800-pound gorilla (P&G) tries guerrilla marketing

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Mass marketing powerhouse Procter & Gamble Co. is proving its entrepreneurial mettle by taking unusual marketing tacks for two fall product launches.

For its new Crest Whitestrips, P&G is making the unprecedented move of launching national advertising for a product before it reaches national grocery, drug and mass merchandise distribution. Meanwhile, the marketer is building buzz behind its teen-targeted Jeckles snacks in a guerrilla sneak attack on Frito-Lay in the bagged snacks category.

This week national print, local outdoor and publicity break for Crest Whitestrips, a $44 teeth whitening system. Print ads for Whitestrips from D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York, will break in October and November magazines.


A teaser billboard reading "Sept. 20, find out why it's OK to wear white after Labor Day" went up in New York's Times Square earlier this month and will be transformed into an overt Whitestrips pitch during a Sept. 20 publicity event featuring Joan Rivers. A concurrent publicity-outdoor ad event featuring Ms. Rivers' daughter, Melissa, will take place in Los Angeles.

Whitestrips also rolled into a conventional test market in Pittsfield, Mass., and Grand Junction, Colo., in mid-August, backed by TV, print and outdoor from D'Arcy. But under a new concurrent testing and rollout strategy, P&G is using an intricate web of dentists, viral e-mail and consumer direct sales via the Internet and home shopping channel QVC.

The idea is not only to sell product but also to target early adopters and build buzz prior to a national launch planned for next year -- even as P&G tests the retail execution.

"You've probably heard lots of talk about P&G going to market differently, well here's some real proof," said Michael Kehoe, VP-global oral care. "It's very much a different kind of program we're talking about here. It's very much diffusion based, word of mouth based."

The cost of a diffusion-style launch such as this is "dramatically smaller, yet looks to be equally powerful," compared to the launch budget for a conventional Crest line extension, Mr. Kehoe said.


P&G first started selling Whitestrips through dentists this summer. The product also appeared in a Labor Day segment on home shopping channel QVC, where it sold several thousand cases and ranked among the channel's top oral care or beauty segments ever, said Doug Rose, VP-merchandising brand development.

P&G is being more circumspect with Jeckles, a new snack brand that began popping up nationally this summer.

The new single-serve snacks feature dual English and Spanish-language packaging, which is increasingly prevalent across North American packaging for all P&G products.

P&G plans to put the bulk of its minimal spending for the new line of bite-size tortilla snacks into alternative vehicles.

Among the efforts planned for the intricately patterned snacks are a strong Internet presence and the use of direct store delivery drivers to reach convenience stores and other teen-heavy retail environments -- a tack long successful for Frito-Lay.

A P&G spokeswoman said the brand will receive some traditional media from Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, directly targeting teens.

"The cost of new-product launches, the failure rate for which is 75%, has doubled in the last 10 years even while the effectiveness of mass media has gone down," said Ned Elton, chief marketing officer and founder of N2W Media, a Web-based solution for creating new product buzz that will kick off later this fall. "These days, food marketing is a game that's won in the trenches, and marketers, including P&G, are smart to recognize that they have to reverse the mass-media paradigm and become much more entrepreneurial . . . ."

But building a new brand to compete against Frito-Lay's $5.5 billion snack stronghold and its $90 million media artillery is difficult even with the power of a large-scale P&G budget. Pringles, P&G's only snack brand besides the small Eagle brand it purchased a few years ago, was down 7% to $445 million for the 52 weeks ended Aug. 13, according to Information Resources Inc. P&G supported Pringles with $56 million in measured media in 1999, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

As part of the consumer-direct phase of the Whitestrips launch, P&G will test the effectiveness of media. Each magazine ad includes a $5-off offer pegged to a code specific to the publication. Direct-mail and Internet offers are similarly coded.

"We're getting right now, real-time, daily, even hourly data of how we're selling on the Internet based on the marketing vehicle," Whitestrips brand manager Vince Hudson said. "We've never been able to watch data that closely and see the effect of marketing."


"This is the very first time we ever launched a product without retail distribution with national ad spending," Mr. Hudson said. "There's no model sophisticated enough to tell you what eight months of pre-seeding and national awareness will do for that year-one launch, but we're going to find out a year from now."

Mr. Hudson admitted the $44 price tag is the aspect of Whitestrips that's most "discontinuous," P&G-speak for a stretch. "It's a price point that's unheard of, not only within the Crest franchise but also in the oral-care aisle. So it's gutsy, but we're able to price to the value because it's new to the world."

Using some of the same plastic technology as another P&G test product, Impress, Whitetstrips hold a hydrogen peroxide gel to whiten teeth.

To help get consumers past the price, P&G is using a money-back guarantee Mr. Kehoe calls "the uppers challenge," asking consumers to whiten their upper teeth first to compare them to their lowers, and offering a full refund if they don't see the difference.


The results are better than whitening toothpastes, a $500 million segment that has been the fastest growing in the $2 billion toothpaste category in recent years, Mr. Kehoe said. But P&G refrained from comparing Whitestrips to whitening through dentists, which can cost $300 or more, in part because the results may not be as dramatic, and in part because it's hoping to make friends rather than enemies of dentists.

One consequence is that consumers may ask about the product at retail stores before they're there, a spokesman said. "It's definitely going to happen," he said. "The retailers, however, are excited and understand this go-to-market strategy. And they strongly feel this will make the retail launch even bigger than it would normally be."

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