Pimple-fighter returns to TV with slick ads

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SmithKline Beecham is turning to oxygen to breathe more life into its Oxy line of acne treatments.

In an estimated $8 million to $10 million TV, radio, print and online effort breaking today, the marketer wants today's savvy teen-agers to know pimples occur when pores are clogged and oxygen can't get in.

"They want some facts," said Steve Badenhop, president of agency Jordan McGrath Case & Partners/Euro RSCG, New York. "We need to distinguish the mechanism of action of the brand without making it a science class."

CARTOON CHARACTERS

In order to break from the classroom, Jordan McGrath joined with MTV Animation to devise TV spots featuring cartoonish characters in the style of some of MTV's animated hits, such as "Daria."

Spots feature an adult acne pundit named Chip Wansker who informs a somewhat uninterested teen-age female about how a lack of oxygen allows acne bacteria to reproduce. Caricatures of bacteria are shown moving about angrily inside the skin.

Tagline for the double-duty campaign promoting the Oxy brand, and specifically Oxy Pads, is "Think Oxy, think oxygen. Get it?"

The marketer is hoping the animated campaign will distinguish it from the stereotypical acne treatment ad images of pretty teens with clear faces.

Such a departure perhaps is more important now because of the entry into the anti-acne market of cosmetic marketers such as Unilever's Pond's and Andrew Jergens Co.'s Biore and traditionally adult brands, such as Johnson & Johnson's Neutrogena and Clean & Clear.

"It allows us to do something unique and different," Mr. Badenhop said. "A lot of the skincare market is cosmetic, and we wanted to stand out."

SmithKline's Oxy line includes its Oxy and Oxy 10 Balance, Oxy Pads, Maximum Strength Face Wash and Oxy Shower Gel.

Oxy-branded products accounted for 13% of the $287 million acne treatment market category with $38 million in sales for the 52 weeks ended Dec. 26, according to Information Resources Inc. Procter & Gamble Co.'s Clearasil line led the category with $72 million, followed by Johnson & Johnson's Neutrogena with $43 million.

In IRI's facial cleaner category, Pond's accounted for $72 million, while Biore had $70 million over the same period.

SPOTS BREAK HIATUS

The effort marks Oxy's first TV effort in more than a year. From the early 1970s to the mid-'90s, the brand was known largely for the deep, authoritative voice-over of Bill Bryden in its spots, which focused on a need to "oxycute" pimples.

But, in 1995, SmithKline decided to shift the brand from a tough eliminator of pimples that could leave dryness and redness behind more toward a healthy skin cleaner. (The company tinkered with the product's formulation as well.) Stern-voiced Mr. Bryden was shown the door with the emergence of the kinder, gentler Oxy.

"That was a very vociferous, in-your-face way to talk about the benefit of the product," Mr. Badenhop said. "We wanted to soften the attitude of it so there wasn't a sense that it was a drying or tough medicine."

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