P&G'S SECRET: NEW EXTENSION REPLACES ULTRA: MARKETER HOPES NEW FORMULA TURNS PLATINUM INTO PRODUCT GOLD

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Procter & Gamble Co. this spring will roll out a line extension of Secret that it will tout as the strongest non-prescription deodorant protection on the market.

Secret Platinum Protection debuts in May and will replace P&G's 5-year-old Secret Ultra Dry.

Secret's agency, Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, will handle the launch campaign. P&G wouldn't disclose the budget, but it spent $22 million on Secret and its extensions during the first 11 months of 1998; about $10 million was dedicated to Secret Ultra Dry alone, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

SLUGGISH CATEGORY GROWTH

Observers see the launch as a bid by P&G to retain leadership in a slow-moving category. Total dollar sales of deodorants grew only 5.3% in 1998 to $1.59 billion, according to Information Resources Inc. That's a sluggish pace compared with some other personal-care categories.

Deodorants are symptomatic of the whole household products field, said William Steele, analyst with consultancy Buckingham Research. The category has strong competition among many brands with limited distinctions between one another, and marketers need frequent innovation just to maintain market share and avoid price competition.

"You can't just keep product on the shelf and expect to gain market share," Mr. Steele said. "It's easy to lose market share in a stagnant category. If you don't innovate, you lose."

Secret is the top deodorant brand in the U.S., according to IRI data. For the 52 weeks ended Dec. 27, Secret and its extensions -- Sheer Dry and Ultra Dry -- held 14.6% of the category. Gillette Co.'s Right Guard was second, with a 9.9% share, followed by Colgate-Palmolive Co.'s Mennen with 9%, Unilever's Degree with 8.2% and P&G's Sure with 6.8%.

A new formula primes retailers to promote the product in their store displays and fliers, and encourages sampling by shoppers who otherwise have no incentive to switch brands, Mr. Steele added.

"There's a great deal of inertia in the consumer purchasing pattern," he said. "You have to shake the consumer by the shoulders via promotions and advertising

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