A lesson in consumer behaviour


In the 1950s, Colgate’s CEO approached his department heads with a goal to double product sales over the next financial period. All department heads were middle-aged men, well-educated and experienced.


They collaborated, strategised and deliberated! But reached a consensus that the CEO’s goal could not be achieved.


Undeterred, the CEO took his goal to the factory floor. In the 1950s, this level of cross-departmental consultation was unheard of. He assembled his staff and asked the question.


He was met with silence.


A few minutes later, a woman who worked in the smallest, simplest sector of the production plant piped up.


Toothpaste at that time was still considered to be medicinal and was packaged in small, ointment-sized tubes similar to those you find on aeroplanes. Her idea? To increase the size of the tube and the spout that the toothpaste comes out of. She had observed that people generally squeeze toothpaste along the length of their toothbrush and hypothesised that this behaviour was so ingrained that it would continue, even after increasing the volume of toothpaste dispensed.


The CEO thanked her for her idea and the company went on to triple sales over the next financial period, and change their packaging forever.


Stories change as they are retold by different people over time but whether based in truth or not, this moving little account illustrates the benefits of collaboration and harnessing the collective knowledge of the team. It also demonstrates how a company’s intimate knowledge of consumer behaviour can create revolutionary new insights to leverage a better sales position.


Unilever’s Linx ads do the same. They create the illusion that ordinary men are transformed into irrestistible men by spraying Linx under their arms AND all over their torsos, and in doing so, increase product consumption three to four times. The behaviour becomes ingrained and sales skyrocket.


Marketing isn’t only about determining a target market and crafting a message to deliver maximum impact in your chosen medium. Effective marketing is an understanding of human psychology and leveraging that knowledge to create opportunities to influence attention, engagement, perception and action.