TV ads breaking today for Jergens' Naturally Smooth open with all the trappings of a public-service announcement. Melancholy piano music plays in the background. A young woman in a drab room hugs her legs to her chest and confesses, "I started 'cause my friends were doing it, but then I couldn't stop."
But instead of spinning a woeful tale of drug addiction, the young woman describes how she used to have to shave her legs nearly every day until she discovered Jergens Naturally Smooth. "It's the only moisturizer that makes my hair finer, less noticeable, so I don't have to shave as often," the recovered shaving addict testifies.
"The creative really plays off that addiction to shaving that women tell us they hate so much but have to do," said Ned Conway, Jergens' brand manager.
Jergens Naturally Smooth, which shipped to stores last month, is not a hair remover. Rather, it claims to make hair less noticeable so that after eight weeks of use a consumer will have to shave half as often.
The 15- and 30-second Jergens Naturally Smooth spots were created by True North Communications' Bozell, New York, and debut today on network and cable channels. Print ads, which show abstract images of a woman's legs with copy that directly explains product benefits, run in June issues of national women's magazines.
Jergens isn't the only advertiser to try the pseudo-PSA approach recently. In Viacom-owned MTV's current outdoor campaign from Modernista! in Boston, copy appears to be discussing a communicable disease rather than a music-video channel. One ad-"Can I get MTV from kissing?"-was pulled by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority for being too suggestive.
"We didn't want to do typical beauty advertising, where a woman might rub her legs, take a little pink razor and break it in half and throw it in the trash can," said Rich Levy, group creative director at Bozell. "We wanted women who saw the spot to identify with the woman who dreads shaving her legs. We wanted to take them down that very real avenue and then just twist it."
The skin creams and lotions category has been growing strongly, up 8% with U.S. retail sales of $2.4 billion for the 52 weeks ended April 21, according to J.P Morgan Securities' analysis of data from VNU's ACNielsen Corp.
Procter & Gamble Co.'s Olay brand has been the big gainer, up 31.7% to $362 million on the strength of Daily Facials and Total Effects cleansing cloths. Those launches helped P&G overcome Unilever for No. 2 overall in the category during the 13 weeks ended April 21, though P&G was still No. 3 for the 52 weeks. Category leader Johnson & Johnson's Neutrogena has also gained, up 13.4% to $425 million for the 52 weeks. Jergens' sales were up 8% to $170 million.
Jergens' competitors don't offer a product to compete head-to-head with Jergens Naturally Smooth. "We feel like if we're going to continue to grow this category, we need to come up with novel ideas," said Jergens' Mr. Conway. "There are a lot of lotions out there. We're not aware of any other daily moisturizer that makes hair softer, finer and less noticeable so women can shave less often."
This is not a hair-removal product, which Mr. Conway said is a relatively small $100 million category, while he said skin lotion is about $1 billion.
He believes growth will come from tapping into "the other half of women out there who don't use lotion on a daily basis." Jergens research shows 53% of women use lotion every day.
"That tells me if we come up with a product that has daily use built in, we're going to grow the pie and get a bigger piece of the pie," he said.
Kao Corp., Jergens' Japanese parent, has had a reputation for beating global rivals to the punch across numerous categories, ranging from ultra-concentrated laundry detergents in the early 1990s to electrostatic dusting cloths and mops in the mid-1990s-both of which P&G later adopted and turned into major successes. The rivalry between the two has extended of late to the acquisition front, where P&G outspent Kao to buy Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Clairol hair-care business last month.