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Go into any Target store and walk down the air freshener aisle, and you will notice a few things: opaque bottles, flowery pastel colors, goofy scent names… But then, all of a sudden you spot them: five vibrant and exciting clear plastic bottles with funky looped tops. This is exactly what Method was after: a complete disruption of the air care market—something that makes consumers stop in their tracks. And rattles the competition.
I wanted to learn more about why this new product was so unique (from its contents to mechanism down to its creative packaging) so I talked with Josh Handy, Method’s VP of Product Experience. Josh first began working with Method in 2001, while heading up product design at Karim Rashid’s atelier in New York. He then moved on to found the industrial design studio at Method. This isn’t the first time Method has been in the air care category. Back in 2008, they had a product called an air enhancer, in aluminum aerosol can that worked very well and was sustainably made, but didn’t resonate with consumers. They didn’t really know how to use it, and it didn’t look like a Method product. So Method ended up phasing it out. A few years later, Josh was working on the development of a laundry product. He explains, “we do studies where we spend time in people’s homes to see how they use products. We were in Sacramento in a lady’s house who used our green laundry product, and while we were there, I asked her if I could take a peek at some of her other cleaning products. When I opened a cabinet, I began stacking all the products up on the counter and I counted 29 spray cans. Here was a consumer who was supposed to be green and she had all these products, so I asked her about it, and she explained that she simply loved spraying things. So I took a picture and thought a bit about it afterward.” “It occurred to me: ‘I like spraying stuff, too!’ It made sense to me that this is a preferred and pleasurable way to dispense products, but when you’re doing a large area, people especially want to spray stuff. And there wasn’t really a good way to do it.”
But if Method was to do this (again), how could it be done—and better? Josh began to ask around to see whether anyone had done an aerosol in a plastic container, but he couldn’t seem to find any. People saw Method as transparent and clear and colorful… not an aluminum can, so if he could make it happen, it might just be the ticket. “I talked to a lot of people in the industry and they all told me it was practically impossible. And I thought ‘Well, it is impossible, or is it just hard?’ I figured out it’s just hard. Can we knock down these obstacles, could we develop a plastic aerosol? We wanted to deliver something recyclable with Method attributes and experience… turns out it was really hard!” Josh said. He explored the idea for another 1.5 years, bringing in technical resources and such yet still ran into roadblocks such as price and performance.
The primary challenge with a plastic aerosol approach was: how do you create a plastic container that’s strong enough to withstand the pressures involved in aerosol dispensing? The problem with plastic, although it feels solid, is that it is actually very porous, Josh told me. Method uses PET plastic, similar to what’s used for soda and water bottles, which can be pressurized with the gases used in aerosol containers, but over time they seep out through the plastic and the pressure inside the plastic container dissipates. Therefore, this has been the big stumbling block in the industry. Josh said that it had to pass the test of having a product on shelves or in someone’s homes for a year and a half without losing the pressure. Most of the pressure experts work for soda brands and are used to talking about diffusion of carbon dioxide. Josh explained that one of the epiphany moments was when they looked at the pressurized charts and thought, “what if we pressurized it with air or nitrogen?” And that shifted the game, solving all of the shelf life issues. “So it went from ‘impossible’ to ‘maybe!’” Around 2011, the product was put on hold.
Then, one of their researchers was on a trip to Europe and stumbled across a shaving gel package in a plastic container with technology they hadn’t seen before. The technology, which had been developed by a European manufacturer, Airopack, was a plastic tube that was pressurized in a new way. “Working together with that manufacturer we realized that with some modifications, you could spray an aerosol out of it,” Josh explained.
The Method Air Refresher bottle, which uses Airopack’s technology, is divided into two sections—top and bottom—the “juice” (as Josh calls it) is at the top, and underneath is a cylinder that gets pushed up to dispense it. This is a very divergent way of delivering the spray. Typically, a propellant is added to the liquid you want to dispense, which is what pushes it out. “So when you get a can of spray, when you’re spraying it, it’s kind of a like a 60/40 mix of stuff you actually want and propellant. And although these propellants have gotten better in recent years, they’re still probably not things you want to be spraying around all the time. Also, when you’re paying for 10 ounces of something, you’re not actually getting 10 ounces of it, you’re getting maybe 6 oz or so, so not the best deal for the consumer,” Josh explained. Method’s air refresher doesn’t use a propellant, just compressed air, so you’re only dispensing the product itself, therefore you’re getting a much better, more effective, more efficient utilization. “It’s a much better way to spray.”
Work on what a final design could look like had been going on for years, and Method’s earlier concepts looked much different than an aerosol, so different that some of the consumers had no idea what it was or how they worked. Another important issue for Method was keeping down the amount of material used in the design, so some early concepts were eliminated based on the quantity of plastic required. Not only is this a design and cost issue, but it’s also an environmental one. Josh’s design philosophy is one we can relate to:
I don’t really believe in adorning products with lots of little unnecessary details. If you can strip products down to their essence, you get a much purer product experience.
In the past, Method has used a cap on their cans, as do many other air freshener brands. They noticed that people would take off the caps at the store, and store managers would get frustrated because the caps would end up all over the floor at the end of the day. Therefore, Method decided to try and create an alternative to a cap, because aerosols really don’t need caps. The loop on the Method bottle acts like a cap, protecting the spray nozzle during shipping, but uses less material. And, you’ll never lose it! Plus, Josh says, “people love putting their fingers through it and swinging it around. It’s fun to use, but serves a purpose. It does it in an elegant way.”
The scents are a totally different story. I asked Method if they have someone who is in charge of scents, and they actually do! Suzanne McCormick is their Director of Fragrance, and I envy her job. Not only does she spend a lot of time smelling stuff (hopefully mostly good stuff), she also spends a lot of time reading up on the science of smell. She told me that sometimes they spray a fragrance and a group of Method employees come into the room and all walk around and sniff the air. I love this! I’m really fascinated by this entire process, and hopefully I will be able to get up to the Method HQ one day to experience it myself. Suzanne and the Method team cooked up five scents in the introductory collection of Method’s Air Refreshers collection: Beach Sage, Wild Poppy, French Lavender, Fresh Clover, and Sweet Tangerine. The goal was to get these scents as close to nature as possible, and I think they nailed it. I can’t pick a favorite.
I’ve been a long-time Method fan, so seeing them come out with a product that makes sense functionally, and does it while looking good, while also solving problems and being planet-friendly… you can’t ask anything else from a brand. Call me a fangirl, but I’m going spray cray cray.
Josh tells us that he loves this concept because “it’s actually very familiar in its function. It feels like an aerosol can when you pick it up and it sprays like one.” Form and function at its finest.
Method Air Refreshers are available exclusively at Target and Target.com.