Gillette goes on Axe attack

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Gillette Co. is unleashing an Axe killer.

Rather than trying to reclaim the deodorant top spot by simply boosting the marketing efforts for its Right Guard brand, Gillette has gone back to the drawing board and is set to launch a completely new brand that will go after Unilever's Axe-the body spray and marketing-success story.

Gillette will have to spend heavily to match Axe: Unilever has laid out more than $100 million in support for the brand since its U.S. launch two years ago. Axe's advertising and point-of-sale efforts have been feted for their originality and effectiveness in connecting with youth.

Gillette is bypassing its main agency in a bid for a fresh approach to the category. Handling the new brand, believed by industry executives to be named Tag, for which Gillette filed a trademark application last November, is Havas' Arnold Worldwide, Boston, according to executives familiar with the matter. Tag marks Arnold's first consumer assignment following business-to-business work for the global consumer product powerhouse. An Arnold spokeswoman declined to comment.

Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, New York, handles Gillette's other antiperspirant/deodorant brands, including Right Guard and Gillette Series, and the bulk of the marketer's other U.S. advertising. BBDO edged out Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe earlier this year for the Braun account, though Lowe still works for Gillette outside the U.S.

Gillette, known as a staid, conservative marketer in the U.S., already markets Dufour, a body-spray brand similar to Axe, in Australia, where it also competes against the Unilever brand using ads laden with sexual innuendo. One recent Australia magazine ad showed four bikini-clad women above copy that read: "Why do only one? Dufour."

clear the shelves

The new body-spray brand follows failed attempts by Gillette to gain a foothold in the segment with Right Guard and Gillette Series. Both those have been discontinued, according to a Gillette spokeswoman, who declined to comment on the new brand.

One retail buyer said he's been told to clear out remaining stocks of Right Guard and Gillette body sprays to make way for the new brand. Several other retail executives confirmed the brand would launch in February 2005 but either had not received the sales presentation from Gillette or declined to provide further details.

Right Guard Extreme Cool Spray, launched earlier this year with ads by BBDO, is not a body spray, despite appearances, said the Gillette spokeswoman, and it's not being discontinued. She said Cool Spray is an antiperspirant aimed at a different type of use and user than body spray, which is used more like a cologne.

The U.S. launch comes amid a fierce three-way fight for leadership in men's antiperspirants and deodorants, sparked largely by the August 2002 launch of Axe body spray.

Procter & Gamble Co.'s Old Spice, which has spent heavily to fend off Axe, has grown its share slightly since then, allowing it to claim leadership surrendered by Right Guard amid share losses to Axe.

But Old Spice's hold on deodorant leadership may be tenuous. A Unilever spokeswoman said the company's all-outlet data from VNU's ACNielsen in September showed Axe trailed Old Spice only slightly, 9.2% to 9.5%.

Unilever has been gaining each month on the combined strength of the body spray and Axe Dry antiperspirant, launched late last year, and its data shows Axe has passed both Colgate-Palmolive Co.'s Speed Stick and Right Guard in monthly data the past two months.

While Old Spice has stayed strong in antiperspirants and deodorants, its well-supported efforts in body spray initially failed. Old Spice re-entered body spray this summer with Red Zone, targeting the biggest complaint of Axe users-that the fragrance lacks staying power-by promising longer-lasting scent.

It's not the first time Gillette has gone back to the drawing board. It shifted the Duracell account from BBDO in 2001 to independent Acme Idea Co., South Norwalk, Conn.

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