The numbers in question are the ones showing that Unilever's Axe passed Procter & Gamble Co.'s Old Spice and its bigger female sibling, Secret, for dollar-sales leadership in U.S. deodorants in all outlets over the past year or so.
P&G doesn't dispute that Axe passed Old Spice for dollar leadership in men's deodorants, antiperspirants and body sprays in the panel data for the 52 weeks ended March 25. But it says its figures show Secret remained ahead of Axe for overall category leadership.
Amazingly, both companies are supposedly citing the same data from the same product from VNU's ACNielsen. Yet they show different share numbers. Unilever shows a $2.398 billion category where Axe has a 13.3% share, Secret 12.7% and Old Spice 10.0%. P&G, on the other hand, shows a $2.38 billion category where Secret has a 13.0% share, Axe 12.3% and Old Spice 10.5%.
It raises interesting questions about how marketers report data to their bosses, retailers and shareholders-and how research firms let them use that data. Each side has its own analysts and client reps to help them slice, dice and massage numbers. It's impossible to know precisely how each side is doing that. Neither has authorized ACNielsen to release data directly to Ad Age. "Clients do have the capability of customizing the way they look at the category and define the category," said a spokesman for ACNielsen.
The dispute demonstrates why syndicators resist giving journalists or even selling-securities analysts more encompassing, but statistically less-reliable, all-outlet panel data, even though scanner data excludes the increasingly important Wal-Mart, clubs and dollar stores. Who wants to deal with this crap every month?
One thing that's clear: Axe appears to be doing much better outside the scanner-measured world (in stores where product assortment and merchandising are based less on what retailers get paid by marketers and more on consumer appeal).
I'm reminded of recent years when P&G's Pampers was struggling. P&G executives noted how incomplete the publicly available scanner data was. But when things turned for Pampers-and brand promotions were goosing scanner data-scanner numbers were just fine with P&G.
P&G says it has regained momentum in the deodorant category, citing four-week April dollar data showing Old Spice edging Axe. It also says Old Spice has remained the men's leader in volume, household penetration and loyalty.
That's all likely true. But four-week data is prone to promotional swings. And volume, penetration and loyalty can be squishier than dollar data. Depending on the definition, a trial size may count the same as a club pack. Amazingly, Axe does sell well at clubs. (I do wonder who buys club packs of Axe, or KY Massage self-warming oil, which I saw an elderly woman examining closely at Sam's recently.)
Anyway, it's easy to massage volume data. Kimberly-Clark Corp.'s Scott once claimed category leadership based on sheets of toilet paper. P&G's Pantene only this year passed Unilever's Suave in scanner-measured conditioner unit volume according to Information Resources Inc. and still trails in shampoo units-though I don't think anyone seriously doubted that Pantene had been the real category leader for years.
Selling more units is great. Ultimately, though, employees, shareholders and agencies get paid in dollars, not in cases of Old Spice or Axe.