Marketing Tide®

Thomas Halberstadt and Herb Coith put together a demonstration on Project X sometime in the middle of 1945. Attending the session were Richard Deupree, president of Procter & Gamble, Ralph Rogan, vice president for advertising, Neil McElroy, then an advertising manager, later Deupree's successor as president, and R.K. Brodie, vice president of manufacturing and technical research. The executives quickly realized that Project X represented a significant innovation. The question was: how to proceed in manufacturing and marketing?

Deupree asked how long it would take to merchandise a synthetic detergent. He was told it would take several months to collect samples; then P&G would need about six months to run blind tests in a few cities and analyze the results. Added time would be needed to work in changes revealed by the tests. After that, the company would conduct shipping tests: that involved manufacturing some of the product, shipping it to select markets, trying out advertising strategies in those markets, polling consumers about the product, and then refining the detergent based on the results of testing. If this typical schedule was followed Project X would be ready for test marketing in about two years; a full-scale national launch would come a year later. And P&G had always followed this typical schedule.1

But the executives sensed that the researchers had developed a potential blockbuster product, an innovative product that called for innovative production and marketing techniques and schedules. Brodie pointed out that if P&G followed the normal rollout schedule "Lever and Colgate will get samples of our product shortly after we start blind testing. Then they will put together some kind of product… Surely their product will not be as good as ours, but they will crowd the market." If P&G bypassed the normal tests, "this would give us a two years start over Lever and Colgate."2 Others at the meeting dissented at first, noting that Brodie's suggestion meant a blind commitment of millions of dollars in new equipment and advertising for a product that no one was sure would be a success. But in the end, though everyone understood the risk, Project X appeared extraordinary, and it was decided, in Deupree's words, to go "full speed ahead!"3

Project X quickly moved from a backchannel research oddity to the forefront of P&G's product development. Tide® was chosen as the name, though no one can recall why. The marketers and branders quickly swung into action. The famous box of concentric rings of vivid orange and red in a bull's eye motif with Tide in blue letters was developed. The slogan "oceans of suds" became part of the early marketing campaign. In addition, early advertising stressed that Tide was a "Washday Miracle" that promised to wash laundry "cleaner than soap." The advertisers were confident in making that claim because Tide's performance was truly superior. Still, it was a significant claim for a company whose livelihood depended on soaps.4

While the marketers forged ahead, the process engineers had to solve several problems. First, the company had to secure sufficient quantities of tripolyphosphate to justify a major plant expansion. Second, P&G needed to build new facilities, particularly four new towers to granulate, or blow, Tide. The existing facilities could not be converted to produce Tide because synthetics required a different granulation process than soaps.

Then the process engineers had to work out some problems in the original formulation of Tide. "The initial formulation has some real limitations," recalled Charles Fullgraf, superintendent at P&G's St. Bernard plant. "It did not blow very well. It built up in the tower, it built up in the feeder valves. We had to shut down every hour and clean them out."5 According to James Ewell, plant manager at St. Bernard before Fullgraf, "the first experiments were run over on the Dreft® tower at Ivorydale, and they were failures… Blowing a granule sounds easy, but it isn't. You can't get the right density, all sorts of strange things happen inside synthetic towers. And they didn't know enough about the operation of towers in those days, especially with a heavily built product like Tide. It had a lot of phosphate in it. Dreft didn't have any builders, so it was a completely different operation."6 The addition of a small amount of sodium silicate solved the problem, allowing for crisper granules that could more easily be blown.

With the granulation problem solved and with new towers in production, P&G began test marketing tide in October 1946 in six cities: Springfield, Massachusetts; Albany, New York; Evansville, Indiana; Lima, Ohio; Wichita, Kansas; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The date of the introduction coincided with the spread of automatic top-loading washing machines. The link between the new heavy-duty synthetic detergents and the new automatic washers was reinforced a few years later when P&G struck agreements with a number of washing machine manufacturers to pack boxes of Tide in the new machines.7

Tide was an instant marketing success, selling out in markets all over the country as quickly as P&G could make it. Tide quickly boosted Procter & Gamble's share of the laundry market as both Colgate and Lever Brothers scurried to develop synthetic detergents. That was the good news; the bad news is that Tide also undermined P&G's traditional soap brands. By 1949 production of the company's synthetic detergents outstripped its soap production. To a certain extent P&G strategists were caught off guard by Tide's phenomenal success. The company had expected Tide to sell well in hard-water regions, where traditional soaps did not perform well. But in fact, consumers all over the country, even in soft-water areas, quickly switched to synthetics, with Tide leading the way. By the early 1950s, Tide had captured more than 30 percent share of the laundry market, and it has been the number one selling laundry detergent every year since.8

1 G. Thomas Halberstadt, Interview, April 7, 1984, P&G Archives; Davis Dyer, Frederick Dalzell, and Rowena Olegario, Rising Tide: Lessons from 165 Years of Brand Building at Procter & Gamble (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2004), p. 74.

2 Halberstadt Interview.

3 Ibid.

4 For an in-depth discussion of marketing and branding Tide, see Dyer, et al., Rising Tide, Chapter 4.

5 Charles M. Fullgraf Interview, February 16, 1995, P&G Archives.

6 J.M. Ewell Interview, June 22m 1994, P&G Archives.

7 Dyer, et al., Rising Tide, p. 77. The Federal Trade commission eventually disallowed such exclusive agreements, but by the time the FTC acted, Tide had become inextricably linked with the new automatic washing machines.

8 Ibid., pp. 80-81.


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Brief History of Procter & Gamble | Duncan Goes to Europe | Developing Tide
Marketing Tide | Landmark Designation and Acknowledgments

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