Who Will Clean Up: Method or Clorox?

The competition between Method and Clorox for the title as the top “green” household cleaning products company is heating up. Packaging its household cleaners in eye-catching and often clear bottles, Method saw its sales top US $200 million in 2009. But Clorox has surged ahead: after starting its line of environmentally-friendly cleaners, Green Works, in only 2008, the company toppled Method with 42% of market share.

Clorox’s entrance into the LOHAS market dates back to fall 2007, when it acquired Burt’s Bees for US$925 million in cash. Meanwhile, the company entered into talks with the Sierra Club, which agreed to endorse the Green Works brand and allowed Clorox to place the environmental organization’s logos on the products’ bottles. Clorox gained even more favorable coverage when it chose to list each product’s ingredients on the packaging for the entire Green Works product line; though the list of chemicals in Clorox’s conventional product line are still not disclosed. Green products only accounted for 3% of the cleaning products market in 2008, but this could spike to 30% by 2013: so Clorox, with its strong brand recognition, experienced marketing professionals, and ubiquitous distribution channels, enjoys a distinct competitive advantage over Method.

But do not discount Method. The San Francisco-based firm has channeled a compelling brand strategy from which other “green” product companies should observe. Despite the arguable eco-friendly and “green” ingredients and manufacturing processes Method uses, you do not see this often-overused clichés on its web site or in the product literature. Note the witty tag lines: “people against dirty” and “a cleaner clean.” Over time Method’s executives have learned that consumers will pay a premium for quality, and their product line in turn imparts cutting-edge innovation, sleek design, and efficiency. Furthermore, few of Method’s products are the color green: most liquids are eye catching pastels, and in modern metallic-hued bottles. The packaging looks like they should be in a home: not pockmarked by green leaves or similar icons that look like they should be in the yard. The strategy has benefited Method: its products line the shelves of Target and Lowe’s, are priced competitively, and are attractive to consumers who may be put off by “green” messaging.

The lesson for companies with a “green” product line is that they need to find a way for reaching beyond the “green” market. “Green” consumers are too small of a demographic, and “green” marketing is too narrow of a message. Like Method, successful marketing of an eco-friendly product means going outside the product’s comfort zone: does it benefit the consumer by saving money, improving the home, or offering an outstanding customer experience? Method has succeeded in these tasks, so it makes for an engaging case study. And it has proven that you can do well while doing good for the planet.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is a business writer and strategic communications specialist. He has also been featured in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands. When he has time, he shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).