Sramana: Where did you go after BBDO?
Andrew Swinand: My boss at the time was Vada Hill, who went on to be the CMO at Taco Bell, where he did the chihuahua ads. He introduced me to a lot of Procter and Gamble people whom I really liked. I decided to go work for Procter and Gamble and we moved to Cincinnati as a result of accepting that position. I started working in beauty care in the deodorant business, specifically Secret antiperspirant.
I was given an assignment to place a sticker on a new product that said “Best.” In doing research, I found out that we had a product that was better than every other product, yet the market did not believe it. We went through this experience where we talked to women about what it meant to be the best and we ended up relabeling, repricing and renaming the product to become Secret Platinum Protection. We emphasized that it was the strongest you could get without a prescription and labeled it “clinical strength.” We ended up creating a $100 million line of business in about six months.
Companies still use the tags “clinical strength” 20 years later. I received an innovation award for my work on that project. At that point the Internet was starting to emerge. A group of us at Procter and Gamble were tasked with coming up with ideas for Procter and Gamble to participate on the Internet. We came up with new companies and concepts that leveraged digital. Our group was eventually spun off and we moved to San Francisco. We ended up doing deals with VCs to launch companies that marketed P&G products in the digital domain.
We had a company called Reflect.com, which was customized beauty care products. Proctor had 5,000 products they sold in Asia that they did not sell in the U.S. There were different nuances between Asian women’s hair and a Caucasian woman’s hair, such as Asian women have round hair, while Caucasian women have oval hair. If you were an Asian woman living in the U.S., you would not get the best products for you because the products sold in the U.S. were those most commonly used in the country. The reason for that is there was a limited amount of shelf space that you could get at Walmart. In that store you don’t sell the best products, you sell the most generally applicable products.
The idea with Reflect.com was to create a mass customization approach. I think it was a really good idea to this day; we just made some really bad mistakes. We had hired an agency to make our website, and they built everything in Flash. We spend our entire budget on a site that did not work. When we launched, people could not buy. It was a valuable learning experience for me. We had 500,000 unique visitors come to the site the first month, but none of them could buy anything. We were really good at marketing, but we were not so good at technology.