Skip to main content

The Consumer Graveyard: Colgate Meals


Colgate is a very successful brand in mass marketing. Since William Colgate started peddling soap on the streets of New York City in 1806, the Colgate company has been innovating in the consumer packaged goods space. They were the first U.S. soap company to offer scented soap, the first to put toothpaste into tubes, and the first to put fluoride into toothpaste.

That didn’t save them from the Consumer Product Graveyard when they decided to go into frozen meals.

Colgate identified their target market as single or widowed people who were conscious about their food, who liked to read magazines and listened to the radio in the car. They imaged their shoppers choosing Colgate over Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice entrees.

The deep-pocketed company planned to spend as much as $16.00 per impression in media outlets like Glamour, Better Homes and Gardens, and Lifetime channel. They went heavily into cents-off coupons. They blanketed the airwaves with messages on radio and TV.

They failed completely.

In some ways, it was their household name that got in their way. Seeing the Colgate logo is enough to bring to mind not only the idea of toothpaste, but the taste. The Colgate logo superimposed on a photo of tasty vegetables makes the meal taste — in our minds — like toothpaste.

Nobody wants toothpaste-flavored stir fry.

As outsiders, we may look at this product and think it’s obvious that this is a bad idea. Yet there must have been many people in the Colgate company who saw this package before the launch. There must have been people who thought, “Eeeeuw!” just as consumers did, but their objections were ignored.

As you work on your product, listen to the naysayers — not enough to be discouraged from working with a good product, but enough to avoid ending up in the consumer graveyard with a product that others in the future will recognize as an obvious mistake.