Twenty years ago, we introduced Clorox® disinfecting wipes to the world and created a new category beloved by opportunistic cleaners everywhere.
Since then, we’ve continued to innovate our original wipe, adding new scents, textures to cut through bigger, greasy messes and now, compostable wipes.
Denise Garner, our Chief Innovation Officer, was the team leader on the development of Clorox disinfecting wipes, leaving an enduring impact on the cleaning aisle and our business.
Here, she takes us back on the disinfecting wipes innovation journey.
How did the idea for disinfecting wipes come about?
The idea emanated from work on Clorox Clean-Up® cleaner. We were looking for ways to address a few areas for improvement of the otherwise popular product.
One we heard a lot was that some people felt like they need to wear “battle fatigues” when cleaning with Clean-Up because of the potential for bleach splash-back on their clothes. This made cleaning a real event vs. something people could do in the flow of normal life.
This insight inspired us to explore many potential approaches that could be applied to Clean-Up — and beyond. These included a thickened gel product to minimize splash-back, novel dispensing forms, color-safe bleach, better control with wipes, etc. (Fun fact: many of these novel forms exist in Clorox products today!)
And that brought us to this idea of a wipe. As we started to focus on wipes, we wanted to make sure we didn’t overpromise the cleaning benefit of wipes since it wasn’t the same as sprays or dilutable cleaners. So we focused the name and concept on disinfecting, which wipes do very well.
When you launched Clorox disinfecting wipes, did you guess you were creating a new Cleaning category?
Those of us on the project believed it would be big, but certainly had no idea just how big it would eventually become.
We saw the potential VERY EARLY when in qualitative work with consumers, with super early prototypes that weren’t actually all that great, consumers didn’t want to give the samples back! The intensity of liking was a telltale sign there was a real market for the product.
What’s the biggest challenge you recall from this project?
There were many challenges.
One was getting folks within the company to fully believe we could launch a non-bleach product with the Clorox brand! There was much debate on this topic. Proving that consumers were ready for Clorox to stand for more than bleach and that we could extend the brand equity was a critical challenge. And overcoming that challenge has had lasting impact, leading to a product that today is a flagship of the brand.
Tactically, the biggest debate in development was the package. All our consumer research showed consumers preferred the canister, yet “conventional wisdom” within the company, looking at trends in everything from baby wipes to flat packs, was that we should use a similar pack. Thankfully, the consumer won out, and to this day we have our iconic canister.
The challenges continued even after we launched. Early demand was so high, we had serious shortages of the material used to make the wipes and were searching worldwide to meet demand. It was a crazy time as we had to limit the quantity we could sell to each customer.
Does the launch of CDW tell us anything about how we approach innovation at CLX today?
One of the primary lessons from Clorox disinfecting wipes (affectionately known as CDW inside Clorox) is always to begin with the consumer. What are their needs, and what is the best solution for the job to be done? You can’t frame inspiration for new ideas by category. If we had just focused on the cleaning-spray category, we would never have contemplated a wipe.
Trying not to be bound by traditional categories as we know them and removing guardrails from our ideas are a key part of our focus for innovation with the Ignite Strategy.
Another important reminder is that opportunity and inspiration often lie within things that people don’t like about current products — our own and our competitors’. Looking at those is a great way to trigger new ideas.
Lastly, we need to be careful about listening to self-limiting, internal beliefs on where our brands are able to play or to our own biases on product or packaging features that aren’t grounded in what the consumer actually wants.
How and where do you use CDW in your personal life?
Having just returned from an international SCUBA diving trip, top of mind for me is my devoted use while traveling. I’m a big user on airplanes and in hotel rooms. I have an entire regimen and rarely get sick traveling, which I attribute to CDW.
I also use wipes for daily wipe-downs in the kitchen — the final “reset,” if you will, at end of day.
Finally, if anyone is sick in the house, I use Clorox disinfecting wipes everywhere the sick person may have touched. I’ve had great success in not spreading the infection while I’ll see friends who don’t use CDW have their entire household come down with flu, colds, etc.