Physique, being tested in Little Rock, Ark., and Wichita, Kan., is a 14-item line of shampoos, conditioners, hair sprays and gels selling at a premium price of about $7 to $8 per item.
The sleek silver packages feature a sigma symbol and ellipse shape; on packaging, the products are described as "an advanced line of haircare products" that simplify styling "by working on individual hair strands to ease combing, keep control of flyaways and make the styling process easier."
The brand name plays off the definition of physics, defined on the packaging as "the science of body in motion."
U.S. TURF CHALLENGE
The stakes for P&G potentially are huge. Haircare has been among P&G's fastest-growing global categories in recent years, but its shares in the U.S. have declined in the face of strong competition from Clairol's Herbal Essences and, more recently, Unilever's $82 million launch of heat-activated Thermasilk.
"P&G needs another Pantene," said Salomon Smith Barney analyst Holly Becker in a recent report, "and one may be on the way."
Physique's marketing campaign from Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, breaks this week and includes TV, print, sampling, and in-store and local-event promotion.
Ads with the tagline "Physique for phenomenal style" will feature models Mark Vanderloo and Esther Candace, and focus on the brand's combination of "science and style," a P&G spokeswoman said.
"Our consumer research found style-conscious people don't want to settle for haircare products that leave their hair stiff or sticky," said Lisa Napolione, director of Physique product development.
Physique incorporates two points P&G has used to position its Pantene brand in the past year -- a simultaneous appeal to men and women, and flexible-hold technology. That leaves the question of how Physique will set itself apart from P&G's top haircare brand.
"The product lines are really going after two different consumer needs," the spokeswoman said. Physique is aimed at "the styling-driven consumer" while Pantene targets consumers who just want "healthy, shiny hair."
But she acknowledges Physique's effect on sales of P&G's other haircare lines -- particularly Pantene and Vidal Sassoon -- will be among factors monitored in the test markets.
Pantene's flexible-hold technology has had strong appeal to consumers, said Tom Vierhile, president of Marketing Intelligence, a new-product research company, who added he doesn't see anything in the Physique packaging that differentiates the brand from dozens of others on the market.
"What they do with the advertising is really going to be key," Mr. Vierhile said.
U.S. PERFORMANCE SLOWING
In a recent report, Salomon Smith Barney's Ms. Becker characterized P&G's haircare business as "strong but slowing" in the U.S. According to her figures, the company's share of the $1.5 billion shampoo category slipped to 35.4% last year from 36.6% in 1996, and fell to 33.8% in the first quarter of 1998.
Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Clairol, meanwhile, has built its share from 4.1% in 1996 to 9.6% in the first quarter behind the strength of its Herbal Essences brand.
In the $855 million conditioner category, P&G's share slipped from 18.5% in 1996 to 16.6% in the first quarter of 1998.
It is unusual for first-quarter numbers to be down, since P&G generally loads much of its promotional effort into that quarter.
Physique had been among key P&G new-business projects at Wells BDDP, New York, before the marketer fired the now-shuttered shop in January. Two top staffers who worked on Physique at Wells moved on to Saatchi -- Keith Bunnell, exec VP-core group director, and Beverly Okada, exec VP-executive creative director -- to continue the project there.
The Physique launch comes as P&G jump starts its marketing, with as many as 100 new products on the way (AA, May 25). Responding to critics who said P&G had lost its edge in bringing new brands and categories to market, Chairman-CEO John Pepper has vowed to do just that.
3RD NEW BRAND TEST
This is the third new brand P&G has launched into test in the past six months, following launches of the Dryel home dry cleaning system and ThermaCare disposable heat pads.
In the same span, the company has rolled two brands from test to national distribution -- its Febreze fabric deodorizer and Olean fat replacer, an ingredient in some Frito-Lay and P&G fat-free products.
P&G also is expected to relaunch the Eagle Snacks brand it purchased in 1996 from Anheuser-Busch into a test market soon.
Contributing: Judann Pollack