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It's been a year of Total annihilation for competitors of Colgate-Palmolive Co. in the $1.6 billion U.S. toothpaste market.

Launched late last year and supported with $100 million in advertising, the gingivitis-fighting Colgate Total has pulled past Procter & Gamble Co.'s Crest in market share, 25.1% to 24.6%, for the year ended June 28, 1998, reports Information Resources Inc.

Colgate's sales were up 34.7% to $399.4 million in the period compared to a 1.1% advance to $391.2 million for Crest, and this with the $60 million launch midyear of Crest Multicare. Colgate's $103 million sales gain more than accounted for the category's $99 million jump in the period.


Total has sparked an advertising frenzy throughout the category, as evidenced by first-quarter media outlays of $26 million, up 78%, for Crest, and $28.9 million, up 101.7%, for Colgate.

Smaller players Church & Dwight Co. (Arm & Hammer), Unilever (Mentadent) and Den-Mat Corp. (Rembrandt) have anted up new products or ad campaigns as well.


Along with major ad support, Colgate drove trial with high-value coupons as retailers offered up steep promotional discounts for Total. More than 50% of first-time users have repurchased the product but at its regular price, which is 15% higher than regular Colgate, says Jack Haber, C-P's VP-general manager of oral care.

Total's efficacy claims -- clinically effective in reducing plaque and preventing gingivitis and bad breath -- drew endorsement from the American Dental Association.

Reversing Crest's fortunes has become a top priority at P&G. Durk Jager, named P&G CEO effective next January, even has become de facto brand manager, taking a hands-on role. Don King was named marketing director for Crest late last year. He helped restore Pamper's fortunes.

P&G is combating Total's technological edge by playing up Crest's wide range of features and what it claims is a better taste. A recent newspaper ad for Crest, for example, compared Multicare with Total, conceding effectiveness on plaque and gingivitis to Colgate but claiming better taste for Crest. A P&G spokesman says Crest is down for the full-year but up in July due to the success of Multicare and Multicare Plus Whitening, whose combined 8.5% of category raised Crest's overall share by 2 points over July '97.

P&G was to roll out Crest Multicare Plus Whitening pump product this month. Total does not include whitening as a feature.


Unilever's Mentadent is playing up whitening and specifically taste with the October launch of Crystal Ice, a move to bring the breath freshening and taste attributes of flavor crystals from candy to toothpaste, says Tom Vierhile, president of new-product consultancy Marketing Intelligence. Mentadent needs strong support from Crystal Ice, as sales have languished at $166 million for the year ended mid-'98, according to IRI.


Consultants see limited opportunity to make inroads based on whitening or taste: "It's much more an efficacy game than ever," says Ken Harris, consultant with Cannondale Associates. Flavors and whitening can be copied much easier than hygienic benefits. Whitening, though an aging trend in the category, still has pull with consumers, says Mr. Harris. SmithKline Beecham's Aquafresh Brightening has held its own in the category, driving sales to $178.5 million, up 6% for the 12 months ended mid-'98, according to IRI.

Last spring, Den-Mat put a generational spin on whitening with its Rembrandt Age Defying launch, backed by $15 million in ads that positioned the product as a way to whiten teeth and improve the appearance of gums for aging baby boomers.

The Arm & Hammer baking-soda toothpaste was hit hardest this past year, its lack of differentiation (virtually all players have a baking soda product) has no doubt abetted a 10% slide in sales to $99.6 million for the first half of 1998.

Techno-advanced Colgate Total ironically is doing to Crest what Crest did to Colgate in the '60s, when it unseated Colgate after gaining the category's first ADA endorsement for cavity fighting by adding the then-revolutionary ingredient fluoride.

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