What a long, strange, fragrant trip it's been for the Herbal Essences hair-products brand. Originally called Herbal Essence (singular), it was launched by Clairol in the 1970s, on the cusp of the groovy-granola trend. Early advertising beckoned women to "come into the Garden of Earthly Delights"; illustrations on labels and print ads featured a cartoonish illustration of a latter-day Botticelli Venus amid a floral cornucopia.
In 1995 the brand was "restaged" with a new plural name and a variety of fragrances to replace the original herbal one. But by 2001, when Procter & Gamble acquired Clairol, Herbal Essences "had wilted in the face of competition from all sides, including natural and organic hair-care products from major consumer marketers and boutique brands like the Body Shop," according to MediaPost's Marketing Daily. A new agency, Kaplan Thayer Group, shook things up with an ad campaign called "Totally Organic Experience," which turned "lather-rinse-repeat" into an invitation to multiple hairgasm. Kind of made you wonder just what kind of herbal essence the creative team was smoking. (Watch a couple of old spots here.)
In 2005 P&G decided to reinvent Herbal Essences once again. The company hired a Cincinnati branding agency, LPK, to do 18 months of consumer research. The result (citing Marketing Daily again): "a new brand strategy tailored to attract the 'spontaneous, optimistic, altruistic, experiential' Gen Y female." The logo was redesigned, products got catchy new names like "Body Envy" and "None of Your Frizziness," and shampoo and conditioner bottles were given curvy, "nesting" shapes. This creative presentation, apparently from LPK, sums up the changes. The case study on LPK's web site says the agency "leveraged intimate materials knowledge to strengthen the core idea of fusion through an innovative, patented color blending system that only reveals the true, vibrant color of the product when in use, creating unexpected consumer delight even after purchase." (Even after purchase? Isn't that when the delight is supposed to happen?)
With writing like that, we can be grateful that LPK wasn't responsible for making the TV commercials that grew out of the new Herbal Essences image. Instead, P&G handed off that job to Leo Burnett Sydney, which created this genuinely delightful spot that's been airing a lot on U.S. TV lately.
It's unusual enough to see a shampoo ad in which the lead character is a biker chick afflicted with helmet hair. But the best part of the commercial comes at the end, when the woman--now with clean, lustrous tresses--hands off her Herbal Essences to a burly, scowling male biker who sports a grimy pigtail. In the final seconds we see a smiling Biker Guy running in slow-mo, his cascading locks bouncing on the shoulders of his leather jacket: a perfect send-up of the classic hair-care money shot. Even better: two other Biker Guys lift their sunglasses in amazed appreciation.
By the way, thanks to Go Fug Yourself--which finds amusement and agony in the fashion faux pas of the rich and clueless--I now know what to call Transformed Biker Guy. He's a Manpunzel. My man-word dictionary continues to grow.