Gain vs. Kentucky Fried Chicken: Smart Scents vs. Nonsense

The good: The Wall Street Journal (September 4; for subscribers only) reports that Gain has risen to #2 in the laundry detergent market by positioning its brand as "a heavily fragrant detergent." Wisely, Procter & Gamble didn't go after the mass market (for whom strong-smelling laundry detergent isn't necessarily appealing) but rather targeted "the scent-loving consumer segment." As the Journal reports, it was an out of the ordinary move for P&G to focus on a niche rather than the mass market, but they've succeeded. And P&G is knocking the socks off Unilever (literally); Unilever is selling its U.S. laundry business. Already, Colgate-Palmolive has abandoned that market due to P&G's strength. So score 1 for P&G!

The bad: Consumerist ( aptly reports the "badvertising" news from a Kentucky Fried Chicken press release ( stating that KFC, "in a marketing first," is placing the scent of KFC in "the halls and offices of corporate America." That's right, in a pilot program, "Along with carrying inter-office mail, overnight packages and bills, mail carts in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Dallas delivered the aroma of freshly prepared Kentucky Fried Chicken during pre-lunch mail drops." The scent was delivered by a $2.99 Deal - "a plated meal including KFC's world famous chicken, a side item and a biscuit - on the actual mail carts that pass the offices of hungry workers." So now you can get your office mail "greasy" or "extra greasy"--just kidding. (And in an age of email and IM, who even gets interoffice mail anymore? But that's another story.)

I don't even pretend to understand this part of the release: "To bring the sweet-smelling promotion to life, KFC collaborated with in Dallas; the Trade Association & Society Consultants of Washington, D.C.; and the Chicago offices of the Salvation Army." What, did they send around an actual plate of food spiked with chemicals? Yuk.

Yet chief marketing officer for KFC seems to think it's the most brilliant idea around: "There is truly no better brand ambassador worldwide than the signature aroma of freshly prepared Kentucky Fried Chicken," said James O'Reilly."

The key brand lesson is that odors should be confined to situations where people want them. In the case of Gain, there is an avid bunch of raving fans involved. And P&G admits: "We deliberately made it more intense, more polarizing -- they (the detergent's smells) weren't designed to appeal to everybody." (P&G North America laundry marketing director Kevin Burke). And even then, you can't smell the scent on the outside of the container (at least I don't think so), so the brand identity is literally well contained.

In the case of KFC, they are going into an environment that is NOT SUPPOSED TO SMELL LIKE ANYTHING, the office, and injecting a smell that some people like and some people don't. Stupid! The only scent that people may REMOTELY want to smell in an office is coffee (and maybe, just perhaps, fresh doughnuts?). Not a strong-smelling takeout food smell.

Another key brand lesson is not to abuse your scent identity. KFC's brand is indeed equatable with the smell of its chicken, but that doesn't mean that the smell of fried chicken should be everywhere.

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