Back to School: Time for Toothpaste and Washing Machines?

Crest and Whirlpool Wedge Way Into Season With Cause Efforts

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Will toothpaste and washing machines become as synonymous with back-to-school season as new shoes and notebooks? Crest and Whirlpool are betting so in new cause-marketing campaigns that show remarkably direct links between their products and how kids do in school.

Procter & Gamble Co.'s oral-care brand uses a hashtag-spewing Shakespeare for an ad breaking on today's Olympics coverage about the link between dental problems and poor school performance. As part of the effort, the brand will also distribute hundreds of thousands of tubes of free toothpaste via Feeding America and educational efforts via Parent Teacher Associations on how oral care affects schoolwork.

That follows Whirlpool launching a social, digital and PR effort via Digitas LBi last week behind an effort in which it's raising funds to buy clothes washers and dryers for schools. Strange as the idea seems, the brand has applied data from year one of its program, in which it found putting washers and dryers into two school districts to do laundry for kids who otherwise might not have clean clothes led to major improvements in attendance and grades.

The Crest campaign focuses on research finding more than 51 million school hours are lost each year due to dental issues, that kids with poor oral health are nearly three times more likely to miss school, and that kids with toothaches have lower grade-point averages.

"When our team came across these facts, it really jumped out as significant news," said David Corr, exec creative director at Publicis. "It felt like a powerful insight that could lead to great work."

Having Shakespeare front the ad was just based on the idea that "if kids are missing school, why don't we have what they're missing speak on behalf of what they're missing," Mr. Corr said.

The correlation between poorer dental health and poverty, and between poverty and school performance, undoubtedly plays a role in the data, Dennis Legault, P&G North American oral health marketing director acknowledged. But he said, "51 million hours of school missed is not just kids in poverty. Speaking as the father of three kids, and I'm in this business, they still miss school because of various dental things going on. So it is broadly affecting the population."

The campaign "is a significant piece of our spend in the front half" of P&G's fiscal year, which started July 1, Mr. Legault said, though he declined to disclose figures.

The campaign, for which Citizen Relations is handling PR, injects Crest into the back-to-school season, when parents are already in stores on stock-up trips but toothpaste isn't necessarily top of mind. And part of the impetus behind it was comments from retailers about their customers needing more education on dental health, Mr. Legault said. But he said it also will be long-term program for Crest, which also plans to target five high schools for free product distribution and to "match up students to dental professionals."

At a time when most brands look for a higher purpose that's relevant to their products, Whirlpool also has found a seemingly unlikely link to schools. Its program is a direct outgrowth of the "Care Counts" campaign launched more than two years ago to put an emotional element behind the "cold steel" of appliances by pointing out the care that motivates people to use them.

In doing the research behind the campaign, Whirlpool and Digitas LBi discovered some teachers around the country were taking home laundry from students who were otherwise missing school because they didn't have clean clothes.

"We were so inspired," said Ronald Ng, chief creative officer-North America of Digitas LBi. "We said, 'We needed to support this.'"

But rather than publicize the effort in year one, Whirlpool focused on researching the impact that putting washers and dryers into schools in the St. Louis, Mo., and Fairfield, Calif., districts would have. Working with designated administrators, teachers and parent liaisons in each school. Whirlpool identified "at risk" students based on their prior-year attendance records. These students would bring dirty clothes to school to have them washed, and Whirlpool tracked their attendance records.

More than 2,000 loads of laundry were washed through the program, and Whirlpool found 90% of tracked students improved their attendance by an average of 6.1 days. For students who had missed 10 or more days the prior year, attendance improved even more -- an average of nearly two weeks.

Teachers surveyed said 95% of students who participated showed improved motivation in class, were more likely to take part in extracurricular activities, interacted more with peers and enjoyed school more.

Now Whirlpool expects to expand the program to 30 more schools this year and has set up a 501 (c) 3 organization to raise funds to expand it further, also working with PR shop Ketchum on the campaign, which ncludes social-media efforts on Facebook and Instagram in addition to an extensive website behind the effort.

"Another 300 school districts have expressed an interest in participating," Mr. Ng said. "We have aspirations for this to be very, very big, which is why we are opening it up for people to support."

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