Flaunt What You've Got

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Few products that enter the U.S. market can be considered unique. Only about 6 percent of all consumer-packaged goods introduced in 1997 even qualify as "innovative," according to Marketing Intelligence Service of Naples, New York. That is because products that start new categories must overcome several extra hurdles. They must be safe. They must prove their claims. And most difficult of all, they must connect with a market that doesn't yet exist.

Manufacturers who launch an innovative product often must spend large sums to create consumer awareness, plus higher distribution costs to convince wary retailers to stock it on their shelves. Colgate's new Total Toothpaste is a case in point. This product makes some remarkable claims about keeping one's teeth and gums healthy, even while one is sleeping. Colgate-Palmolive is spending at least $100 million on this product in advertising and promotion alone. The benefits of the product are plainly spelled out in the advertising campaign.

In today's cluttered market, products that have unique advantages may still fail unless their makers find ways to tell consumers about them repeatedly. For example, SpringClean, a high-tech toothbrush from Carewell Industries of Boca Raton, Florida, might have succeeded if Carewell had made its benefits more plain to the average American. Each tuft in the brush was attached to a special spring-mounted platform, so that the brush conformed to the contours of the user's teeth. It was a neat idea from a small company that was respected by dentists. This was the company, in fact, that pioneered toothbrushes with bendable heads that could brush teeth from different angles. Many other, larger companies followed Carewell's lead on that idea.

A normal toothbrush package is too small to carry enough print to explain the benefits of a spring-loaded platform. And with a few notable exceptions (such as Reach), most of the top-selling toothbrushes carry the name of a toothpaste well-recognized by consumers and heavily advertised on its own merits. SpringClean had a small, elongated, rectangular box that was cut away to show consumers some of its advantages. This further reduced the amount of space available for advertising copy. You could press down on the bristles through the package and perhaps see how the spring action worked. It was a technological breakthrough consumers could see and feel with their own hands.

SpringClean failed, even though it was a superior product, because Carewell was too small a company to support the brush with a multi-million dollar advertising and promotion budget. Without spending those extra dollars needed to make the benefits widely known, the product foundered. So if you've got it, flaunt it-and make sure you spend enough to flaunt it big.

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