Lessons Learned from Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox


If you’re a flower child of the 70s or a contemporary crunchy, chances are you’re familiar with the 30,000 word label on each bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Peppermint Soap. It’s a marvelous all-natural, multi-purpose liquid soap sold at Whole Foods, Target, Walgreens and health food stores everywhere.

I remember the first time I spied a bottle on the shelf. I must have stared at the label for ten minutes, trying to make sense of it—both as a marketer, and as a literate human being. It read like one, long, nonsensical rant. I really couldn’t tell if it was serious or a joke. But I bought the product anyway, and it has been a staple in my household ever since. So the other day, there I sat in my living room, transfixed by the documentary, “Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox.”
It’s the (true) story of ‘Dr.’ Emanuel Bronner, a German-born Jew and soap maker, whose parents were killed in Nazi death camps. He himself successfully fled from an Elgin, Illinois ‘concentration camp’ (in reality, a mental institution) where he had been committed in 1946, after over-exercising his right to free speech on the University of Chicago campus. I’ll leave it to you to watch the movie which was released in 2007.

However, after fleeing his ‘captors’ in Elgin, he traveled west to California. There he began peddling soap and preaching his very own blend of different world religious beliefs and a global peace plan for “Spaceship Earth,” anchored by his mighty peculiar “Moral ABC’s,” as seen on every soap label.

At first Bronner attracted a unique audience of counterculture advocates. They liked his all-natural soap and were willing to sit and listen to him rant. Groovy. Who would have thought his go-to-market strategy had a sliver of hope for success? Call me crazy, but I learned a few lessons from the good doctor:

  • Stay on Message.

    Dr. Bronner never deviated from his mantra about , “All One!” It’s even on his soap packaging labels. For New Leaf, after conducting our own brand study in 2011, we discovered that we’re in the business of inspiration. So, I (Natalie) do my best to ensure that “inspiration” guides my communication. Do my conversations and my written recommendations seek first to inspire? It’s even written on the wall above my desk as a daily reminder.

  • Know Your Audience.

    Dr. Bronner’s quirky style and natural soap product appealed to the counterculture of the day—mostly hippies, back in the 60s and 70s. He went out and met them where they were, and transparently shared his beliefs. He was authentic. They loved his off-beat, anti-establishment mantra and became loyal customers. Do you have a one-size-fits-all message, or do you consider your audience first?

  • Don’t be Stingy.

    Part of the movie follows Dr. Bronner’s son, who continued to meet with people in his own style, giving away soap, hope and hugs. Today, social media requires leaders to invest time and talent for free. Technology invites a brand to generate sales by demonstrating value with a free offer, and then provides frequent calls to action (with associated metrics). For example, I just watched 27 FREE webinars (at a rate of four per day) over the course of a week. The ‘catch’ was that the webinars were free for only 24 hours. I always had the option to pay a small sum to watch all of them at my leisure. There were probably 50 different ways the hosts and speakers were generating sales and leads through this ‘free’ offer. What can you give away to grow your business?

  • It’s OK to Be a Little Crazy!*#!

    And maybe that just means it’s OK to poke a little fun at ourselves in an effort to be human and approachable. I chose the title “Chief Leaf” for just that reason. People see it. We laugh. And then we get to work on that inspiration stuff.

Last year (2014) Dr. Bronner’s brand gave away more than $6 million to various social advocacy causes on behalf of Spaceship Earth. Yes, I guess it IS ok to be a little crazy! https://www.drbronner.com/

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