Topic: Book Club

Ries: Pop Quiz -- Applying Divergence

Posted by Stephen Denny on 500 Points
Pencils up: here's a pop quiz for everyone who has just read through The Origin of Brands.

Reinvent the toothpaste category with a strong divergence strategy.

(If you come from the toothpaste category, reinvent the camcorder category).

Give us a list of what makes your "new brand" a truly divergent step out on the evolutionary playing field. Name it, describe it, tell why its different, describe the packaging. Everything. Give yourself five minutes, maximum.

Moderator Note: This discussion refers to the book The Origin of Brands by Al and Laura Ries (topic: branding). Click the title to learn more. Then join the conversation. We'd LOVE for you to participate!
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  • Posted on Accepted
    Actually couldn't you say that toothpaste diverged from the soap category? It's just soap for your teeth. How could it diverge further?
  • Posted on Accepted
    Hmmm. Well, "teach", toothpaste has already diverged into the categories of healthy gums; no cavities; fresher breath, sensitive teeth (Sensodyne), more kissable (anyone remember Close-Up?), and whiter teeth. Gels and liquids, too. And all sorts of flavors. It also converged with "Colgate Total" being all things in one as well as Aqua-Fresh with its three stripes...and then there was that one with the crystals.

    There's toothpaste for dentures and toothpaste for stain removal but maybe with all the teeth-bleaching that people are doing (and paying massive bucks for) there could be a toothpaste just for keeping the effects of bleaching longer (say by 30% longer as I believe teeth bleaching lasts about 2 years or so). There are products that help you keep your tan longer (and products that give you a fake tan) but maybe a new category of toothpaste could keep your bleachy whites whiter longer.

    OK, my 5 minutes are up.
  • Posted on Accepted

    Toothpaste that is mild tasting, less foamy, and contains ingredients you can swallow without feeling like you've done your digestive system a disservice.

    Pack some in your briefcase and brush in the car before that big appointment. Just brush, swallow, and smile.

    Brush on the plane, on a train, in a car -- wherever you are.
  • Posted on Member
    While swallowing toothpaste sounds disgusting I have to say that Doug is onto something. I'm an avid (obsessive?) toothbrusher and I hate having to pop gum in my mouth (and despise breath strips that hurt my tongue) when all I want to do is brush. So I'd likely go for "GoPaste".

    Doug - the commercial should be on a NYC subway car in the morning with everyone drinking their coffee and then swigging GoPaste :-).
  • Posted on Accepted
    CK is right, the toothpaste category has been diverged to death. Sensitive, Tartar, Whitening, Breath freshening, Natural, Baking Soda, Plaque the list goes on and on.

    There are so many different categories that it actually makes sense to have a brand like Total and Pro-Heath that simply promises to do it all. This works because all of the brands have been so line-extended that consumers are fed up and just want simplicity.

    As for Doug's idea, BRILLIANT! A totally new category that has real potential, hey Crest and Colgate listen up. My only problem with it is the name.

    GoPaste is too generic. GoPaste might be good for the new category name, but the brand needs a strong name. Think Red Bull and energy drink. Or Propel and fitness water. Or Amazon and online books. Or Starbucks and gourmet coffee shop.
  • Posted by Stephen Denny on Author
    All good stuff (I guess... I'm not a natural born toothpaste marketer, which might be an advantage here, who knows...)

    Mack, you're still on the clock -- you can't say I never said Simon Says so you don't have to weigh in.

    CK, Doug, Laura -- is 'tartar control' a divergent strategy? Sounds like an incremental improvement that could best be described as simple differentiation. GoPaste is divergent, so good work on that one. Would a 'total care' be a convergent strategy or just a SKU rationalization? Too many choices leads to a need for simplicity -- which is probably what fuels the smart phone industry, a very convergent group. (Sounds like a new post thread here).

    * * *

    I picked toothpaste because I had absolutely no preconceptions about what it should look like. But, in the spirit of fair play, here's a take on a divergent toothpaste. Hopefully, it will end up on the peg next to GoPaste.

    Name: Mouth Bomb
    Benefit: getting kids to brush their teeth correctly and not miss all the crud.
    . Plaque sticking dye in the toothpaste that fades out after a minute or two. Brush, grin at yourself in the mirror, see the crud, brush again, blue ink is gone, rinse, any residual washes away or fades to colorless.
    . Tube has no cap -- self-closing. Pressure pushes paste out of tube, lack of pressure closes plastic hinge.
    . Honestly, that's all I have. And my five minutes are up.
  • Posted on Accepted
    How about glow-in-the dark toothpaste? Good for campers, when they're off to the latrine at night. Simply open wide and light your way. Also, it'll scare the bears away.

    Also is practical in the event of a power failure.

    Let's call it Mouthglow, by Motorola. (Readers of my blog post today will get it.)
  • Posted on Accepted
    I would simply love to see a mouthwash that could act like draino and dissolve the plaque away. That way be totally awesome!
  • Posted on Accepted
    Boy, you guys ARE creative. Can you imagine a kids toothpase with all of the features Stephen, David and Mario posted. An effervescent, glowing, plaque-identifying, toohpaste for kids! I love the name Stephen -- Mouth Bomb is good.

    As to Stephen's question about Tartar Control, to me it seems like a simple differentiation feature, versus something truly divergent.

    CK - washing toothpaste down with coffee on a NYC cab ride? -- LOL!
  • Posted on Member
    Hey Stephen - We have the makings of a great divergent toothpaste brand here. And to keep Bob G. happy, advertising would be exclusively in newspapers (print and/or online -- it's all the same.)

  • Posted on Member
    Some really interesting ideas guys! With two young children I am always intrigued by a product that promises to make my kids brush their teeth. And kids like nothing more that special effects.

    PopClean sounds like what Mentadent did years ago, the baking soda was to foam up and scrub your teeth clean. Unfortunately after a terrific start they line-extended the brand to death, and now is it barely surviving.

    Any brand that focuses on a segment of the market is an example of divergence in action. See what happens over time is that a category starts out with one idea and one brand. Toothpaste was toothpaste. It was called Colgate and it was used to fight cavities the main health concern with teeth. Of course Colgate was also a shaving cream and other things, so Crest came in the market with a focused brand. Crest owns Cavity Fighting took the market leadership from Colgate.

    But over time new brands came into the market, the ones that were successful were not imitations of the leader, but brands that stood for new sub-categories of toothpaste, like Close-Up, Aquafresh and Sensodyne.

    Over time all categories get more complicated and more diverse. The way to build a brand is by taking advantage of this natural phenomena. By looking for opportunities of divergence and launching new brands to take advantage of that divergence.

    The hardest part and one that is clear from all the responses, is the normal inclination to give a new brand a generic descriptive name like PopClean or MouthGlow or GoPaste, instead of a more proper brand name. (Of course in 5 minutes it is not easy to do :)

    Remember: To build a strong brand, you need a strong name. Not necessarily a coined word or a word that has nothing to do with the category (although they are nice too) but you do need something more than a generic. Names that imply the category are good, or used slightly out of context. Examples: Blockbuster, Subway. Or personalized. Examples: Dell, Papa John's Pizza.

    Our greatest problem with Crest is when they launched the very successful WhiteStrips brand. The name is way too generic, it is a category name not a brand name. As a result you need to call it Crest WhiteStrips. They would have been so much better off giving it a real brand name of its own.

    I'm going to start a new question, it would be fun to think up other examples of brands that should have had a new name but didn't.
  • Posted by Ann H. on Accepted
    This is a fun discussion, guys. For the record, not only has the toothpaste category has been diverged to death, some have dental tools and acccompanying pre- and post-brush rinses, washes, flossers, brushes (ribbed, flexible, angled, soft, hard, wide, electrical, musical... !), esp. in the kid category.

    My favorite new dental product lately is Agent Cool Blue, a rinse by Listerine that purports to turn the icky plaquey parts of your teeth blue prior to brushing, so that kids know exactly where to concentrate while they do their time at the sink. A great example of a product you never thought you needed... but nevertheless, there it is in my grocery cart.

    As for Doug's GoPaste, love the idea that improves on the terrible finger-brushers (forgetting the name...!). Perhaps it's a disolvable gum.

  • Posted on Member
    Yes, but Kathy... who wants to have their mouth washed out with soap? Takes you back to childhood when you mouthed off to your mother.
  • Posted on Member
    Thanks so much to everyone who participated in the Marketing Profs Book Club review of our book The Origin of Brands which I co-wrote with my daughter/partner Laura Ries.

    And an extra special thanks to CK for all her hard work and dedication to the improvement of marketing minds everywhere.

    For more branding information and debates check out

    Laura's blog at:

    and CK's at:

    - Al Ries

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