P&G UNROLLS $50 MIL IN ADS FOR NEW CHARMIN TISSUES: CATEGORY LEADER OUT TO STAVE OFF INROADS MADE BY FAST-GROWING COMPETITORS

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Procter & Gamble Co. will back an upgrade of its Charmin and Charmin Ultra bath tissue with what the company is calling "the biggest marketing program in [the brand's] history."

The improved product, which P&G said will be five times stronger when wet than competing brands, is being shipped to retailers in May, with ads expected to break in June.

One retail executive said advertising will exceed $50 million, not counting substantial in-store and consumer promotion.

The P&G spokesman wouldn't comment on marketing or the campaign from D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York. It is not known if it would represent a change in creative approach. The current campaign from DMB&B, titled "Discovery," features children discovering the perfect combination of strength and softness unique to Charmin, the spokesman said.

P&G also is cutting prices to retailers 6% for Charmin effective March 1, though a spokesman said the move wasn't a rollback of a 6.5% price hike in January 1998.

USING NEW TECHNOLOGY

The company said new Charmin will be made using a lower-cost, proprietary technology that produces a 35% thicker, higher-performing product on the same size roll as current Charmin.

Charmin already leads the $3.7 billion bath tissue category with sales of $1.1 billion, up 3.3% for the 52 weeks ended Dec. 27, according to Information Resources Inc. But Charmin's growth trailed the category's 5.3% growth rate, and all major premium brands have gained ground on Charmin in the past year.

Fort James Corp.'s Quilted Northern, the No. 2 brand in the category, is up 7.8% to $527.6 million, and other players have been gaining even faster. Sales of Kimberly-Clark Corp.'s Kleenex Cottonelle were up 12% to $408 million on the strength of the company's $100 million rollout of improved product with "cushy ripples" last year.

Georgia-Pacific Co.'s Angel Soft brand also was up 12.7%, behind what competitors say has been heavy trade promotion.

The brand has been without advertising since late 1997, but new ads are expected

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