Hair brands get fortified

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The new-product famine that followed a frenzy of early 2003 hair-care launches will abate early next year, but marketers mainly have shifted focus to culling or shoring up existing brands.

Unilever is raising spending 30% to $70 million behind Thermasilk, according to retail executives, while L'Oreal will discontinue its Open hair color brand, which has fallen victim to Procter & Gamble Co.'s similarly youth-positioned Herbal Essences. L'Oreal, which has nonetheless seen its overall share in hair color grow, will instead focus on new shades for its main brands, handled by Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York.

L'Oreal's Garnier Fructis shampoo and conditioner, playing off a strong first-year showing that helped make L'Oreal the big overall winner in U.S. hair care this year, will enter the styling aids segment (comprising gels, sprays, mousses and the like) in early 2004, according to retail executives. The push will be backed by ads from Publicis Groupe's Publicis Worldwide, New York.


The loser appears to be Unilever. Despite what retail executives describe as a strong showing for Dove, which launched at the same time as Fructis in early 2003, the marketer is struggling against steep double-digit sales declines for three of its other brands-Thermasilk, Finesse and Salon Seletives. Those declines have more than offset Dove's gains.

Unilever seeks to rescue the newest and biggest of the three, Thermasilk, with a new formula and packaging upgrade, along with four TV ads from WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson, New York, to break this fall. Unilever vows similar increased levels of support into 2004.

The fate of Salon Selectives, however, is less certain. According to published reports, the brand is part of a package of other North American brands, including Mentadent and Sunlight, Unilever is trying to sell.

A spokeswoman wouldn't comment on possible divestitures. But she said that while Salon Selectives remains popular with younger consumers and some of its styling products rank among category leaders, Unilever's focus is on Dove, Suave, Thermasilk and Finesse. Dove and Suave are handled by WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago; Finesse does not have an agency of record.

hawkish against dove

P&G's defense against Dove and Fructis has had mixed results. Pantene, Head and Shoulders and Herbal Essences each have gained share in the shampoo and conditioner category over the past year, according to figures from Information Resources Inc. for the 52 weeks ended July 13.

But a value strategy for such brands as Pert, Daily Renewal and recently relaunched Daily Defense hasn't generated enough volume to make up for price cuts. Those brands' sales declines helped drag P&G's overall shares down by 4.8 percentage points in shampoo and 4.1 points in conditioner for the four weeks ended Aug. 10, according to Merrill Lynch.

A positive for P&G is that Unilever brands appear to have borne the brunt of P&G's value strategy, leaving P&G's premium brands mostly unscathed. And with the category more focused on price, neither Fructis nor Dove have yet met their original goals of selling at a premium to Pantene.

Meanwhile, P&G's efforts to bolster its weakest link in hair care with a 2003 restage of Pantene styling products hasn't reversed declines in that category. Unilever also has lost share in styling aids. Both now face new pressure next year from Fructis and new products from Kao Corp.'s Sheer Blonde and Frizz Ease brands, retail executives said.

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