As Noxzema Proved, Sometimes the Best New Product is an Old One

I’ve been involved in new product development for many years and one lesson I’ve learned is that sometimes the best new product may be an old one. The way Arm & Hammer baking soda reinvented itself as a product which removes refrigerator odors back in the 60’s has always impressed me. They got the idea from research among current customers who had discovered the refrigerator use on their own, not lab scientists back at Church & Dwight who specialized in cooking, not refrigeration. This type of intentional serendipity applies to Noxzema Skin Cream which I helped re-brand as Senior Account Executive back in the 70’s at Lintas/SSC&B Advertising in New York City.

Noxzema Skin Cream was originally developed by Francis Townsend in 1914, a doctor in Ocean City, Maryland who formulated it with camphor, menthol, phenol and eucalyptus as a sunburn remedy. He prescribed it to resort vacationers burned by the sun.

Noxell purchased the product and successfully promoted sunburn remedy for years. However, by the late 60’s, sales started to decline. The problem was a new competitor, Solarcaine Spray, a more effective sunburn treatment, which was taking market share. Noxzema needed a marketing face lift. Was there a new, legitimate use that could be promoted to attract new customers or should Noxell just “milk the brand” as long as possible?

Market research revealed a small, but enthusiastic segment of women in various age groups who were using Noxzema Skin Cream on their faces (blemish treatment, facial washing instead of soap, night cream, etc.). This looked like an opportunity. The agency developed a new tag line, We Don’t Care What You Do with the Rest of You, Your Face Belongs to Noxzema.” It scored fairly well in research, but some women had reservations about the line. They claimed that it gave them the impression that Noxzema didn’t care about anything, but their faces. I was very concerned that this negative sentiment could worsen over time. (It’s like losing a pawn playing chess. Eventually it can cost you the match.) After a heated argument with a high level agency principal, and some additional research to examine this potential landmine, it was agreed that the line would be shortened, to, “Your Face Belongs to Noxzema.”

Most of the brand’s six-million-dollar sunburn budget was shifted to promote facial usage in TV, radio, and magazines. A small portion would be allocated toward sunburn treatment during the summer with aerial banners flying over beaches promoting, “Noxzema. The Pain Chiller.” Then it was hurry up and wait. Within six months, the decline started to level off. Soon sales started to increase. The rest is history. Facial usage still represents Noxzema Skin Cream’s core business today. The campaign ran for over 18 years which speaks volumes to it’s power. In fact, after P&G purchased Noxell, they tried unsuccessfully for over a decade to come up with a more powerful line.

new productold product NEW PRODUCT: Noxzema Shaving Cream          OLD PRODUCT: Noxzema Skin Cream ,
“Take It Off. Take It All Off.”                                           “Your Face Belongs to Noxzema”

Noxzema Skin Cream illustrates how sometimes the best new product is an old one. This is not to say that a strong name cannot be extended into new categories. Noxell was successful in creating Noxzema Shaving Cream. Many veterans will recall the famous shaving cream TV spot, “Take It Off. Take It All Off.” (See TV spot above. It’s a famous winner.)

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