Product Launches: Skipping TV Spots

For decades it has been axiomatic that companies with new products to unleash on the unsuspecting masses would turn to a tried-and-true medium with enormous reach: TV. Some of the modern era's most iconic products—Winston filter-tip cigarettes, the Ford F-Series pickup, the iPod—achieved liftoff on the tube.

Yet when Procter & Gamble (PG) introduced the Oral-B Pulsonic toothbrush last fall, it did so with nary a TV commercial. Now, having made a success of that launch, P&G is doing the same with a loofah-like Old Spice body scrubber and the latest iteration of its Febreze air fresheners. P&G has company. Unilever (UN), Kimberly-Clark (KMB), and Microsoft (MSFT) all have recently launched products—or intend to do so in the coming months—without TV.

Of course, TV remains the No. 1 advertising medium in the U.S. and most everywhere else, dwarfing the Web by a factor of 41/2 to 1. But at a time of frugality, many companies are looking for a cheaper alternative. Yes, brands can reach customers easily because TV audiences are so large, but they have to pay for viewers they don't want as well. That's fine for an established product with mass appeal. But for new products or niche brands, it's harder to justify to the bean counters.

So while most companies continue to rely on TV to pitch their biggest brands, they're identifying products that can fly without commercials, chiefly those aimed at the young and Web-savvy. Such people still watch plenty of TV, but they also spend hours on blogs and video sites—where ad rates are far cheaper. And increasingly they research their purchases online.

Last year Microsoft used a TV campaign to advertise Zune Pass, its online music service. As it relaunches the service with an aggressively priced subscription plan, Microsoft is again using 30-second spots, but it's putting them online only. Buying ads on many smaller sites, says Zune global marketing manager Chris Stephenson, allows him to be more precise. He says the campaign, which launched on May 11, is reaching just as many of the young, techie males he's courting as the TV ads did last year—and for half the price. "When you're buying American Idol, or even just MTV, you're buying an enormous amount of wastage," he says.


When Kimberly-Clark launched its Huggies Pure & Natural line of diapers in April, it aimed to reach "millennial moms," who would be more environmentally conscious. Instead of television, it advertised on mom blogs, where many young mothers research pregnancy, and paired the campaign with ads in prenatal magazines. The company made sure to use an old-fashioned marketing ploy, though, giving bloggers and blog readers free samples of the diapers, the biggest expenditure in the campaign.

Without trusty 30-second TV spots, brands must come up with creative ways to reach customers. To generate buzz for its slim Oral-B Pulsonic toothbrush, aimed at fashion-conscious consumers willing to pay $70 for a toothbrush, P&G sponsored a promotion during New York's Fashion Week last fall. There, at an event called Style 360, it designed a model bathroom where Michael Moloney, the interior designer on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, showed off the brush. The company also worked it into a fashion show featuring pajamas and loungewear (models sashayed down the catwalk, brush in hand). The gimmick paid off, generating press on fashion and style blogs—and in mainstream newspapers. Pulsonic sales exceeded expectations, says P&G.

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