5 Tips on Connecting with Consumers from the Founder of ‘Disrupter’ Brands Hello and Eos

Hello oral care brand charcoal toothpaste
Photo credit: Hello

Craig Dubitsky is behind some of the most disruptive CPG brands of the last decade — he founded the Hello oral care and Eos lip balm brands and was an early investor in cleaning brand Method. But whatever you do, don’t call him a disrupter.

“Disruption — I hate that word; you don’t want to disrupt,” he said at an event hosted by retail management platform Trax in January 2023. “No one ever says, ‘Honey, we’re out of toothpaste. Next time you go to the store or next time you’re online pick me up some of that disruptive Hello toothpaste. They’re such challengers.’ The only people that ever thought we were ‘disruptive’ were those that weren’t delighting people.”

Still, for many new brands hitting the market today, disruption of legacy norms, and brands, is the goal, And whether he likes it or not, Dubitsky is very good at it. The key to his success, he said, is focusing on delighting, not disrupting.

“I love brands and I love the people,” said Dubitsky, a serial entrepreneur who recently left his post as Chief Innovation Strategist at Colgate-Palmolive, a role he took when that company acquired Hello in 2020. “People write their narratives through their stuff, and frankly, I think they’re given pretty sh***y stuff, so the bar is kind of low. For entrepreneurs and creators our job is to create better, more beautiful things. And better can be defined lots of different ways — more functional, prettier, more eco-friendly, more affordable.”


To do this, he relies on a line from his favorite lyricist Leonard Cohen: “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” “Our job is to look for the cracks,” said Dubitsky. “If you’re an innovator, a doer, a maker of a dream or a believer, you’ve got to find the cracks — that’s where the magic comes.”

Dubitsky shared some of the core tenets that have helped him successfully find and exploit such “cracks” in the market again and again (although he would probably take issue with the word “exploit.”)

1. First and foremost, just pay attention.

The germ of every successful brand Dubitsky has been involved with has been a realization that current offerings in a given category hadn’t evolved with the times. As an example, he pointed to his early involvement with the cleaning brand Method.

“I’ll never forget the first time I met [Method Co-founder] Eric Ryan,” recounted Dubitsky. “He said, and this is the exact quote, ‘I think cleaning products suck.’ And I said, ‘Let’s unpack that. Why do they suck?’ [His answer was that] the biggest thing you buy as a consumer is your home, and he didn’t just mean in scale and size, he meant financially, emotionally. But the stuff you use to take care of this magical place is so butt-ugly you have to hide it, and so toxic you have to lock it up. Every synapse I have fired. I was like holy s**t, that’s the most thrilling thing I’ve ever heard.”

Method hand soap
A Method collaboration from February 2021 with artist and author Lisa Congdon upped the ante even further with limited-edition versions of the brand’s game-changing tear-drop hand soap dispensers. Photo credit: Method

Dubitsky went on to lead early investment in the brand and served on its board for five years. Method launched in 2001 and had grown to $100 million in revenue by 2012 when it merged with soap brand Ecover. Then in 2017, both brands were acquired by S. C. Johnson & Son.

Everything about Method was different from what consumers were used to, from the aesthetic to the name. It helped that societal changes made this category ripe for disruption, er, transition. For example, “the brand names [of legacy labels in the category] all have X’s in them — Windex, Borax, Oxydol — [the idea was] it’s gonna be better living through chemistry and [at the time they launched] women were supposed to be homemakers — so these amazing toxic things were going to help them do their job better. Talk about a bar being very low. That wasn’t the world we were living in anymore. Culturally we had shifted, yet these brands hadn’t. So much of the work is just about being aware.

“Trust is a whole new thing now,” Dubitsky added. “Not that long ago, people wouldn’t put their credit card online. Now not only will you put your credit card online, a stranger will come and pick you up who now knows you’re not at home, because they’re taking you to the airport. You put your kids in that car with a complete stranger. Trust has changed. The idea that you’re an old, venerated brand and that implies trust, that’s changed too.”

2. Being a ‘disrupter’ is not a goal.

We’ve already established that Dubitsky never thinks the goal of any new brand or campaign should be “to disrupt.” So what should it be instead?

“It’s about love, everything’s about love,” he said. “How do you bring things to the world that are going to show that you love it, that you love people? We’re sentient beings, we feel things — this is the secret to everything. Just make stuff people can fall in love with; it’s really pretty simple.”

When he was developing his lip balm brand Eos, people weren’t convinced it was a winning idea. “People would say to me, ‘You’re making a chapstick? Why do you want to make a chapstick?’ And I explained that the fact that the whole category is named after a brand means it’s wide open. My general thesis is that there’s no such thing as a boring category, there’s just boring executions.”

Eoa lip balm
Photo credit: Eos

Dubitsky talks about finding ways to innovate not just technically but also emotionally. For example, to up the ante on chapstick execution, Dubitsky looked to the world around him, which at that time was filled with women toting Longchamp bags. “My idea was, what if you could stick your hand in that cavernous black hole and pull out the right thing?” — a revelation that led to Eos’ unique shape. But he didn’t stop there: “Fun fact, the average woman ingests five pounds of petrochemicals from her lip products, so we made a better product, certified organic, 100% natural. But [most importantly it’s] this beautiful objet, this little thing you can hold that has a haptic [touch-based] response to it, it clicks a certain way when you close and open it.

Everything communicates,” Dubitsky added. “We as brand leaders, entrepreneurs, visionaries, we have to think of everything we can to try to make things better and more beautiful, even lip balm.”

3. Don’t focus on consumers, focus on people.

Another word Dubitsky hates is “consumer.” “Never use that word, it’s a dirty word,” he said. “As soon as you label people, you create distance — that’s them versus us; they’re consumers, they’re a target. Who wants to be a target?”

In fact, Dubitsky wants to throw out the four “P’s” of traditional marketing — product, price, place, promotion — altogether and replace them with four new ones:

Hello toothpaste 'No' list
Hello toothpaste product description.
  • People — as detailed above; consumers are out, humans are in.
  • Provenance — “Where’s it come from? How is it made? Transparent is the new black,” said Dubitsky. “And how do you share that? Not in so much detail that it’s obnoxious and people are like ‘I don’t want to subscribe to that, it’s too much for me.’ You have to understand people.” As an example, Dubitsky pointed to promotions for Hello toothpaste, which clearly outline all the things not included ending with a fun play on words (see image to the right).
  • Purpose — “People want to join things, not just buy things,” explained Dubitsky. “Why are you doing what you’re doing? Everyone has a bulls**t meter. If [the answer to that question is] there was a hole in the market, I made the quadrant chart and found this white space. Nope, bulls**t meter in the red. People want to know why you’re doing what you’re doing, not just how.”
  • Passion — “You can’t outsource soul, people feel this stuff,” said Dubitsky. “If you’re really passionate it comes through in everything you do — your design, your packaging, your language, your story. You’re not storytelling, you’re story-being. You’re living the stuff that you care about, and people can tell.”

Dubitsky also highlighted the importance for the Hello brand of creating something that was for all people, not just some. The brand launched nationally at both Whole Foods and Dollar General, just eight days apart. “When Hello launched in Dollar General, some people [thought we were] crazy,” Dubitsky recounted. “But that person who can’t get to another big box retailer because it’s an extra gallon of gas — that parent wants natural, better-for-you products for their family too, and they should have it. That was our big corporate social responsibility push, to make better things available to more people. We launched at Dollar General and Whole Foods with the same product; we didn’t ‘de-content’ it, like make a 5-ounce into a 3-ounce. It was the same product.”

4. Fear and shame are ‘tired’ tactics.

Craig Dubitsky, founder of Hello at the Trax Disrupters event.
Dubitsky showcases a standard oral care shelf at retail at the Trax Disrupters event as an illustration of what was lacking in the category. First stop for his new brand was avoiding the colors blue and red. Photo credit: Retail TouchPoints

True to what he touts, Dubitsky said he didn’t launch Hello with the idea that he was going to find a category to disrupt. Instead, he noticed something he didn’t like about the current offerings in oral care and decided to do something about it. “I literally walked into a CVS and all these extracted teeth on all the products caught my eye. Isn’t the whole point of oral care products to keep the teeth in my mouth? Why are they showing me these highly stylized extracted teeth? And the vocabulary in the category was literally ‘kill,’ ‘fight,’ ‘eliminate,’ ‘destroy.’

Everything was designed to scare the crap out of you, but fear and shame are the oldest and most boring, tired drivers ever,” he said. “I’m sick of that stuff. I want a little hope. I want a little friendly. I want a little fun. The world is filled with doom and gloom. I don’t need my products to be scaring the crap out of me.”

He decided to create a friendly oral care brand, hence the name Hello, which was “the friendliest word I could think of” (and luckily for him, had not yet been trademarked). Then he carried that ethos through to every element of the products he was creating, from the colors to the function of the toothpaste tubes to the language on those tubes and even the taste. “Anything that goes in your mouth should taste amazing,” said Dubitsky. “Everyone talks about these benefits, and it tastes like crap — it shouldn’t be either/or.”

5. DTC isn’t for everyone.

When Dubitsky first launched Hello, there was some confusion as to why he chose the wholesale route. After all, all the big disrupters were DTC. But as Dubitsky pointed out, 96% of oral care purchases are still made in stores, not to mention that he’s not as enamored with the dynamics of the online “endless aisle” as others might be. “The algorithm can screw you up eight ways to Sunday — there’s nothing you can do about it,” he explained. “But if you’re on aisle, it’s curated and as much as we all love ecommerce, people are buying products in stores.”

Hello does have its own DTC site now, and it can be found online in other places as well, like Amazon, but the key is to “do these things in concert” and keep your people in mind, said Dubitsky. For Hello, the big win came not in gaming the algorithm, but in gaming the oral care shelf with a product that looked and acted differently from everything that was already there.

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