My Career. Powered by Pine-Sol.

psolI had a really interesting experience last week that made me reflect on the importance of the Pine-Sol brand to me.

Huh? Why is Pine-Sol important, you ask, other than its ability to clean, deodorize and kill 99.9% of germs.

Thanks to having attended the Pennsylvania Marketing Summit last week I was able to remind myself how important the brand was to my career. At the Summit, Sacha Connor, Director of Marketing for The Clorox Company, was on a panel and discussed the Pine-Sol positioning of today. Pine-Sol, an almost 90-year brand, has been owned by Clorox since the early 90s.

Here’s the story about my “relationship” with Pine-Sol.

I entered the ad business in 1976 at the tail end of the “Mad Men” era at age 23. I had a freshly minted MBA degree from NYU. My first job was as an AE at Needham, Harper & Steers on the Amtrak account. It was a great learning experience on the mechanics of the ad business. In that era Amtrak advertised in national and local media in virtually every media type across the country. The work was good and the people I worked with were wonderful. It was a great first job. So why did I leave?

I was counselled by many that I needed to work on “package goods” to accelerate my career. The bulk of the package goods accounts at Needham Harper & Steers were in their Chicago office. So in late 1977, I sought an agency with package good accounts where I could learn the tools of the CPG trade.

I interviewed with agencies and there was an opportunity at the NY office of BBDO on the Pine-Sol account. Sounded good to me–good agency, good opportunity and it was package goods. I jumped. I recall I was offered $23,000 for the Pine-Sol AE position, a raise from my current salary at that time (remember, this was late 1977). A small bump in pay was good, but learning package goods marketing was my goal. I took advantage of the opportunity.

Pine-Sol was owned at that time by American Cyanamid, then headquartered in Wayne, NJ. We were living in Central NJ and so I was a very frequent visitor to see my clients, a day or two every week, without fail. I attended every Nielsen presentation, SAMI presentation, every key business meeting, and I deeply immersed myself into my client’s business. I recall the names of my clients—Tom Piazza, Hank Norment, Bob Sloane, Denny Terasevich, Rhett Austell, and later Brad Morgan and Dick Bryant. I surely have missed some names, but it’s interesting that I remember my clients 40+ years ago. This was the era where agencies were mostly still compensated through a 15% commission on media placement, so most accounts were profitable and Pine-Sol was my sole responsibility. It was great to focus on a single brand and I jumped in deeply.

To be clear, Pine-Sol was not the sexiest account at BBDO. We had the Pepsi and GE accounts in that era and they were the highest profile accounts, with big budgets, week long TV shoots in LA. BBDO was (and still is to a large degree) an agency focused on video, largely TV spots in that era. But Pine-Sol was my account.

The good news for me was that Pine-Sol was a big brand and was the leader, by far, in the household cleaner category, competing at that time with brands from Procter & Gamble, Colgate and Lehn & Fink. Pine-Sol’s owner, American Cyanamid, was not a big CPG company. In that era it was a largely chemical company and Cyanamid doesn’t even exist today.  But it had 3 mega CPG brands back then—Pine-Sol, Old Spice, and Breck shampoo. Pine-Sol was handled by BBDO. The others were handled by other agencies.

From 1977 to 1983 I worked on the account as an AE, then as an Account Supervisor and then as a VP, Management Supervisor. I was proud of getting promoted rapidly. I worked hard on the account and thankfully was recognized at BBDO for my efforts. I respected the many talented people who worked on the business. The late Bob Ellis, Jack Thorne and the late Ken Angel were my account management bosses at various times. In the media area, Arnie Semsky joined the agency as a Senior Broadcast Exec during my tenure (and later became BBDO’s Worldwide Media Director). Mike Drake and Bruno Crea were key media execs on the account. In research Sheron Davis joined the agency as the research lead in the same week in November 1977 that I joined (PS: Sheron I know you fibbed when you told Bob Ellis you could drive. But I drove you out to NJ and no one was the wiser). And Ed Stein was the creative lead on the account. Even Allen Rosenshine, who would become BBDO’s CEO and Omnicom’s original CEO, was involved with the Pine-Sol account earlier in his career.

I learned from all of these people. I remember the feeling of being the least experienced/least intelligent person in the room. It was intimidating, but motivating as well. The way to earn respect at the agency and with our client, was to learn the Pine-Sol business inside and out, while learning the ad business. I immersed myself in the household cleaning category. I knew the brand’s market share in every major market by memory. Bob Ellis would drill me asking me business questions. I made it my business to have the answers because he would chide me if I didn’t. I gained confidence in myself. Sometimes too much confidence (Strum, You Don’t Know What You Don’t know)

But as I sat at the seminar last week and heard Sacha speak of the Pine-Sol brand it all came rushing back. It’s been 35 years since I ran the account. Much has changed though Mr. Clean and Lysol remain competitors. Ajax, Top Job, and Pine Power appear long gone from the category. In the store checks I’ve done this week (I am still am obsessed with the category) it appears Fabuloso, a Hispanic brand distributed by Colgate, now dominates or at least had the most SKUs in the stores I checked.

psl familyI also see that the original pine oil based Pine-Sol is merely one of the Pine-Sol brands and it now has a broad line of rainbow “tutti-frutti” products (my term, not theirs). I wonder whether the breadth of the line that has eroded the focus of the original pine oil based product since the pine oil in the original brand provided the strong cleaning and disinfecting ability that the other flanker products can’t match. Who knows? I do appreciate the business objective of gaining more real estate (SKUs) in supermarkets through a broader line.

Today’s advertising and brand promise have evolved. “The Heart of and Hustle of the Doer” is the brand promise, said Sacha Connor at the seminar. Might be brilliant, but it’s hard for me fully appreciate. In connecting with today’s consumer, the YouTube visits for their Dance Challenge are incredibly impressive. That’s obviously all part of the marketing of today’s Pine-Sol brand.

In another era, the original hard working “graffiti” TV campaign resulted in leading market share in the high teens in the late 70 and 80s. Not as sexy, but worked well and contributed to their market dominance. I enjoyed those years at BBDO. It wasn’t easy working at BBDO, but I learned a ton in the 12 years I worked at the agency, and it all started with Pine-Sol.

I was proud of the success of Pine-Sol, and even 35 years later and owned by other company, I hope Pine-Sol dominates household cleaner category and crushes their competitors for years to come.

Thanks for giving me an opportunity to walk down memory lane, Sacha.

More Strumings

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