Case Study of Dupont: Marketing of “Disappearing” Products

Imagine how tough it would be to be responsible for marketing a “disappearing” product. That’s the challenge faced by a group of marketers at DuPont, a company with a portfolio of brands that, for the most part, reach final consumers only as ingredients in finished products. Teflon non-stick coating, Lycra fibers, Freon refrigerant, Kevlar bullet-resistant fabric, Stainmaster carpet—these well-known DuPont products share the distinction of being used in the manufacture of products that ultimately bear some other company’s brand.

Jamie Murray, the person in charge of managing what people think of the overall DuPont brand, doesn’t mind marketing products that can’t be found on store shelves or ordered from catalogs. “We are the youngest 200 year-old company you will ever meet. We are always out there searching for those needs that we can invent something to satisfy.”

The company’s slogan, “better things for better living,” hints broadly at the variety of needs DuPont has satisfied over the years. When the computer industry required new forms of insulation for smaller and smaller electrical components, or the aerospace program needed stronger material for satellite tethers, or firefighters wanted fire-retardant suits, DuPont researchers headed to the laboratory. The company owns almost 2,000 trademarks and markets them in 200 countries around the world.

The challenges DuPont faces in marketing its ingredient brands are no less daunting than the challenges it faces in inventing them, so the company has developed five key principles to guide its actions. The first is personality management—controlling what the brand stands for and means to consumers. Gary Johnston, national marketing communications manager for nylon furnishings, says that, for DuPont, it’s “science, business savvy, and a moral core.” The second principle is visibility management, which entails creating awareness and familiarity for the invisible ingredients through integrated marketing communications.

The third is target management, which Johnston says involves “very clearly defining who it is that you need to connect with.” For a brand such as DuPont, that includes not only the end consumer, but also the many constituencies in the manufacturing or value chain. The fourth principle is marketing management, which has to do with understanding the dynamics of the marketplace so the company can fashion the best connections with its target. Finally, there is reputation management, which is a proactive approach to helping people understand what the company is and what it is about.

All of these principles are evident in DuPont’s marketing of Lycra. To connect with consumers worldwide, Lycra management started a global campaign in 1994 to make customers familiar with the Lycra name and icon. To emphasize what the product does, the company used the tagline “Nothing moves like Lycra,” which they added to in 1996 with the line “Clothes that move the way you do.” As a result, more than 50 percent of consumers recognize the brand name and, more important, ask for garments made with Lycra. And it’s rare when customers ask for a fiber by name.

To reach consumers, however, Lycra must be marketed to manufacturers of garments and retailers. This requires careful cultivation on the part of Lycra management. An example is the successful Wool Plus Lycra program initiated in 1995. For this venture, Lycra management teamed with the International Wool Secretariat to produce woven fabrics made with wool and lycra. This union is particularly noteworthy because it is the first time that two fiber groups have joined to promote a product globally. It works because the union provides value to both groups. The venture gives wool a new value-added feature by leveraging recognition of products off the well-known Lycra name. DuPont can market Lycra beyond its traditional markets in areas where it has little expertise. Moreover, because the program was sponsored evenly by the two partners, working together means that each group has to expend fewer funds. As a result, each side gets increased promotional awareness and market visibility for fewer dollars.

Understanding the dynamics of the marketplace has led DuPont to invest in research to develop a newer, softer Lycra product. As the baby boomer market ages, it also gains a few pounds, sags a little, and moves up to a larger size despite diets and exercise. Consequently, these consumers are looking for more support, lift, and control in bodywear, undergarments, and activewear. The new product, Lycra Soft or Type 902C, has higher elongation that almost doubles the stretch qualities and gives it a consistent level of pressure for all-over control, and it has significant recovery force—all important characteristics to aging boomers.

By developing new products such as Lycra Soft, DuPont not only helps its own profit line, but also that of its immediate customers. Firms such as Wacoal Japan, a Kyoto-based innerwear giant, have begun using Lycra Soft in the Far East in a control brief called “Magic Pants.” According to Alan Fisher, vice president of merchandising at the Wacoal America unit, “It’s a premium fiber … (and) it certainly has the stretch advantages of all-over fit and function, and less yardage is used. Prettier, more feminine-looking shapewear items can be made.”

Firms in the United States are not missing out on this opportunity. Maidenform is already into wear-test trials with it, so U.S. consumers may soon see these products in stores around the country. One store, in particular, where they may find garments containing Lycra Soft is Macy’s, which is negotiating for use of the product in garments sold through Federated Stores.

Some manufacturers are even willing to tie their names to that of Lycra. A case in point is Liz Claiborne, a giant in women’s clothing. The new line, called Liz and Lycra, includes leggings, pants, turtlenecks, a crewneck, an A-line dress, an A-line wrap skirt, and two jackets. All pieces will have a special Liz and Lycra hangtag.

The decision to launch Liz and Lycra was made based on information from Europe, which showed stretch items increasing in popularity, and on market research in which the company found that women wanted versatility, comfort, and durability in a garment. The products were wear-tested by staff at Claiborne headquarters, who found that Lycra eliminated the bagging which generally occurs at the knees on leggings and stretch pants. Given these good results, the new line kicked off in Macy’s Herald Square in March 1996 with in-store events, following a New York Times ad on the preceding Sunday. The ads and instore visuals featured American Ballet Theater principal dancer Julie Kent photographed by Jose Picayo. Thus, the creation of Liz and Lycra benefited not only Liz Claiborne and DuPont, but also Macy’s, which is considering adding its own products that include Lycra. Association with the American Ballet Theater is also a plus for all parties. ABT adds cachet to the Liz, Lycra, and Macy’s brands and also creates a positive association between each brand and the ballet—a sort of good citizenship status. The ballet gets promotion at no charge to it.

High standards are required of all the partners with whom DuPont enters into arrangements. “One of the most serious challenges any ingredient brand faces is [that] when your brand becomes very popular and very strong, lots of companies want to use it,” says Mary

Kopf, brand manager for Kevlar and Nomex. “Unfortunately, not all of those companies have high ethical standards, so you might run into what we call counterfeiters. These are companies who either don’t buy any of your product at all, or companies who may use a tiny bit of it, or use it sometimes and other times not. But they label the product as if it contains our ingredient, and what we have to do as responsible trademark owners is make sure that we pursue those counterfeiting situations.”

Enforcing the proper use of its ingredient brands is well worth the cost to DuPont, which sees those brands as the source of the company’s success during its almost 200-year history. To enforce the Lycra name, DuPont has a toll-free number in the United States (1-800-64-Lycra) for customers and final consumers to report any suspected infringement or counterfeiting. It also runs campaigns stating that Lycra is trademarked, and its staff continually tests garments for Lycra brand authenticity worldwide. When labelled products that do not contain the Lycra brand are identified, the company takes steps—frequently legal steps.

“Your competition may try to imitate you technically, they may try to imitate you with service, but one thing they can’t imitate is your brand,” Kopf says. In this case, the appropriate use of the Lycra brand protects not only DuPont, but also Liz Claiborne, the International Wool Secretariat, Macy’s, Maidenform, and any of DuPont’s hundreds of partners. They all benefit from the value added by the Lycra name.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What are the markets for Lycra?
  2. How does the “selling-buying” relationship that occurs when Liz Claiborne wants to team up with Lycra differ from that in which a consumer purchases a garment that contains Lycra?
  3. What type of buying situation occurs when Liz Claiborne wants to team with DuPont to obtain Lycra for the Liz and Lycra line?
  4. Why would Liz Claiborne want to use Lycra rather than some other elastic-type product that might be less expensive?
  5. DuPont spends tens of millions of dollars for consumer advertising for Lycra and for tracking down counterfeiters. Does it make sense for the company to spend money advertising to a market that it does not sell to directly? Does it make sense to track down counterfeiters?

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