P&G Begins Slow Test of Probiotic Supplements

Rollout of OTC Align Is Part of 'Diffuse Marketing' Strategy

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BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Procter & Gamble Co. is getting into the probiotic supplement business -- slowly -- with a three-city test of a product called Align that it first began selling online two years ago.
P&G is rolling out Align slowly, without the marketer's usual big-budget media pushes.
P&G is rolling out Align slowly, without the marketer's usual big-budget media pushes.

Probiotic yogurts and yogurt drinks have become commonplace in recent years, and Kraft Foods recently launched LiveActive probiotic cheese and cottage cheese, too. But P&G looks to become the first major marketer to launch a probiotic supplement.

Will tout research
In doing so, it's trying to trump the dairy marketers and several smaller supplement players with clinical research it says shows that its over-the-counter variant of bifidum infantis bacteria is the most effective on the market.

Align is also the latest of a handful of super-slow-motion rollouts that, while they may have big potential down the road, aren't getting typical P&G big-budget media rollouts at the outset.

P&G has used the "diffusion marketing" concept of selling online to early adopters and core enthusiasts since the late 1990s with some Swiffer products before big media-backed launches that followed within a year or so. But lately the approach has been gaining broader use, and isn't being followed as quickly with big media pushes.

P&G's Bella & Birch, a dry-patterned paint on a roll, quietly began distribution nationally in October via product placement through HGTV's "Design Star," whose interior designer and host, Vern Yip, served as spokesman for the brand during a St. Louis test market that began last year.

High hopes
P&G has high hopes for Bella & Birch. People familiar with the matter noted that it's the brand believed to have the most profit potential from the company's Futureworks unit in recent years. But at $500 or more per room to apply, it needs to find a base of upscale design enthusiasts before it can achieve broader distribution and mass-friendly prices.

Bella first emerged more than two years ago with a pop-up store in Atlanta, a tactic P&G also recently has used with Swash wash-free clothing care products in Columbus, Ohio, and two Mr. Clean-branded car washes in Cincinnati.

With Align, P&G began the rollout two years ago by targeting gastrointestinal physicians and online communities dedicated to sufferers of digestive disorders. Now, P&G is looking to expand the supplements -- priced at more than $30 for a 28-day supply -- to a broader market for preventive care in Cincinnati, Dallas and St. Louis at Wal-Mart, CVS, Walgreens and Meijer stores.

In its current three-city test, P&G is also using some other media it rarely employs in its big-budget launches, including ROP newspaper advertising and geo-targeted search ads, such as buying the "Wal-Mart" keyword in Cincinnati recently. Align could play well with some of Wal-Mart's core consumers, shown by the chain's research to suffer digestive problems more than others.

P&G hasn't have an agency of record for Align, but WPP Group's Bridge Worldwide handles interactive.
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