those very same social media distractions now that it’s a big time player, so if we see some silly campaign (or launch of an official FB page) we’ll know that it didn’t make the right call. I’m sure there are lots of agency pitches on deck to do just that.

So here’s my message to Febreze: Resist the siren call and stay focused. I’m waiting for the “Success” line of oderceuticals that I can use in my office, such as “Close the Deal” candles or “Finish Writing the Chapter” airwicks. A “Curb Your Appetite” line could reintroduce all those ugly odors that prior lines covered up and sell a cool billion all on its own.

Invent stuff…that’s how you can talk to me. I’ll talk back by giving you money, just like I do in my ongoing conversation with Apple.

(Image credit: Febreze)

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