I bookmarked this article (kindly forwarded to me by Jóhann) from the Wall Street Journal, entitled “Wash Away Bad Hair Days.”  The article is about P&G’s efforts to recapture consumers who, over the most recent hard times, have cut back on ‘premium’ shampoos, such as Pantene, in favor of lower priced or generic products.  In recent years, the article describes how P&G have been doing elaborate testing to evaluate the emotional impact of a shampoo, in an effort to rinse out bad hair days (and the lack of confidence that comes with them).

In a separate earlier study of the hair-mood connection conducted in 2000, Dr. LaFrance (Yale University) concluded that “bad hair negatively influences self-esteem, brings out social insecurities and causes people to concentrate on the negative aspects of themselves.” (WSJ).

Clearly, washing your hair is a very personal affair, tangled up in many intangible moments, and having a concrete bearing on how confident one feels about facing the world.

One of the ways to give value back to the customer, thereby validating the value-added component of a premium item (in this case a shampoo), is surely by putting more emotion and less Cartesian performance measurements into the brand communication and experience.  If innovation, promotions and tv advertising remain important business levers, the ability to create trust and reinforce confidence passes through the subconscience — an area better accessed via the emotional rather than the rational channel.  And, yet, the majority of the shampoo ad campaigns seem to remain very logical and rational with retouched (aka “perfect” and therefore unassailable) models.

Which brings me to this 4-minute “You Can Shine” video made by Pantene in 2008. It has garnered 3.5 million views in a little over two years. Not bad. The storyline has a lot of interesting parts to it, if a little disjointedly put together.

This film is in sharp contrast to the majority of 2-page, scientifically charged, plasticine model ads that come out of the major shampoo manufacturers.  What struck me about the studies carried out by P&G was the attempt to codify the emotional reaction to a shampoo experience.  When will we start to see a major player break new ground with a less product-focused approach, which looks more intently at the full picture: alignment of authentic brand values with the real self, an image that goes beyond superficial looks (“because they’re worth it”), and a deeper emotional connection?  What about brands that create messages with content, humor and meaning? [For some inspiration, take a look at this real/authentic/literal ‘viral’ video, Total Eclipse of the Heart which has plenty of cosmetic references and has gained  a whole lot more consumer attention in the form of 10 million views – Update: Literal videos have been clamped down upon.]

Of course, the real problem is that no amount of magical shampooing can compensate for a bad hairbrushing or windy conditions.  Nor, frankly, will good hair make a traffic ticket on the way to work any more bearable.

What are your thoughts?  Which campaigns speak more to you:  Herbal Essences‘ Orgasms, the Dove Difference, Pantene’s ‘You Can Shine’ or L’Oreal’s Worthiness?

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