Clorox sweeps into cleaning fray

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Competitors are cranking up the voltage in the burgeoning electrostatic duster category as Clorox Co. launches a new entry and Procter & Gamble Co. sues to stop direct-comparison ads by S.C. Johnson & Son's Pledge Grab-It.

Clorox FreshCare electrostatic dust mops and refill cloth kits will roll out in March, backed by $15 million to $20 million in TV and print ads from DDB Worldwide, San Francisco. The introduction marks Clorox's second under the FreshCare name in the past year as part of its "fast follower" strategy. FreshCare fabric deodorizer was launched this summer, the second player in a category created by P&G's Febreze in 1998.

As Clorox enters the fray, the dust kicks up between P&G and S.C. Johnson. The former filed suit in U.S. District Court in New York last week to stop comparative ads from FCB Worldwide, Chicago, claiming the tighter weave of Pledge Grab-It cloths makes them superior to P&G's Swiffer.

INJUNCTION, DAMAGES SOUGHT

The Pledge Grab-It ads are "grossly misleading and unfairly characterize the performance of our product," a P&G spokeswoman said. P&G is seeking monetary damages and an injunction to stop the ads.

An S.C. Johnson spokeswoman defended the ads, saying the claims are backed by considerable research as well as an independent review by the organizedhome.com Web site.

"We set a very, very high hurdle for ourselves and we were very sure before we launched this ad," she said.

The U.S. suit is only one of several in an escalating global mop war. Earlier this year, P&G filed complaints in Greece, Spain and Portugal claiming Pledge Grab-It ads mimicked its Swiffer ads to the point of trademark violation. P&G won initial rulings, but S.C. Johnson prevailed on appeal, a P&G spokesman said.

The category's first competitive strike, however, was launched by P&G. Only one day after S.C. Johnson unveiled Pledge Grab-It at the Food Marketing Institute convention in May, P&G had obtained domain registrations for "pledgegrab-it.com" and similar variations.

LAWYER'S CALL

"One phone call from our trademark lawyer and [pledgegrabit.com] was assigned back to us that same day," the S.C. Johnson spokeswoman said.

Swiffer, handled by D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York, was launched into test in the U.S. and France in September 1998 -- four years after Kao Corp.'s similar Quickle Wiper product had been introduced in Japan.

S.C. Johnson licensed distribution rights from Kao for 90 countries earlier this year. And while Swiffer preceded Pledge into U.S. stores by two weeks, Pledge Grab-It is now in a dozen countries and has beaten Swiffer to market in about eight, a spokeswoman said.

S.C. Johnson did not reveal spending figures, but a retail executive estimated it at about $50 million a year.

In its complaint, P&G said Swiffer has generated $130 million in sales so far; P&G has projected at least $300 million in global sales for Swiffer in its first year.

TRUE TEST

The S.C. Johnson spokeswoman did not comment on Pledge Grab-It sales, but said the brand is running "neck and neck" globally with Swiffer. In the U.S., retailers say Swiffer has been outselling Pledge Grab-It initially and they have given Swiffer roughly two to three times the shelf facings of its competitors.

Even so, the real battle may only be starting, according to Tom Vierhile, president of Marketing Intelligence Service. Comparing electrostatic mops to razors, he said the true test will come over sales of refill cloths. Pledge's prices on refills are 10% to 15% below Swiffer's, and a retail buyer said Clorox FreshCare is priced in line with Pledge.

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