P&G gambles on new Tampax line

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Trying to deliver on the purchase of Tampax, which an analyst called one of the industry's largest acquisition flops of the past decade, Procter & Gamble Co. is testing a new product design it claims brings the first substantial protection improvement to tampons in more than 20 years.

P&G is seeking up to a 40% price premium for new Tampax Pearl, based in part on the category's first claims of protection since withdrawal of its Rely tampon brand in 1980. The company is not claiming Tampax Pearl improves absorbency, however, which has been strictly regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since the 1980s, after super-absorbent tampons were linked to dozens of deaths from toxic shock syndrome.

IMPROVED

Among the improvements P&G is touting are the category's first absorbent braided string to help prevent leaks when women change tampons and a design that expands the product side-to-side rather than all around to improve comfort. Pearl includes Tampax's first plastic applicator, dubbed "Pearl Plastic."

Backing the Lexington, Ky., test is a "Pearl Girls" TV and print campaign from Bcom3 Group's Leo Burnett Co., Chicago. Ads call the product "as extraordinary as you are" and target a consumer described on the Tampaxpearl.com Web site as "a woman who's sensual, confident and comfortable in her own skin."

Executives close to P&G describe Pearl as the first real attempt to deliver on the promise outgoing Chairman John Pepper made in announcing the 1997 Tambrands acquisition: that P&G could bring the category significant technological innovation.

In a recent speech at an Information Resources Inc. convention in Orlando, Fla., Deutsche Bank Securities analyst Andrew Shore called Tampax one of the industry's biggest acquisition blunders of the past decade. In five years under P&G's stewardship, Tampax's dollar share of the $800 million-plus U.S. category has fallen from around 45% to 40.4% in the 52 weeks ended March 24, according to IRI.

Fast Facts

Product: Tampax Pearl

Marketer: Procter & Gamble Co.

Test market: Lexington, Ky.

Positioning: Plastic applicator, product improvements offering "unbelievable comfort and protection"

Agency: Leo Burnett Co., Chicago

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