P&G, Lever Battle for Sexes in Dandruff Wars

Cincinnati Giant Looks to Blunt Clear Launch in Hair Care While Defending Against K-C in Feminine Care

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Is your dandruff male or female?

One might think dandruff is the same whether it's on a man or a woman, but Unilever and Procter & Gamble beg to differ. Each are introducing shampoo lines with dandruff products targeted specifically at each sex.

Unilever's Clear , a global brand sold in more than 40 countries that 's now coming to the U.S., aims to redefine the segment around "scalp health" with lines designed for men, women and African-Americans. Meanwhile, P&G hopes to preempt Clear by introducing men's and women's lines of its segment-leading Head & Shoulders, which has long had a stranglehold on the market.

Expect to see new Always and Tampax products as well as the debut of a Clear hair-care brand.
Expect to see new Always and Tampax products as well as the debut of a Clear hair-care brand.

"The genderization of Head & Shoulders is a natural evolution for the brand, as we have seen the trend happening in categories such as deodorants and personal cleansing," said a P&G spokeswoman. While dandruff may be the same whether male or female, she said genders "have different hair-benefit priorities and package-design preferences."

Clear , which has several products not specifically for dandruff, is focusing broadly on a health positioning in ads from Lowe . The brand "is really about stronger and more beautiful hair," said David Rubin, director-brand building for U.S. hair at Unilever. "This is a beauty brand. And the way that we get to stronger and more beautiful hair is from a scalp expertise," he said. In ads, the brand uses an analogy to tree health being based on healthy roots.

Mr. Rubin said 70 million Americans have scalp issues, dandruff being only one; itching and other skin diseases are among the others. Only half use anti-dandruff or other products to address those issues, he said.

While the Clear men's line is mostly anti-dandruff products, Mr. Rubin said, most of the products in the female line aren't specifically for dandruff -- reflecting that the condition is less of a problem in developed markets where hair-washing frequency is higher.

The Clear launch comes as Unilever -- behind Dove, Suave, Axe and Tresemmé -- makes a play to claim U.S. leadership in "daily hair care," which excludes hair color, a category in which Unilever doesn't compete. In the first quarter, P&G counted sales of $207 million to Unilever's $161 million, according to SymphonyIRI data from Deutsche Bank, though even before the Clear launch Unilever had narrowed the gap by $11 million from a year ago.

As Procter & Gamble's category-leading brand, Pantene, has struggled through three U.S. restages in recent years, Head & Shoulders, a billion-dollar global brand, has been a pillar in its hair-care lineup.

Head & Shoulders ads appear to secondarily target Unilever's Axe on the sex-appeal front. Ads from Saatchi & Saatchi for the men's product feature a fan swooning over Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer.

Clear , on the other hand, appears to be going after some of Pantene's historical position. Pantene's lead was built with ads in recent decades from WPP's Grey Global Group around the "healthy, beautiful hair that shines" position. In recent years, the positioning has focused more narrowly on "shine."

Hair care isn't the only area in which P&G is defending itself against new products from entrenched rivals. The Cincinnati marketer, facing growing pressure over results in the U.S., recently launched a Radiant line of superpremium products spanning its Always and Tampax brands in an effort to halt the momentum Kimberly-Clark's U by Kotex has brought to what had long been a struggling No. 2 brand.

On the feminine-care front, P&G isn't at risk of losing leadership, but has seen its lead slip against a once badly beaten foe. Kotex lowered its share gap with Always by 2.3 share and 8 points against Tampax between 2009 and 2011 (P&G last year still led in pads 50.5% to K-C's 18.9% and in tampons 46.3% to 16.3%).

While Kotex has gained ground with an irreverent tone in ads by Ogilvy & Mather, P&G is sticking with more conventional product-benefit appeals behind Radiant from Leo Burnett Co. The new products include improvements on the base brands in design and technology, such as resealable tampon wrappers.

"The Radiant collection was designed for the girl who notices the details in every aspect of her life," a P&G spokeswoman said. "She wants products designed for her to live life on her terms -- including feminine care."

That's the sort of earnest tone U by Kotex has poked fun at over the past two years. The base Kotex Natural Balance brand is poking even more fun. Comedian Heather McDonald earlier this month began soliciting videos on YouTube and the brand's Facebook page for Kotex about what consumers' periods are really like compared to how they're portrayed in advertising.

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