Feature

Superbrands case studies: Comfort

Originally published in 'Consumer Superbrands Volume V', March 2003. The book reviews the UK's strongest consumer brands as judged by an independent judging panel.

Case study provided by Superbrands

Market

The annual number of household washloads in the UK is over seventeen million and it is estimated that 60% of that figure use a fabric conditioner. Fabric care is one of the largest and most competitive in the UK grocery market, with the total UK laundry and fabric conditioner sector now worth some £1.1 billion a year.

There are three distinct product areas within the fabric conditioner market: perfumed -- as fragrances are increasingly important, influencing 50% of purchase decisions; skin sensitive -- for people with concerns about their family's skin; and added benefits -- such as easier ironing and shape retention.

The fabric conditioner market can also be split into two product formats: dilutes, which dominate the rinse conditioner market at 60% of the share and concentrates, which make up the other 40% share of the market.

Comfort currently leads the UK fabric conditioner category with just under 50% share of the market.

Achievements

Comfort was the first fabric conditioner brand to enter the UK market and today remains the number one brand in its 33-year history.

The introduction of Comfort Easy Iron conditioner in 1999 proved to be a phenomenal success and maintains a 10% share in the rinse conditioner market. Comfort Easy Iron was such a success that supermarkets own brands of Easy Iron conditioners quickly followed suit making up 6% of the market.

A new out-of-the-washing-machine category was created in 2001 with the launch of Comfort Vaporesse, the first mass-market fragranced ironing liquid that is poured directly into the water reservoir of a steam iron to give clothes a just washed freshness. More than one in five of all UK households have purchased Vaporesse (equivalent to more than five million households) and the repeat purchase rate is nearly 50%. To date, over one million households have bought Vaporesse, purchasing, on average, ten bottles each. Due to Vaporesses success, the Comfort brand has grown to hit the 50% market share target.

In 2002, Comfort broke new ground in the fabric conditioner market by introducing two new fabric conditioner fragrances -- Passion Flower & Ylang Ylang and Mandarin & Green Tea. Comfort collaborated with two designer French fragrance houses to deliver the latest in modern fragrance trends for clothes.

Comfort launched an innovative advertising campaign in 2000 that moved away from the traditional image of the laundry category. The advertisements featured characters (created by Aardman Animations) who lived in Cloth World -- a world where everything was made of cloth and where Comfort was used to make life softer. In October 2002, due to an overwhelming number of requests to the Careline about the teen cloth characters Darren and Lisa in the ads, an on-pack promotion to obtain limited edition Darren and Lisa cloth characters was launched. With this, Comfort established a fully integrated communications campaign. Darren and Lisa enabled the brand to enter new territory -- into the realms of aspirational teen marketing.

History

Comfort was launched nationally in the UK in 1969 and was the first fabric conditioner available in the UK market. Lever Brothers was already the leading manufacturer of washing detergent within the UK with the Persil and Surf brands. Market research at this time had shown that although there was no problem getting clothes clean, they returned from the wash feeling scratchy and uncomfortable. Comfort was marketed to fight fibre fatigue by restoring softness and springiness to frequently washed clothes.

The idea was slow to catch on, partly because washing machines didnt have separate compartments for powder and fabric conditioner. Eventually, free samples were given away with new washing machines after manufacturers agreed to install separate compartments.

Fabric conditioners work by lightly lubricating the fibres of the fabric, preventing them becoming tangled. This gives extra bulk to textured fabrics, such as towels, and a smooth feel to flat surfaces.

In the three decades since its launch, Comfort has been continually developed and enhanced to provide the best possible care for clothes, now both in and out of the washing machine.

Product

The Comfort brand is made up of two ranges: the in washing machine range, ie fabric conditioners and the out of washing machine range, ie tumble dryer sheets and ironing/freshening products.

The Comfort fabric conditioner range is currently made up of Comfort Blue/Normal, Passion Flower & Ylang Ylang, Mandarin & Green Tea, Silk, Pure, Easy Iron and Comfort Forme.

Whether the aim is to add softness in the washing machine and tumble dryer or add a just-washed freshness to clothes during the ironing process Comfort has a product to suit.

Fourteen years after the launch of Comfort, the brand was relaunched with improved softness benefits on synthetics and a richer creamier appearance. A year later, concentrated Comfort was introduced into the market, which was three times the concentration of regular Comfort. In 1989 a new variant was introduced called Pure Silk Comfort, specialising in silk/delicate fabric washes.

1992 saw a variety of changes to the whole of the Comfort brand. A new single colour logo was launched, the design of the packaging was modernised, Comfort Purely Soft was introduced for consumers with sensitive skin and a clearer distinction was made between the regular and concentrated variants.

The following year in 1993, after consumer market research highlighted that people prefer to have a choice of fragrances, Comfort Island Fresh was launched, later known as Comfort Country Garden.

Between 1997 and 1999 Comfort Purely Soft was relaunched with a new delicate fragrance and hypoallergenic claim, an improved label design and skin care properties. The whole of the Comfort range was given new labels highlighting its clothes care benefits. Country Garden conditioner was replaced with Comfort Easy Iron conditioner, which has become immensely successful.

2001 proved that Comfort is at the forefront of innovation with the introduction of the first mass-market product of its kind, Comfort Vaporesse. As you iron, the Comfort Vaporesse liquid turns to steam and infuses the fibres of your clothes with a delicate fragrance to give them long-lasting freshness.

Recent developments

Comforts success lies in understanding its consumers and delivering products that meets their needs. Comfort Vaporesse and the two new fragrances are real success stories for the brand.

Comforts recent launch of Comfort Forme, saw the introduction of the first mass-market product of its kind as it contains Elastra. This is an ingredient similar to that used in the garment industry, to help maintain shape by sustaining the natural body and elasticity of fibres.

Promotion

Since the introduction of Comfort in 1969 there have been three distinct phases of Comfort advertising: Market Education, Market Establishment and Market Commoditisation.

Market Education took place between 1969 and 1972 and defined the need for a fabric conditioner within the washing process and explained how Comfort worked and the benefits it provided to fabrics. Advertising focused on softness and freshness benefits.

From 1972-1978 Establishment advertising took place, which was a critical brand-building phase in which Comforts brand values of softness and freshness were established. Comfort moved away from the association with clothes in the drawer, shifting to clothes as they are worn and experienced by the family. The softness that Comfort gives clothes being shown to represent a way of expressing care and love for ones family.

Commoditisation Advertising occurred from 1979-1999 due to the lack of volume growth and penetration as the market matured. The opportunity for volume growth was through increased usage as well as the introduction of added value variants such as Easy Iron. This allowed for increased choice within the brand, which led to an increase in penetration.

In November 2000, Comfort launched an innovative advertising campaign that moved away from the traditional staid image of the laundry category. The advertisements feature Darren Denim and Lisa Weaver, teenagers in a first love relationship.

This campaign was created because Comfort wanted to generate a stronger involvement and reinvigorate peoples relationship with the brand. The strength of the brand could be expressed in a simple thought that pulled it apart from the competition -- when you use Comfort you are caring both for your clothes and the ones you love. The thought of putting caring for clothes and caring for people together is how the Cloth World was born.

The introduction of this execution marked a turning point in Comforts advertising. Shortly thereafter the Comfort Careline began to receive calls from consumers saying how much they loved them and asking if there were any Lisa and Darren dolls available -- some callers even asked if there were any Lisa and Darren figurines to put on top of wedding cakes.

This was proof enough that Lisa and Darren had been taken into consumers hearts with their teenage romance. By building on the popularity of theses characters, Comfort had the opportunity to build brand awareness as well as drive sales.

The PR strategy aimed to bring to life the characters so that mums, kids and teens would love them while they retained the link to the Comfort brand at all times. This has been done in three ways 1) Solid awareness driving to build their profile; 2) Involving the audience so they have an emotive reason to engage with Darren and Lisa; and finally 3) Creating icons out of them just as the character Monkey was created by ITV Digital.

In a matter of a couple of months awareness for Darren and Lisa, and the Clothworld entity has heightened dramatically. The campaign alone has reached more than eight million people via radio, press and online editorial. Comfort has launched a designated website -- www.darrenandlisa.co.uk, which has established a fan base of hundreds of people logging on every day, for example, to download a Darren and Lisa ringtone to their mobiles or get wallpaper for their computer screens, hence directly involving the audience.

Numerous other tactics have been employed, from a celebrated pop hit for the couple -- which has been virally marketed to mums and is currently hitting the media -- to partnering with the charity Parentalk by joining their parenting with inspiration campaign. Clothworld for Comfort has only just begun and plans are to expand it fully into the realms of family and teen marketing for 2003.

Brand values

Comfort is a trusted family brand that cares for clothes.

With a heritage of taking care of clothes that spans over three decades, Comfort has and will always care for clothes that people love to wear. With the brand expanding into new areas, Comfort will keep pace with people and their needs to ensure they are never disappointed.

Things you didn't know

  • Comfort made enough fabric conditioner in the UK in 2002 to fill 46.4 Olympic sized swimming pools.

  • If all the Comfort bottles made in the UK in 2002 were lined up, they would stretch from Piccadilly Circus to the Empire State Building and back again.

  • Comfort Forme found that two thirds of women would rather pay a painful visit to the dentist than have their favourite blouse or much loved dress left shapeless after a washing disaster.

    © 2003 Superbrands Ltd