Reckitt Benckiser preps U.S. ad blitz

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As its rivals struggle, household products giant Reckitt Benckiser is preparing a British invasion of U.S. home care categories-putting an estimated $60 million to $70 million in TV and print support behind a multi-brand new-product blitz for its Lysol, Electrasol, Glass Plus, Old English and Calgon Healing Garden brands.

The line and brand extensions, scheduled for this spring and summer, aim to boost the relatively minor U.S. standing of a U.K.-based company that's the largest household cleaner manufacturer globally. Among the new entries are:

Lysol Plus, the latest in a crowded fabric deodorizer category already occupied by Procter & Gamble Co.'s Febreze and Reckitt's own Resolve;

Electrasol 2-in-1 Power Ball, an automatic dish detergent-rinse aid combo co-branded with Reckitt's Jet-Dry and aimed at stemming the success of P&G's Cascade Complete line launched last year;

Calgon Healing Garden linen and room sprays, an aromatherapy extension that takes Calgon away from its personal care origins and into an air freshener category that includes Reckitt's Wizard and Airwick, S.C. Johnson & Son's Glade and Dial Corp.'s Renuzit. It may also face competition from Febreze, since P&G has applied for a trademark for a bed linen spray but has yet to introduce one;

Glass Plus Wipes, Reckitt's first new product effort behind the orphan brand spun off from S.C. Johnson's 1998 acquisition of DowBrands and a distant No. 2 to S.C. Johnson's Windex;

Old English Wipes, furniture polish wipes that mark the first major new product initiative in recent memory for the 105-year-old brand.

SPRING CLEANERS

Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, London, handles most of the brands. But Frierson, Mee & Partners, New York, handles Calgon, which paved the way for expansion into new categories with a $2 million print campaign that broke in November, eschewing products in favor of highlighting the brand's relaxation image.

The new Reckitt products begin shipping to retailers later this spring and summer, backed by ads and newspaper coupons breaking in late summer and early fall. They appear to be gaining widespread distribution, according to Rich Palesh, exec VP-General Manager of Leemis Marketing, a Chicago-based research company that tracks trade deals and couponing.

The wipes entries join a growing list of wipe extensions, which also include Playtex Products' launch of Woolite carpet-cleaning wipes, to be backed by $8 million in marketing support, according to retailers. That may be a stretch, though, considering Playtex Chairman-CEO Michael Gallagher has projected a relatively modest $8 million to $10 million in annual sales for the product.

Reckitt is dealing from a position of strength, having recently completed its restructuring following the 1999 merger of Reckitt & Colman and Benckiser. The company posted sales growth of 7% to $4.7 billion and earnings growth of 32% to $647 million for 2000 as rivals Clorox Co., Procter & Gamble Co. and Dial Corp. struggle to pick themselves up from a series of quarterly earnings disappointments.

"The timing couldn't be any better [for Reckitt]," said Banc of America Securities analyst Bill Steele. "They're being a little bit more aggressive because they're putting up some pretty potent numbers."

Reckitt could face tougher competition, however, from S.C. Johnson, a privately held competitor that needs not answer to Wall Street as it spends to defend its turf.

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