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Nivea EcoRefill targets sustainable success

March 2022

This is a self-funded case study using our Innovation Testing solution.

When it comes to excess packaging waste and harmful environmental practices, much blame is often placed at the feet of the beauty and personal care industry. While single-use plastics have marred the category for decades, as consumer behavior becomes increasingly eco-driven, the industry has seen positive change.

Category heavyweights are now starting to make sustainability a core business priority, with brands going to great lengths to translate lofty visions into enduring products. Some have chosen to “solidify” their environmental push, shying away from liquids in favor of solids — something Garnier did successfully with its recent launch of Shampoo Bars.

Others have focused their attention on the packaging itself, including Nivea and its new EcoRefill Hand Soap. Coined by its makers as a “revolutionary” first for the category, Nivea’s alternative to traditional single-use soaps features a 100% recycled, recyclable, and reusable plastic bottle, along with cleanser tablets which essentially allow people to make their own soap at home.

To assess the potential of Nivea’s new EcoRefill Hand Soap, we put it to the test against our 3Cs framework:

  • Captivate: Be emotive; stand out and grab attention.
  • Connect: Be recognizable; synergize with expectations.
  • Compel: Be motivating; drive behavioral change.


While by no means “revolutionary”, people still found the proposition relatively unique and distinctive. Many were receptive to the eco-friendly focus, with more than half of people enjoying that Nivea was making a concerted effort to encourage more sustainable practices — sentiment which left many feeling inspired.

However, as important as it is for the proposition itself to be new and original, the way in which it’s brought to life (i.e. its physical presentation) plays an equally important role in whether consumers will pick it up on shelf. This was where Nivea EcoRefill was let down — while the pack’s muted tones and earthy color scheme successfully conveyed eco-credentials, it didn’t inspire a great deal of buzz and excitement (like the product itself).

Nivea ecoRefill - New Product Innovation Testing - Captivate


With the brand’s heartland in skin and body-care, Nivea’s pivot to hand soap wasn’t a dramatic departure. Being a well-known and well-respected player in the personal care category for many decades, the product was synergistic with the things people typically expect of the brand.

That being said, despite its solid (well, liquid — but you get it!) fit with the brand, hygiene isn’t generally Nivea’s “thing”, while the primary associations elicited by Nivea EcoRefill centered around sustainability and convenience — diluting how uniquely ownable the product could be for Nivea.

Nivea ecoRefill - New Product Innovation Testing - Brand Connection



The product’s eco-friendly credentials were unquestionable, with reduced waste and recyclability leaving many feeling the brand genuinely cares about the environment.

However, at the same time many expressed reservations around its practicality as an alternative to traditional hand soaps. This sentiment largely stemmed from the cleanser tablet and question marks around how effective it would really be — whether the “shaken” formula would truly be as soft on skin as alternatives, and whether it would be durable — despite being billed as lasting 25% longer. These factors, as well as friction caused by the inconvenience of needing to regularly purchase refill tablets, resulted in below-average claimed purchase.

Nivea ecoRefill - New Product Innovation Testing - Compel

What are the learnings for marketers?

Finding ways to stand out in the saturated personal care category can be a daunting challenge — but not impossible. Garnier’s Shampoo Bars broke with tradition and did something unique, all-the-while not compromising on either fit with the brand, or perceptions of effectiveness.

While Nivea EcoRefill offered a clear point of difference and delivered on a real consumer need, skepticism around whether the product would sufficiently deliver on cleanliness and hygiene ultimately dulled enthusiasm.

With hygiene not Nivea’s traditional heartland, consumer hesitancy toward the tablet concentrate was subsequently magnified — particularly with the product positioned much more heavily around environmental qualities than efficacy.

The learning for marketers in this space is that while there’s no denying consumer appetite for “doing good”, this’ll only carry-through to actual behavior if the sacrifices involved in making the switch are deemed acceptable. To achieve this Nivea should consider placing greater emphasis on how the tablet format credibly delivers on core category needs of cleaning strength and hygiene.

Nivea ecoRefill - New Product Innovation Testing - Cubery Rating

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