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February 14, 2005: No Degrees of Separation -- from Tide

P&G's recent viral campaign for its new cold-water laundry product has helped the company reach its target market.

Unless you have been hand-washing your clothes at the nearest creek or swimming hole, odds are you have been using the warm or hot water cycles on your washing machine for years to get your clothes to sparkle. Now, consumer products behemoth Procter & Gamble (P&G) has come out with a product that they guarantee will effectively clean all your clothes in cold water. In addition, P&G has introduced an innovative web-based viral marketing campaign -- and partnered with a non-profit environmental consortium -- to tout the product's energy-saving benefits.

Known as Tide Coldwater, the detergent was specially formulated to clean clothes in lower temperatures that are both fabric- and color-safe. P&G rolled out Tide Coldwater nationwide in various grocery and warehouse stores last month. The product comes in both liquid (Fresh Scent) and powder forms (Glacier) and retails for $6.99 for 100 oz.

P&G said that consumers who use Tide Coldwater can reduce their energy bills about $63/year and as much as 692 kwh, or 6.9 million Btus. (This is based on seven loads of laundry per week, national average electric costs, setting the water heater at 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and switching from warm to cold water.).

To date, 484,343 people have accepted the Tide ColdWater Challenge, which simply entails going to the Tide Coldwater website and filling out your name, email address and zip code. Participants receive a free sample of the product. P&G also provides them with an individualized interactive map that traces how their viral efforts -- letting their friends know about the Challenge -- have influenced the campaign. 

P&G refers to this on its interactive map as a "'Degree of Separation,"' e.g., each degree is an additional wave of contacts. If you take the Challenge, you're degree one; the next group is degree two, and so on -- it's easy to plot how large the chain is between the original person who accepted the Challenge and the most recent one to do so.

P&G has also linked the campaign with Washington, D.C.-based The Alliance to Save Energy, a broad-based 28-year-old coalition of business, government, environmental and consumer leaders. The Alliance undertakes research, educational programs, and policy advocacy, designs and implements energy-efficiency projects, promotes technology development and deployment, and builds public-private partnerships in the United States and other countries. Alliance President Kateri Callahan unveiled the ColdWater Challenge at the U.S. Conference of Mayors last month. The challenge is a way to help cities save on energy costs, as well as to help low-income families in their areas pay their energy bills.

P&G is also donating $100,000 to the National Fuel Funds Network (NFFN), an organization that assists state and local groups helping low-income families pay their energy bill. The majority of the donation from P&G will be divided among selected NFFN members in different regions of the country. P&G says that areas qualifying for fuel funds will receive a proportion of the donation based on the amount of people in each region that sign up for the challenge.

Other integral campaign elements have included:

  • Satellite media tour and radio media tour with Alliance president Callahan.
  • In-store brochure on Tide Coldwater that includes energy saving tips from the Alliance. There are also in-store promotions including posters, balloons and buttons.
  • Mention in Alliance E-efficiency newsletters.
  • Hispanic outreach -- the Alliance has a Hispanic spokesperson that has been used to reach out to Spanish-speaking consumers.
  • Two 15-second TV spots (brief product introductions). The first focuses on how consumers can save money; the second on fabric care resulting from using cold instead of warm water for laundry loads. Thirty-second spots called "'Triplets"' are scheduled to debut in March.

Hitwise, an online measurement company that provides marketers with insights on how internet users interact with websites and competitive brands recently analyzed the Tide ColdWater challenge. According to Hitwise Vice President of Research Bill Tancer, the initial data showed that these types of viral marketing campaigns, "have the ability to very narrowly target and engage women through the trusted ability of free samples." Hitwise reported market share of visits to increased 904 percent for the week ending January 22 when compared to the prior week; and visits surged again the following week -- up 300 percent compared to the week ending January 22.

Tancer says the viral aspect of the Challenge site was successful in driving traffic to During the week ending January 22 -- after the Challenge was underway -- visits from email services rose 28.44 percent.

"While site demographics didn't change significantly, the campaign appears to have resonated well with women over 55 with household incomes of less than $60,000 per year," he says. Tancer adds that about two-thirds (72 percent) of visitors to for the four weeks ending January 29 were female, and 28 percent were over 55 (compared to 15.7 of all internet users). About 57 percent had household incomes of less than $60,000 per year (compared to 51 percent of the internet population).

For research purposes, Hitwise has coined three social groups: "Rustic Living," "Middle America" and "Country Comfort." People of modest incomes and primarily blue-collar occupations characterize the first social group. Middle America is comprised of middle-class, mostly white, high school educated residents of remote communities; Country Comfort is made up of predominantly white, middle-class homeowners who are married with upscale lifestyles.

Together, Hitwise said these visitors comprise 41 percent of visitors to According to Tancer, visitors within these social groups are 59 percent (Rustic Living), 39 percent (Middle America) and 25 percent (Country Comfort) more likely to visit the Challenge site.

But no matter the social strata, so far the viral campaign seems to be a hit with consumers.

"We're very encouraged by the positive consumer response that Tide Coldwater has generated so far," says Randall Chinchilla, Tide external relations manager. "Evidently, getting deep cleaning in cold water as well as the money and energy savings associated with it are a strong proposition for an important group of consumers."

Neal Leavitt is president of Fallbrook, California-based Leavitt Communications, an international marketing communications company with affiliates in Paris, France; Hamburg, Germany; Hong Kong; London, United Kingdom; Bangalore, India; and Sao Paulo, Brazil. He writes frequently on internet and high technology topics.

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