The Wash & Go Test: What I learned from Hugh Dennis about Business

Hugh Dennis at CIMA Awards 2010Yes, Hugh Dennis… one half of Punt & Dennis, team captain in Mock the Week and star of Outnumbered.

But did you know Hugh Dennis started his career as a brand manager at Unilever?

I certainly didn’t, until, as a judge at the CIMA 2010 Awards, I found myself sitting next to Hugh Dennis at dinner.

Hugh was the guest speaker for the occasion, and shared with me some of his Unilever experiences and his view of how comedy is similar to marketing: Don’t include unnecessary details.

Hugh explained, in comedy, “if I start a joke with: There are three men in a bar, one with a hat… but then I don’t include the hat in the punch line, the audience will feel cheated”.

The same is true of marketing messages – the best received ones are those where you distil your message so that it includes only the key details, and you take everyone with you on the journey, in a way that they understand.

When shampoos and conditioners were first combined, “Unilever bombed” trying to explain the benefits of their product (Demensia?), while Procter & Gamble succeeded by explaining everything in the name: Wash & Go.

Similarly, Unilever failed to encourage us to “be chums with your gums” with Mentadent Gel, while Procter & Gamble succeeded with Crest by focusing on tartar, the physical manifestation of gum disease. “Crest Tartar Control” says it all.

(Hugh later confessed that he was the marketing manager who signed off on the Mentadent slogan, and seemed quite proud about it!)

The Wash & Go Test

So, from now on, we are planning to apply the Wash & Go test to all our products:

  • Is the message as clear and simple as “Wash & Go”?
  • Does the message include unnecessary details that don’t appear in the punch line?
  • Are descriptions of features and benefits too complicated the target audience?
  • Are the benefits you explain the ones that really matter to the audience?

Hugh never officially left Unilever. Strictly speaking, he’s an employee on sabbatical, who still holds onto the advice he received from his boss there: “the key thing is to appear clever at crucial moments” – great advice, regardless of whether you’re in business or comedy.