January 10, 2011

Wicked Wrong

Tom's of Maine Whole Care Toothpaste

Tom's of Maine Sensitive Toothpaste

Over the holidays, I found an old tube of Tom’s of Maine toothpaste in my medicine cabinet. Most likely purchased after Colgate-Palmolive’s 84% acquisition of the company in 2006, but certainly before the new packaging re-design and product re-jiggering.

The package simply stated “spearmint”, the taste familiar & chalky, the packaging with the familiar Tom’s font outlined in white, the inside letter from Tom and Kate tucked inside inviting me to tell them what I think. I have been a customer of Tom’s of Maine products – toothpaste, deodorant, mouthwash, etc – for well over 15 years now. The brand symbolizes purity, trueness, freshness in products used mainly on the inside of my mouth, the portal to my body.

Over the past few months, the new packaging came out with new product names like “wicked fresh” for my familiar spearmint. “Wicked”? Seriously? The toothpaste recipe has been tampered with, less chalky, more Colgate-like. The prominent “natural” is noticeably missing as is the letter from Tom and Kate. The overall tone of the copy felt like it was from an agency, not from the company. It felt forced, market-speak creating an impression the product has regressed, not progressed, become one of many products on the shelf.

Working on branding and re-branding companies, I know a key tenet is to assure you don’t alienate your core audience while attracting new audiences. From what I have read, I know Tom and Kate still own a minority interest in the company. If they are not part of the decision making team of the re-branding efforts, they should be in the next round. They need to assure the core values of the brand are not simply written, but embodied in all brand expressions. Definitely, do not fix what is not broken by trying to finesse the taste of any of the products.

Until that time, I will be missing you, Tom’s of Maine. Hopefully, there are more old tubes of toothpaste in my closet.

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