Already behind a cult following, pop-culture collabs, funny videos and Instagram memes, online soap brand Dr. Squatch is now moving into IRL sales.
The 8-year-old brand launched at Walmart on November 18 following its path to 400% year-over-year sales growth driven almost exclusively by online channels. The Walmart debut comes after the brand has grown to over $100 million in annual online revenue, thanks to its embrace of a more humorous and less sleek approach to its social strategy.
“We’ve been able to surpass expectations quite a lot, when it comes to, ‘How big can a direct-to-consumer brand become?’” said Josh Friedman, CMO of Dr. Squatch. “Bar soap is not a product that has traditionally been a direct-to-consumer product.”
Despite its reliance to date on online sales, the brand has determined that Walmart is critical to its next phase of growth. Apart from temporary launches in Kroger and independent retailers, the brand relied almost exclusively on e-commerce via DTC and Amazon prior to its Walmart launch. But it has not been easy to get men to change their purchase habits and buy personal care online.
“One of the most common reasons customers don’t want to buy our product is because it’s online, and there are some customers who just don’t want to shop online,” said Friedman.
Despite its natural branding, the brand opted for a mainstream big-box retailer instead of a natural setting like Whole Foods. “We are trying to connect with the everyday guy. We could definitely see a place for ourselves in Whole Foods at some point, too, but we have a bigger opportunity to hit the everyday guy by starting in a place like Walmart,” said Friedman.
Shawn Townzen, vp of merchandising in personal care at Walmart, said in a written statement that the retailer is changing its assortment for men: “Over the past year, our customers have expressed a need for more natural personal care products, as part of a heightened focus on self-care.”
The brand’s growth stems from its investments in both organic engagement and ads on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Google, YouTube and Snapchat. After initially focusing its efforts on humorous YouTube videos, it has since expanded its focus to include TikTok, where its irreverent style has found a home, as well. The brand currently invests 15% of its advertising budget on TikTok, which Friedman describes as a “very significant amount and a pretty big investment in the platform.”
“Our key approach is trying to blend a combination of being really entertaining, but also educational. We call it edutainment,” said Friedman. A YouTube ad for the brand created by marketing agency Raindrop received over 100 million views and was the No. 1 ad on YouTube in 2020, based on total reach and engagement. Titled “Save your Skin,” the ad enlisted a comedian to deliver a humorous education session with a manly spin on clean product branding. In 2021, the brand brought its viral ad style to television with a similar Super Bowl spot.
And rather than chic or aspirational lifestyle content on Instagram, the brand has doubled down on memes, which are created by its in-house team.
“Some brands definitely take a very sleek approach, and that’s all they do. Sometimes, [that means] a missed opportunity,” said Friedman. “We find, actually, that humor works incredibly well.” The brand’s Instagram following of nearly 500,000 is higher than that of other major men’s brands in the market, including DTC players like Harry’s and heritage brands like Old Spice and Axe.
The brand’s focus on memes has also led it to see the value of limited-edition products and collab partners. Its first-ever limited-edition soap was based on the 2019 Area 51 meme craze and sold out quickly. “There was clear interest in these more limited-type, relevant products,” said Friedman.
Since then, the brand has gone on to heavy-hitting collabs. Most recently, it teamed up with Xbox game “Halo” for a collab collection sold exclusively online. Previously, it had an official collaboration with “Star Wars.” In February 2022, it will unveil another film collab.
Collabs have been “incredibly effective for us, as a way of reaching new customers, but also as a way to engage our current customer base and get them really excited. [We’re] improving the lifetime value of those customers,” said Friedman.