P&G will spend an estimated $8 million to back its Pampers Premium with new breathable side panels, and a new unisex Pampers Baby-Dry Stretch with improved absorbency.
The push starts in September with couponing, according to trade materials; a TV and print campaign from D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York, begins Oct. 6.
P&G also is completing a rollout of Luvs Stretch, with newly added stretchy side panels.
Rival Kimberly-Clark has promised the trade it will match whatever P&G spends as it rolls out its improved Huggies Supreme, with breathable outer covers, and a new "mega" pack of a unisex version of its base Huggies Ultratrim line.
A K-C spokeswoman said the company will back its rollout with TV advertising from Oglivy & Mather, New York, plus direct mail and other promotion. She would not discuss budgets.
K-C said it would not, however, follow P&G's lead on category pricing.
P&G next month will increase per-diaper prices an average of 5.9% on its convenience packs, while lowering per unit prices on more cost-efficient jumbo and mega sizes. The K-C spokeswoman said it would neither raise nor lower prices on its diapers.
P&G abandoned a price increase on disposable diapers earlier this year when K-C failed to follow suit.
A P&G spokesman said the company had no immediate plans to change its pricing in response to K-C, although the company will "continue to evaluate the situation in the interest of remaining price competitive."
Analysts viewed these moves as tactics designed not only to create a competitive edge but to defend against rivals' innovations.
Salomon Bros. analyst Carol Warner said K-C appears to be "hedging its bets" by releasing a unisex version in response to P&G's unisex Pampers Baby-Dry Stretch, while maintaining the gender-specific diapers it says consumers prefer in other Huggies SKUs.
P&G and Kimberly appear evenly matched in the category now, said William Steele, an analyst with Dean Witter.