P&G shampoo shakeup: Pert goes on block, Physique is discontinued

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Procter & Gamble Co. is shopping its once high-flying Pert shampoo-conditioner, discontinuing 6-year-old Physique and restaging Herbal Essences to halt a tailspin in the ultra-competitive hair-care business.

Pert and Physique will become the fourth and fifth hair-care brands P&G has shed in three years following the discontinuation of Daily Defense and Daily Renewal earlier this year and that of Vidal Sassoon in North America in early 2003. P&G rival Unilever is simultaneously trying to sell three hair-care brands of its own-Finesse, Aqua Net and Salon Selectives.

It's not clear that hair care really is that much more competitive, but marketers clearly are losing patience faster, said Bob Grayson, principal in the consulting firm Grayson Associates. The Unilever alum joked that managing a failing brand was once a path to promotion because it meant appearing frequently before management committees to present rescue plans. Today, when every marketer wants to be No. 1 or 2, struggling brands get little time for redemption, he said.

Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett Co., Chicago, handled Pert, while sibling Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, handled Physique. Publicis' Starcom MediaVest Group handles planning and buying.

Pert was part of a 2002 strategy, along with Daily Defense and Renewal, to transform struggling premium brands into value brands to counter Unilever's Suave. P&G's new strategy, according to an executive familiar with the matter, is to concentrate on its four largest, most successful brands-Pantene, Head and Shoulders, Herbal Essences and Aussie. P&G also retains a fifth U.S. brand, Infusium.

Herbal Essences, too, is struggling and will get a restage in early 2006. Publicis' Kaplan Thaler Group, New York, which rescued the brand from a near-death experience more than a decade ago with its now-discarded "Totally Organic" campaign, is being called on to save it again under P&G.

P&G declined to comment on the moves, which come even though the company appears to have turned a corner in U.S. hair care. P&G has lost market share following its 2001 acquisition of Clairol from Bristol-Myers Squibb and in the wake of 2003 mega-launches by L'Oreal's Garnier Fructis and Unilever's Dove.

Gaining share

Largely on the strength of Pantene and Head & Shoulders, however, P&G has gained share in shampoo and conditioner for the past three months. For the four weeks ended Oct. 2, P&G simultaneously gained in shampoo, conditioner and colorants for the first time since acquiring Clairol, according to Information Resources Inc. data reported by Deutsche Bank.

Pert, which could be sold as soon as this week, according to people familiar with the matter, made its mark in 1985 as P&G's first shampoo-conditioner combo, but lost ground as virtually every other hair-care brand offered similar products. It had sales of $35 million in the 52 weeks ended Oct. 2, according to IRI.

Though Physique, like Pert, was once a $100 million brand, it had only $6.3 million in sales for the period. In fact, P&G spent more than that on advertising for Physique, $6.7 million in measured media, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

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