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P&G, Colgate step up oral-care fight

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The already-fierce battle for oral-care supremacy looks to get tougher still as rivals increase marketing spending despite signs of flattening growth in once-vibrant segments such as whitening and battery brushes.

Colgate-Palmolive Co., facing reinvigorated foes in Procter & Gamble Co. and Gillette Co., is beefing up spending on toothpaste in the U.S. via WPP Group's Y&R Advertising, New York, after years of cutbacks. It will also take a new stab at gadgetry early next year by launching Colgate 360, the first toothbrush with a built-in tongue cleaner.

In Colgate's third quarter it boosted U.S. media spending on toothpaste more than 50% and overall U.S. media more than 20%. It plans to further increase global advertising spending in 2005 and 2006, albeit more slowly, Chairman-CEO Reuben Mark told analysts in a conference call earlier this month.

Much of Colgate's increased toothpaste ad spending comes by shifting support from Colgate Simply White, a paint-on tooth whitener largely vanquished by Crest Whitestrips, with sales down 68% through the 52 weeks ended Oct. 3, according to Information Resources Inc. Even with recent spending boosts, Colgate still has far to go in erasing a gap in which Crest outspent it by more than three to one overall last year-$270.4 million to $82.9 million-according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

For the first time in years, Colgate has been running TV ads simultaneously for two toothpaste products-Max Fresh, launched in August, and the well-established Total. That helped push its overall U.S. toothpaste share to 37.3% and its lead over P&G in U.S. toothpaste to six points, according to Colgate. The company's figures, from VNU's ACNielsen, exclude Wal-Mart Stores, club and dollar outlets.

Citing all-outlet numbers including panel data from ACNielsen, a P&G spokesman said Crest had a 32% share and a slight lead over Colgate in brand share for the July-September quarter (about two points of Colgate's corporate share comes from value brand Ultra-Brite).

crest leads colgate

Toothpaste aside, P&G's Crest still leads Colgate handily in overall U.S. oral care, with more than a quarter of the $2.8 billion business in the 52 weeks ended Oct. 3 as measured by IRI, whose numbers exclude another $1.5 billion or more in sales from other outlets.

But oral care has been fading lately, with whitening kits down 20% to $280 million and power brushes down 5.8% to $317.3 million, according to IRI. The only segment showing robust growth is dental accessories and tools, up 27.5% to $158.3 million, driven by Gillette, the No. 3 player.

Gillette, which bought the Rembrandt brand earlier this year and is merging it with Oral-B, has racked up more than $16 million in sales in six months for its new Brush Ups fingertip toothbrushes and Hummingbird power flossers. It's also regained some share lost to Crest SpinBrush in power brushes with its own battery brushes.

P&G's answer includes teaming with Philips' Sonicare for a power toothbrush that dispenses a Crest whitening toothpaste and competes with Gillette's Braun-Oral B.

"We welcome the competition [from Gillette]," said Ayman Ismail, general manager of Crest oral care. "We'd rather have a smaller share and growing sales in a growing market."

The question is whether the market will keep growing. "I don't think [tongue cleaners, power flossers, high-end brushes and accessories] are going to pick up the slack" from declines in whitening kits and battery brushes, said one chain drug buyer.

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