Lucky Seven? New Crest Aims to Unseat Colgate

P&G Lays Out $100 Million on Pro-Health, Which Fights all Seven Dental Problems

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P&G is unleashing a $100 million blitz to support an oral-care product designed to leapfrog rival Colgate Total's performance and return Crest to toothpaste leadership for the first time in nearly a decade.

In an abrupt turnabout for Procter & Gamble Co., whose recent toothpaste marketing has been like "Seinfeld," highly entertaining but about nothing when it comes to therapeutic benefits, the marketer is comparing the rollout of Crest Pro-Health Toothpaste to its groundbreaking launch of Crest with fluoride in the 1960s. The blockbuster proposition behind ProHealth is that it's accepted by the American Dental Association to treat all seven leading oral-care problems at once. It's the first toothpaste to make such broad claims, and P&G's research shows the brand beats Total in its core benefit: combating gingivitis.

Although Colgate-Palmolive executives have downplayed the launch so far, it's clear the company is taking Pro-Health seriously. Earlier this year, it began buying up top keyword positions in Google and Yahoo covering most of the oral-care problems Pro- Health will claim to combat. That's still an unusual move for a package-goods marketer.

Retail buyers, who tend not to be easily impressed, appear to be taking Pro-Health seriously. "I took it home and tried it, and I liked it very much," said one. "This is a major launch."

"We're fairly confident this will generate the most retail support we've ever had for a toothpaste initiative," said Matt Barresi, marketing director for Crest, calling it the biggest brand introduction since Crest with fluoride in 1960.

That launch-and the original American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance-propelled Crest past Colgate, a place it had held until just before Colgate launched Total in 1998. Total has cemented Colgate's lead since.

Mr. Barresi wasn't making any predictions about a leadership change, but he's clearly optimistic. P&G is suggesting retailers price tubes of Pro-Health 50¢ above other Crest toothpastes, which would price it above Total, "because of the magnitude of the performance."

Colgate President-Global Oral Care Nigel Burton in an investor conference earlier this month compared Pro-Health to other Crest multi-benefit efforts globally that haven't put a dent in Total. Mr. Burton said he believes there's room for the multi-benefit segment to grow from the 15% it occupies in the roughly $2 billion U.S. toothpaste market closer to the 20%-25% it commands elsewhere.

Seven problems

Pro-Health hits stores Aug. 7, with a marketing campaign led by Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi and Starcom MediaVest Group, both New York. But it's not clear yet that the ads will attack Colgate by claiming superior gingivitis prevention. Marketing aimed at dentists so far plays up Pro-Health's ability to fight seven dental woes: cavities, gingivitis, tartar, sensitivity, stains, plaque and bad breath.The dentist marketing compares Pro-Health to a "negative control" revealed in P&G research to be Colgate's base cavity-protection product. But P&G researchers also published a study late last year showing Pro-Health beat Total in preventing gum bleeding and inflammation.

"You're going to see us focus on what's really most relevant to the consumer, which is that they can get everything at the same time," Mr. Barresi said. "It's not just a litany of minor things. They're the things dentists and the American Dental Association care about."

The product uses two ingredients previously approved by the Food and Drug Administration, stannous fluoride and sodium hexametaphosphate, so P&G didn't need new FDA approval, said Mr. Barresi. But that doesn't mean the science isn't rigorous, he said, noting that 10 years of research went into the formulation. "The feedback we heard from the American Dental Association was that it was by far the most complex and comprehensive submission for the ADA Seal of Acceptance ever."
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