HealthExpressions, sponsored by nine P&G health-care brands, went live last month in what Debbie Slater, project manager for the program, terms a "soft launch," initially targeting only registered users of the corporate PG.com and sites of sponsor brands, including Crest, Metamucil and Nyquil.
Ms. Slater said plans are still being developed for the fiscal year that starts July 1 to back the launch and could include a mix of TV, print, radio and online ads, as well as in-store marketing and programs tapping databases of consumers who have signed up for some of its existing e-mail programs, including HomeMadeSimple and BrandSaver.com.
"We saw an unmet need among consumers for what I'd call light health-care information and saw an opportunity for [P&G health-care brands] to provide it," Ms. Slater said. She added that development of HealthExpressions began about two years ago as P&G's health brands saw the success the home-care brands were having with their multibrand site.
"That's when we started digging into cohort marketing," she said, referring to a term favored by Forrester Research and P&G that describes using relationship-marketing approaches to market multiple brands to targeted groups of consumers.
P&G dubs the cohorts it targets "golden households," the 10% to 20% of consumers who account for a vast majority of a brand's sales. The definition of a "golden household" can vary by brand, but home- and health-care brands have found enough commonalities to make joint programs work.
Such sites as WebMD already cover weightier life-and-death medical subjects about which people seek in-depth information, Ms. Slater noted, so HealthExpressions is targeting women who want to spend five to 10 minutes getting tips about their health. The site strives for a "credible, humorous, attention-getting, coaching atmosphere," she said.
A light approach can work, she said, because P&G markets oral-care products and drugs for such conditions as colds, heartburn, upset stomachs and constipation that, while annoying, aren't life-threatening.
HealthExpressions will make occasional promotional offers and help launch products, but the idea is to build brand equity and relationships with consumers both for itself and its sponsor brands, Ms. Slater said.
Bridge Worldwide, Cincinnati, which created HealthExpressions, also handles P&G's HomeMade-Simple and Brandsaver e-mail and online custom-publishing programs.
Success of HomeMadeSimple is among factors that have helped Bridge consolidate much of P&G's interactive business in recent years, said agency President Jay Woffington. The independent Cincinnati shop now handles interactive and relationship-marketing programs for 32 P&G brands. Along with HealthExpressions, Bridge picked up interactive accounts of two affiliated brands, Pepto Bismol and Vicks.
But while the cohort-marketing approach is gaining support at P&G, it's at odds with the brand-management structure by which marketing is run there and at most other package-goods companies, where each brand is marketed separately.
"It's difficult to find the right executive within the marketing [or general management] structure to champion something like this," said Mr. Woffington, himself a former P&G brand manager who became president of Bridge late last year after joining the company in 2002. In the case of Health Expressions, even bumping responsibility upstairs wouldn't solve the problem, because the program spans units run by two VPs, a president and a general manager.
So, in an unusual step for a marketing program, leadership of HealthExpressions comes not from marketing but information technology. Ms. Slater, who championed the project over the past two years, is information technology leader for global personal health care. Similarly, Andy Walter, who headed the HomeMadeSimple initiative in home care and several other executives who head interactive marketing projects in P&G's business units come from the information-technology group.
Despite the organizational challenge, Ms. Slater sees support for the multibrand program growing. "We talked to two VPs and got support of both," she said, adding that while only seven brands signed onto HealthExpressions originally, two more-Actonel and Prilosec-signed on after the site went up earlier this year.
With more than 4 million consumers who have opted to receive monthly free e-mail newsletters, HomeMadeSimple, precursor of HealthExpressions, has more subscribers than Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's Martha Stewart Living or its online offshoot had at their peak.
Now, with Ms. Stewart facing the prospect of jail time and her domestic empire in disarray, P&G is considering filling the void with a print version of HomeMadeSimple, Mr. Woffington said. The program, which Bridge VP Michael Graham terms a "meta-brand" in its own right, also has experimented with a TV show in the U.K. and has expanded its Web presence globally.
P&G isn't the only package-goods powerhouse to develop multimedia custom-publishing ambitions. After years of success drawing consumers to the Kraft Interactive Kitchen, Altria Group's Kraft Foods last year branched into print with Kraft Food & Family, mailed to 3 million consumers. As he told analysts in January about a massive restructuring of its food business, including more than 6,000 layoffs, Kraft CEO Roger Deromedi sounded a more optimistic note on Kraft's publishing prowess: He placed Food & Family among the top three magazines in the U.S. by circulation.
Other players, such as Unilever's HomeBasics and Reckitt Benckiser's HomeSolutionsNews also have tried online custom publishing, but so far haven't reached numbers of P&G or Kraft programs.
But package-goods companies, also including Nestle, Masterfoods and Kimberly-Clark, have become adept enough at custom publishing that their need for online publishers continues to wane, said Grad Conn, a P&G alum and now VP-Managing Director of Grey Interactive, Toronto, at the iMedia Connection Brand Summit in Bonita Springs, Fla., last month.
Increasingly, what package-goods players are looking for from online publishers are programs that will help them acquire consumers for their own database programs, Mr. Conn said, arguing that paying on a cost-per-acquisition business makes the most sense for many marketers today.