With the $100 million U.S. launch of Colgate Total in December, Colgate produced one of the fastest starts in package-goods history and edged Procter & Gamble Co.'s Crest for category leadership for the first time in more than three decades.
The Total launch was the most successful of a host of new products that Colgate and its package-goods peers are using to build sales growth as they run out of options for improving earnings through cost cutting and global expansion.
"The trial numbers on Total are really unprecedented," says Tarek Hallaba, 44, exec-VP marketing and marketing effectiveness for Colgate-Palmolive USA. Mr. Hallaba came to head Colgate's U.S. marketing department after holding a similar post in Latin America from 1991 to 1994, a period during which Colgate made rapid gains there. He has been with Colgate since 1979.
"We've got 19% of consumers who already have tried Total, and we're less than a year into the launch. This is double the trial numbers [of any new product] in the category before," he says.
A GLOBAL EFFORT
Total is simply the U.S. incarnation of a product that already had been a hit for Colgate globally but wasn't approved by the Food & Drug Administration until last year. Similar to the global ads, the U.S. campaign from Y&R Advertising, New York, focused on the product's unique ability to fight gingivitis and continue to work after brushing.
New products also are playing a bigger role for Colgate's bigger rivals-P&G and Unilever-which are focusing efforts on better ways to move those products via interactive media.
P&G VP-Advertising Denis Beausejour, 40, captured the attention of the marketing world by launching the Future of Advertising Stakeholders summit in August, to plot a course for making interactive media work.
"It is my hope that the action plans that will be carried out by the FAST Forward Steering Committee will put the industry one step closer to successful online advertising," says Mr. Beausejour.
EXPLORING THE INTERNET
Even P&G's archrival Unilever sent employees to P&G's Cincinnati headquarters for FAST. That was after Unilever had made noise of its own through deals of at least $20 million to advertise its brands on America Online and Microsoft, in one day surpassing P&G's interactive marketing budget.
That doesn't mean Unilever is any more satisfied with the current options available for marketing brands on the Web, nor that it isn't trying to explore new ways.
Richard Goldstein, Unilever's president-CEO for the U.S., went as far as advertising an electronic e-mail address at the Jupiter Online Communications conference in August, inviting attendees to send him answers to questions about how best to use interactive media.
Mr. Goldstein said at the conference: "For me [investing in interactive media] is the same as investing in having scientists play with molecules in order to come up with a new product."