Strategies & Insights

Attitude Adjustments

Posted: August 22, 2011 by
Larry Jaffee


Summer’s Eve introduced its feminine hygiene products as a personal care subcategory in 1972, employing modern-era marketing to bring a turn-of-the-century product to the mainstream. As bold as the company has been, though, the brand has been updated only rarely, with the last significant effort in the mid-’80s.

Hitting store shelves in June and July, however, is a complete overhaul of the Summer’s Eve product line, which now includes seven different types of products, 32 SKUs, and 17 scent or formula varieties. Claiming the No. 1 brand in feminine hygiene, Summer’s Eve has evolved from its initial product to offer a complete line of external cleansing and freshening products, such as washes, sprays, and cloths, which were added to the line in the 1980s.

The redesign team, led by Steve Ruhf, v.p. of U.S. marketing and business development, and Angela Bryant, director of U.S. marketing, feminine care, for brand owner Fleet Laboratories, Lynchburg, VA, admits that the redesign was long overdue. “Our business has been doing well and growing, but through research we knew we—and in turn the category—were out of step with the younger women of today,” Bryant explains. “Each year that went by, we were getting further from her consideration set. So it was time to refocus and expand the women we were talking to. Even if business is doing well, you have to think long-term viability of a brand.”

Changes in attitudes
To make sure they did it right, Fleet tapped a number of creative partners (see sidebar) to overhaul the brand’s identity, completely and collectively. At the outset, Bryant says, “We knew we wanted radically different, but we didn’t know just how far to go.”

Though the brand largely dominates the category, with about 40% share, Fleet felt the heat of competition from private-label alternatives. “When you’re the leader, private label tends to get as close to what the branded player looks like without infringing on trademarks and copyrights,” says Bryant. “This makes package design, graphics, and uniqueness even more important. You want not only to design a beautiful package but also to try
to make it as ownable and unique as possible.”

No matter how you package it, fem-hy remains something of a taboo category, even in the 21st century. Fleet found after extensive research that women are embarrassed by the subject, even if they’re consumers of the category. Pamela Long, director of client services for the design firm Little Big Brands, White Plains, NY, notes that Summer’s Eve is a true heritage brand with an extremely loyal consumer base.

“It was exciting to be working with clients who were truly committed to doing what was right for the brand and for women,” says Long, “to help break the category paradigm and stigmas, uncovering new opportunities along the way.”

Fundamentally, fem-hy is perceived as a problem/solution category, Long explains, and the package design needed to bridge the gap between perception and reality. “The reality is that women view Summer’s Eve as part of their overall hygiene ritual,” says Long, “but the old packaging wasn’t helping women reconcile the category stigmas. Women we spoke to wanted the products, but felt the brand image was more suited for grandma than them.” The new package design platform is the first step to giving women a product that makes it easier for them to feel comfortable.

Rhonda Zahnen, principal, brand management, for The Richards Group, Dallas, TX, agrees that the project faced as many category-wide as well as product-specific challenges. “The category has long been one that talks in code when it comes to female anatomy and feminine care, and breaking free from that societal norm posed a challenge,” Zahnen says. She adds that the Summer’s Eve nationwide “listening tour” of women discovered that women are ready to learn more and talk more openly and directly about their bodies, thus reassuring the marketing team that it needed to face stigmas of the past head on and ignite a dialogue among women.

Shapely and muted
Fleet next brought in Product Ventures, Fairfield, CT, to focus on structural design strategies for the brand’s wash, powder, spray, and wipes packages. Gail Ritacco, v.p. of strategy and insight at Product Ventures, explains that ethnographic digital blogging, where consumers chronicle in detail their interaction with products, was a cornerstone for identifying opportunities for structural innovation.

For the in-person consumer studies, Product Ventures brought in bathroom fixtures to its facility so that participants could demonstrate how they use the products in their daily routine, thus better indicating what shoppers look for in package functionality. The company took what it learned and developed prototype structures with feminine, curvaceous shapes and proposed packages that could be stored inverted.

“The new bottles allow the user to efficiently use all of the product, without any waste,” says Peter Clarke, Product Ventures CEO. “The integrated cap and bottle are also very cohesive and interact as one unified shape. Additionally, the arched curve on the sides enhances the squeezability of the bottle, creating a spring-back effect. Finally, the vaulted base is reminiscent of a formal dress, creating a premium look and feel to elevate the overall form.”

Little Big Brands also brought in Erin Kanter Consulting, New York, NY, to help create the strategic underpinning, insights, and direction for the redesign. Kanter remained involved through all three rounds of research (ethnographic, focus groups, and quantitative) and assisted in informing retailers of what was in store for Summer’s Eve. Some focus groups were revealing about how women shopped the category, with particular insight into their preference for package structure, shape, and color.

“We discovered that the coloring as it had been traditionally executed was misleading to women,” Kanter says. She advised that there was an opportunity to move from the packaging’s muted pastels to a colorful palette reflecting the wide fragrance range. Color became a key element in creating an ownable design platform, and every color chosen was custom to further differentiate the brand.

Creating brand consistency through accurate and consistent color reproduction was a key objective, notes Lynn Westendorf, account executive for Stevenson Color Inc., which has provided Fleet with color management, production artwork, and prepress since 2006. For Summer’s Eve, Stevenson was brought in during the conceptual stage to provide technical support toward printability. Color decisions were a collaborative effort between Fleet’s marketing group, Little Big Brands, and Stevenson.

“Because of the large number of varietal colors,” Westendorf explains, “we established brand standards on our litho press to provide approved color standards for each of the printers to match to. One of our roles on the project was to assure brand standards were maintained by color managing ink drawdowns submitted by each of the print vendors.”

Westendorf says that color management between vendors and print processes was a challenge. Seven printers were involved, with print processes that include flexo, metal decoration, and offset, and seven vastly different substrates were used, including shrink film, carton stock, metal, in-mold labeling, and flexible film. There is also a custom white background printed on every item that was challenging to control. In addition, Westendorf notes, “The varying bottle shapes created a challenge in creating distorted graphics for the shrink sleeves that provided consistent reproduction of the Summer’s Eve brand mark.”

Hammer Packaging, one of the printers, worked very closely with Stevenson to match the colors, especially since the label required a matte overcoat, says Charlene McNeil, marketing communications specialist with Hammer. She says that Stevenson was very thorough in reviewing the drawdowns with the matte overcoat to help in the color selection. “Comps of shrink samples shrunk on the bottle gave Fleet a good idea of the final look,” says McNeil. “This was extremely helpful for Fleet to see final graphics after they were shrunk, and before we went to press.”

With each scent or formula variety requiring a different custom color, it was a challenge for Hammer to satisfy brand owner Fleet’s expectations. The colors are not PMS matches, McNeil explains, but instead were matched to swatches provided by Little Big Brands. And one of the two white inks that make up the background is a special tinted white to achieve a very precise custom color. Fleet’s Bryant concludes: “The end result is a product that looks even better on shelf than on paper.”


The Redesign Team
• Little Big Brands, which led the package design effort
• The Richards Group, Fleet’s new advertising agency of record
• Product Ventures, which created structural designs for several of the packages
• Erin Kanter Consulting, which led the research effort
• Stevenson Color, which provided prepress and color management services
• Hammer Packaging, which was among seven printers of the new packages

Research by the Numbers
The Summer’s Eve team spent a lot of time asking a lot of women what they wanted in the new packaging:
• A total of 2,732 women consulted for Summer’s Eve strategy and redesign
• 30 ethnographies and blog diaries
• 31 focus groups in six geographies
• Typical focus group: 12 users, 10 nonusers
• Segmentation quantitative study of 1,764 U.S. women
• Package testing quantitative study among 718 U.S. women