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For many many years the shampoo sales rankings were dominated by two shampoos. The market leader was nearly always either Head and Shoulders or Vosene. The difference in sales between the two wasn’t huge and I imagine the brand managers looked eagerly at the numbers and celebrated wildly when their team won.
This would probably still be the case were it not for two big differences between now and then. The first is that brands have proliferated and the market has segmented. In the sixties, seventies and even the eighties nearly everybody bought the same set of products. Now we have a much wider ranger of options to choose from. And the brands themselves have fragmented. Head and Shoulders is no longer a single product. You can now pick from a wide variety of tweaks, flavours and variations. I am sure we all love that.
The other reason is that Vosene suffered a very unusual problem. In the early nineties the EU decided to ban coal tar in cosmetics. Coal tar was the active ingredient in Vosene and the reason people bought it. The coal tar, due to some process nobody has ever been able to work out, has the effect of regularising the skin on the scalp and bringing a lot of relief to people with dandruff and other scalp conditions. It is still used in licensed pharmaceutical shampoos like Polytar and T-Gel, and the people who use these products are often lost without them.
Without the coal tar Vosene lost its reason for being. It still exists though it no longer has any coal tar in it. I think they used triclosan instead at first, but have now switched to salicylic acid – a reasonably good treatment for dandruff. But it just isn’t the same any more. The moral of the story is that fancy packaging and clever marketing is all very well and can create a lot of sales in the short run. And the big brands’ advertising budgets keep glossy magazines in business and stop bus stops looking drab. But if you want a successful product in the long run year after year you have to come up with something that actually does something.
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