Dishsoap: Branding at its Most Weird!

by First name Last name on 07/21/2010 | 4 Minute Read

Editorial photograph

by Joshua Handy, Method Products

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The Old Dish

Over the years, consumers have been trained by ubiquitous advertising to believe that cleaning is a chore; a boring dirty business that needs to be completed as quickly as possible.  Product development efforts in the dish soap category have largely eschewed the actual task and have instead focused on adding “benefits” like softening your hands, saving baby animals, or reversing the aging process. Brand strategies seem to involve everything but the proverbial kitchen sink. By assuming that people would rather be doing anything but the dishes, marketers have transformed the category into a cluster of contextually irrelevant “meta-claims”.  As such, the products in the category have languished. This is branding at its most weird and self-involved. Many dish soap brands seem to have lost faith in their core proposition – to clean dishes. It is these types of dull categories that are ripe for re-examination and re-staging.

Editorial photograph

The New Dish

At method, we think this category has gotten off-track and in our attempt to get this product right, we are launching our fourth foray into the dish soap category. Dish soap is a pillar of the company, but we have never been satisfied with our ability to balance the needs of our business, customers and consumers. 

Many packaging designers will remember our iconic bottom dispensing “bowling pin” dish soap designed by Karim Rashid in 2001.  The high cost and quirky nature of the design pushed us into a much more conventional execution several years later.  This one we nicknamed the “Butler” and it played very close to the category. This ultimately was the reason for its downfall.  ‘Not special enough!” was the protest from retailers and consumers alike.   The decision was made to redesign again in an attempt to hit a sweet spot of price, form and function in the category.  Our next dish soap had to be iconic and “counter-worthy”, yet conform to the category norms in terms of format.  The “leaf” bottle was the result.  While it looked beautiful, it quickly was likened to a “slippery fish” by people who picked up the bottle with wet hands. This simple miss allowed us to the see how blind we had become to the real challenge in the category: to serve the dish washer in search of a universally superior experience.  

The realization that people do their dishes in different ways is a key consumer insight that has been downplayed by the category and we largely overlooked.  Forgetting what we “knew” about doing dishes, we went back to basics. Through direct observation, we discovered that there were three main modes of dishwashing: the “fill up the sink with soapy water” mode; the “dose the soap directly on the sponge” mode; and the “pour the soap directly on the dishes” mode. None of the products on the market served all three approaches and that’s the insight we used to inspire our latest design, the “dish pump”.  By simply putting the dish washing experience at the center of the proposition, and designing the soap and the package to actually help in the task, we have a product that does a great job of actually helping the dish washer.  I only wish it hadn’t taken four tries to get there!

Joshua Handy is the Senior Director of Industrial Design at method products in San Francisco

Josh has worked his way around the globe, doing stints at places like Karim Rashid’s studio in NY and HWI in Australia. He’s worked in London. He’s been to the Great Wall. He’s even eaten a raw chicken in a back-alley in Tokyo.  

He has a degree in mechanical engineering and a masters in industrial design and an MBA in design management, but don’t let all that fool you, he’s no overeducated-design-geek-weirdo...he’s a Kiwi.

Founded in 2000, method is headquartered in San Francisco. Today, method is the leading innovator of premium healthy home and personal care products. method can be found in more than 25,000 retail locations throughout the US, Canada, UK, France and Australia. For more information, visit

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