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This is a self-funded case study using our Packaging Testing solution.
With climate action increasingly front-of-mind and greater consumer attentiveness toward the environmental impact of plastic wastage, brands are now — more than ever — expected to play their part in helping build a more sustainable future.
After taking a giant leap into sustainability last year with PCR dish soap bottles, Colgate-Palmolive has now turned its attention to the humble toothpaste tube — which alone gets disposed of a staggering 20 billion times a year globally.
Colgate’s new High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) tube is the first of its kind, receiving the tick of approval from recycling authorities. While an impressive piece of engineering, all the science in the world counts for nothing if the value proposition isn’t right.
Any new proposition also needs to work hard at the point of purchase to justify its price and convince consumers to make the switch. We used our 3Cs methodology to see whether the new HDPE tube was able to achieve this delicate balance.
A simpler color foundation and more recessive branding were deployed to instead hero that the packaging is now recyclable. The ‘chasing arrows’ recycling symbol (cleverly stylized as tiny toothpaste tubes) and “recycle me!” call-out made it immediately clear that this was something new. Together with a more modern, minimalistic, and matte-finish aesthetic, the new packaging was both more attention-grabbing, while also arousing greater curiosity and desire to find out more.
Colgate is inextricably linked with the color red in the toothpaste category, dedicating a significant chunk of real estate on all its packaging to this enviable asset. Unsurprisingly then, it was indisputable who the current packaging belonged to. Comparatively, HDPE marked a significant departure from the brand’s heartland. In a bid to underline that this wasn’t just a gimmick or the most incremental of innovation, the brand’s distinctive assets were deliberately shaken up. With priority instead placed on getting across the product’s recyclability, this consequently detracted from its recognizability.
The intent behind the pivot was to establish Colgate as a good corporate citizen and to strengthen consumer trust. However, while eliciting stronger perceptions of modernity and being a responsible company, this didn’t ladder-up to greater trust. Instead, the environmentally-friendly push came to the detriment of how effective people thought the toothpaste would be — which is quite peculiar given the product itself is unchanged. Nonetheless, by offering something new and different in a largely stagnant category, it brought a breath of fresh air — consequently developing both emotional affinity and rational reasons for purchase.
With sustainability and social responsibility rising up both brand’s and consumer’s priority lists, making visible strides in this area represents a lucrative opportunity. While this has led to the creation of entirely new products (such as Nivea’s EcoRefill hand soap and Garnier Shampoo Bars), simply addressing the harms caused by packaging alone can be just as impactful.
Despite enthusiasm toward the environmentally friendly shift, this case study highlights the importance of familiarity and the need to be careful when redeploying a brand’s distinctive properties. While a departure in look-and-feel is sometimes needed to land the desired impressions, this ultimately shouldn’t come to the detriment of product perceptions (i.e. causing people to question the toothpaste’s effectiveness).
With the roll-out across the brand’s wider range due to be finalized by next year, perhaps re-prioritizing the hierarchy of information to instead place comparatively greater emphasis on the sub-brands (which are well-established in their own right) would help to alleviate performance concerns, while at the same time keeping other favorable sentiment intact.