Why Procter & Gamble's HQ has a 'wall of failures'

Remember Febreze Scentstories?

One of the more unconventional features of Procter & Gamble’s world headquarters in Cincinnati is a "wall of failures," displaying products that have absolutely bombed since the company was founded in 1837.

It’s a small part of a museum of sorts that mostly exhibits positive parts of the CPG giant’s long history. However, Lisa Mulvaney, P&G’s beauty and feminine care historian, said that the only thing worse than a wall of failures would be not having the display at all and forgetting why a product didn’t work out and making the same mistake.

"It would just waste time and money," she said. "Hello?"

Many staffers didn’t get it when the wall went up a year ago.

"Everyone was like, ‘Failures? Not sure we want to know about that,’" said Mulvaney. "But that’s one of the reasons we are here, to let you know what has been going on, the good and perhaps the not-so-good, because it happens."

Mulvaney pointed out one of her "favorite" failings: Febreze Scentstories. The discontinued product, which debuted in 2004, was essentially an air freshener "player" that used disks to make a room smell lovely. The idea behind it was that 15 minutes after smelling a fragrance, people go "nose blind" and can’t smell it anymore. This product aimed to fix that issue by changing the scent every 15 minutes.

Mulvaney said the science behind the idea was good, but P&G quickly ran into an array of problems. For one, it looked like a CD player.

"Some customers were like, ‘Can I play music in this?’" she said. "Plus, the spokesperson was Shania Twain. Consumers were confused, and that’s a no-no; there’s no time to confuse."

Febreze Scentstories was also a premium appliance for P&G, retailing at $30.

"The lesson: design to delight your consumers, especially at a premium price," said Mulvaney. "You pay more, you expect more."

Another product on the wall is the Charmin Spacemaker. The toilet-paper product came out in 1993, requiring less packaging and a smaller storage area, but the way P&G did that was to literally squish the toilet paper rolls together in the package.

The wording below the product on the wall explains that it "didn’t just fail, it bombed."

"It never retained its original shape, so then it didn’t work," said Mulvaney. "It did not do well."

Other highlighted mishaps were more costly to P&G because they caused consumers to go to competitors.

Pampers, for example, created a better fit around the leg cuff for its diapers to help with leakage problems. However, after deciding it would be too expensive to convert all of its manufacturing lines to a new design, P&G decided to create a niche brand focused on fit called Luvs.

"That became the premium brand and Pampers was the mid-tier brand," said Mulvaney. "But we didn’t combine them and Kimberly-Clark did."

She noted that the lesson with this fail was "always listen to your consumers, even if it’s an expensive change."

Crest is also on the wall because it didn’t jump onto the tooth-whitening trend quickly enough.

"Crest hands down [gave consumers] a healthy mouth, but [then] they wanted a white smile, not just a healthy smile," said Mulvaney. "We didn’t get onto that trend fast enough and one of our competitors did and it really shook the brand."

The brand has since come back with Crest White Strips, but she added, "It’s always nice to be first."

One product that is not on the wall: Tide Pods.

"We don’t have anything in here about the Tide Pod Challenge," said Mulvaney.

She noted that this is normal at any major company, especially one that is constantly innovating.

"The more you innovate, it is going to happen," Mulvaney said. "Just remember what you did, don’t do it again and keep going."

Anitra Marsh, associate director of brand communications for P&G skin and personal care, said that every time she works on a new brand, she stops by the archives and asks Mulvaney about its history.

"I need to know the history for inspiration," said Marsh. "Typically people come here when they have a campaign they are thinking about and want to ground themselves in the history of the brand."

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