How Odorono used 2 smart techniques to create the deodorant market

Greetings from the Web Summit 2014.

If ever the IDA created a Hall of Fame, Paddy Cosgrave would surely be the first honoree. It’s quite something as an Irishman to witness the good and the great of the tech world (and another 20,000 or so) visit our shores on a perfect Autumnal day.

So far I’ve learned quite a few TLAs and a new hashtag that captures a key sense – #FOMO – the fear of missing out. There are so many things on at any given time that you’d like to attend.


First up on the Marketing Summit stage where I’ve spent most of the morning, was Ben Parr of Dominate Fund, on ‘Captivology’ – the science of capturing people’s attention. So that’s a new hashtag and a new word, then.

However, this is something we like to feel we know something about here in 256, so I was keen to hear his thoughts on it. He distilled his thoughts down to two key ones.

Anyone in this space understands the need to be a storyteller, so he began with the story of Odorono. Back in the early 20th century, the humble deodorant had yet to be arrived at by humanity. Edna Murphey got hot and sticky in 1912. Remedies for underarm perspiration were patchy (literally, as they used cotton or rubber patches to protect dresses) and the subject was taboo. Not to be spoken of in polite society.

So when Miss Murphey started selling an invention that her father, a surgeon, had come up with to stop his hands from sweating whilst performing surgery, the whole enterprise struggled to gain traction.

She ended up hiring J.Walter Thompson ad agency to help. When they placed an ad in the ‘Ladies Home Journal’ there was uproar and many subscriptions were cancelled. However, what they did in the ad was two clever things that still apply today.

The Power of the Expert

‘Odorono was formulated by a physician who knew that perspiration, because of its peculiar qualities, is beyond the reach of ordinary methods of cleanliness – excessive moisture of the armpits is a local weakness.’ they wrote.

In other words, they called in the experts in this case the physician. When the expert is called in, the brain physiologically reacts by shutting down its own decision-making apparatus. Parr showed us images, actual brain scans that showed how this occurred (yes, he could have been spoofing as they seemed to be very few neurosurgeons in the room, but hey, I’m not that cynical).

An academic or acknowledged expert massively outpoints all others in terms of authority. The lesson for content marketing is clear and is aligned with Google’s thinking today, as exhibited in Google’s leaked rating document. In this document, which reveals their thinking in terms of what makes a high quality site, utilising acknowledged experts lends some serious weight.

Reframing the Conversation

The other thing that Odorono did was to reframe the conversation. They changed the question from ‘how appalling it is to talk about such things as perspiration in polite society’ to ‘how the hell do you expect to get a man when you smell so badly?’

Modern day effects of reframing the conversation include an example he showed us where an image of two cars that have had an accident is shown to two different groups. The first is asked the question ‘At what speed were the cars going when they collided?’. The second group was asked ‘At what speed were the cars going when they smashed into each other?’ By reframing the question, dramatically different answers were obtained, the latter group adding 20 mph to the answer.

The story has a happy ending

Miss Murphy’s sales rose spectacularly to top $5 million in today’s money in sales within a year of the advert and is today an $18 billion industry. She no longer had to deal with ‘the most humiliating moment of my life’ and, armed with sweet-smelling armpits and that amount of cash, had no problem attracting suitors.



About Adrian O'Farrell

Adrian O’Farrell is Head of Client Services for 256, Ireland’s first dedicated content marketing agency. He has worked in marketing for over twenty years, having had his own award-winning marketing agency. He has worked in advertising in both agency, media owner and client side. He is a former Chairman of the Association of Promotional Marketing Consultants.