Wunder-baum goes luxury

I’m not one to toot my own horn, but due to the large amount of questions I’ve been receiving concerning our work with Wunder-baum (that’s Little Trees for you Americans, and Arbre Magique pour vous Français), I’ve decided to come clean. Here we go.

To avoid the suspense among those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, I’ll start with the ending, which coincidentally is a happy one. In 2009 Wunder-baum sales in Japan increased by a staggering 1,650% (that’s onethousand-friggin-sixhundredandfifty), which makes it more sold Wunder-baums in Japan than on any other market. I should mention that this was accomplished with no advertising whatsoever.


Assumptions and statistics

Now, let’s rewind to the beginning. I was first contacted by Car-Freshner Corporation(makers of the Wunder-baum / Little Trees), in mid 2008. Sales in western countries were  going downhill, and the company obviously wanted to change this. CFC had conducted research which showed that the design of their flagship product was outdated. The assumption was that younger consumers saw the design as being an icon of an older generation, and it was presumed that a new design (the term design system was also mentioned) could turn this around.

The problem with statistics is that they – no matter how precise they are – can always be interpreted by idiots. So our first priority was conducting a bit of research ourselves. We found that younger consumers, in fact, loved Wunder-baum. In fact, they’d be willing to buy it if not for the fact that they couldn’t stand the smell.


Same shape – new aroma

So we started asking around, in an attempt to define a scent that our audience would find appealing. Not surprisingly, all our compasses pointed in the direction of the nearest duty-free shop. Calvin Klein, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, etc.

By fall 2008 we we’re negotiating with Procter&Gamble, who produces, markets, and distributes almost 80% of the fragrance segment under license agreements with the brand owners.


Same product – new POS

It goes without saying that there was quite a bit of concern with the impacts it might have on these luxury brands if they made the move from high-end lifestyle products to being something you could buy at the local gas station along with a big-gulp and a nuked burrito.

Negotiations were in limbo, and for a while it seemed that making our ambitions a reality would be impossible. After a final meeting at P&G headquarters, I spent a three-hour layover Cincinnati Airport watching the customers in the duty-free shop sample different fragrances. You know the drill: Spray a bit of perfume on the white slip of paper provided at the shelf, shake it like a Polaroid picture, wait a few seconds, and smell.

The only problem was that the strips of paper were identical. The only way the potential customer could differentiate their samples when they got home was if they wrote on each strip which particular brand it was.

Before I got on my flight that day, we had the go-ahead from P&G to start producing miniature branded Wunder-baums for perfumeries. The benefit of using a miniature Wunder-baum – apart from the fact that it clearly states which perfume it has been scented with – is that it will hold the scent between six and eight times longer than the traditional strips. We were in business.


Turning it into a profit

We were handing out free Wunder-baums in airports, but we still weren’t making money. However, we were making a difference. Our second round of market research clearly proved that the perception of the product had changed from “in the windshield of Middle-Eastern taxi’s” to “Exceptionally good at staying fragrant”.

At the same time, we were seeing a global increase in allergic reactions to perfumes. We teamed up with another legendary brand, Tiffany & Co. in creating the solution. Within a mere six weeks out first prototype was ready. Wunder-baum was simultaneously moving into two of the most luxurious segments ever: Jewelry and fragrances.

By December we were ready to launch the first batch of miniature Wunder-baum earrings.


Making it stick

We realized that if we didn’t do things properly, this could easily become a short-lived gimmick. Our reaction was to make things a little difficult for our customers. At fist we only sold the specially designed ear-rings (or “holders” as CFC calls them). The little paper trees could only be obtained by grabbing them from airport shelves.

It goes without saying that resources were put into creating the right movement online, especially through alliances with bloggers and trendsetters. But we never spent as much as a dime on conventional advertising.

By the time the miniature Wunder-baums hit the shelves of Tokyo (in March 2009), they were so hyped that vendors reported being sold out within two days. At a substantially higher mark-up than Wunder-baum was accustomed to.


Next step

So now we’re evaluating and planning our next move. We prefer to call the ordeal a product (brand extension, if you must) rather than a campaign, although the continuity of it is still uncertain. Today’s cosmetic’s industry, it turns out, isn’t exactly high-tailing it.

We do, however, have more trick up our sleeve, but for now I’ll leave you hanging like a Canadian evergreen from a rear-view mirror.

One Comment

  1. Andrey wrote:

    Thanks a lot for that extremely cool post.