Garfield's AdReview

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There was a time, back in the early `80s, when there were no products. There were only "systems." No mattress/box-spring sets, no razors, no detergents, no barbecues. Only sleep systems, shaving systems, laundering systems and grilling systems.

This was when technology was just becoming a popularly recognized asset. So naturally Madison Avenue wrung the concept dry.

Underlying the superficiality and overstatement, however, was the fact that corporate R&D had indeed invested consumer products-like detergent, in fact-with all kinds of technological advances to dramatically improve the state of the art.

Strangely, what hardly anyone thought of-then or since-was the notion of systems beyond the buzzword. What if you could take your basic product and its various line extensions and package them as an integrated whole to retain customers, across your whole array of SKUs, for life?

If that marketing strategy could influence dog food purchase, for instance, as Iams and Hills Science Diet long ago discovered, why couldn't it work for, say, Crest?

And, it's like, duh. No reason at all. Which is why it's surprising that the ingenious new Crest campaign from Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, took this long to materialize. The first three ads are themselves nothing astonishing; the ingenuity resides in the decision to sell not tubes of expensive toothpaste, but a lifelong healthy smile.

"Who's that?" asks some retirement-home codger of his buddies as an unfamiliar 76-year-old sweater girl sashays into the community room.

"She's new."

"I heard she used to be a dancer."

"Come on! Are those real?"

"Yeah, they're her own ... teeth."


OK, maybe the geriatric bosom joke is a little hard to deal with, but here comes the voice-over with the point: "Imagine a dental plan that can provide `WOW' for life. The Crest Dental Plan. We've got more ways than ever to help keep everyone's smile healthy and beautiful for life."

Then the most important part of the ad: the product shot, an array of Crest items, including mouthwash-infused toothpaste, Night Effects whitener, whitening strips, toothbrush and floss. In other words, the Crest dental-care system.

A second spot focuses on a little girl getting a dollar from the tooth fairy-this as a pretext to see another assortment, this one with Crest Kids fluoride toothpaste in the foreground.

This is sound thinking by Procter & Gamble. The problem is, it's not entirely real. Crest still has a confusing array of toothpastes that have nothing to do with a system, and everything to do with covering every possible permutation of flavor, whitening, tartar control, baking soda and so on. Try the new Crest Botox with depleted uranium and fresh-cilantro flavor stripes!

This has as much to do with monopolizing retail shelf space as serving consumer desires, but it is at odds with the new strategy. A third spot, for spicy Whitening Expressions toothpaste, just kind of hangs there as yet another line extension disembodied from the integrated dental-plan whole. Not that extreme zing isn't itself a marketable idea, but it betrays at the very outset of this campaign a certain lack of discipline.

If you're going to sell a system, it's kind of important to be, you know, systematic.


Saatchi & Saatchi, New York

Ad Review Rating: 3 stars

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