Share battle: P&G lets Secret out with sexy serial ads

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Procter & Gamble Co. is drawing on a new tagline, risque plot and caffeinated concept to give its Secret brand a jolt in a supercharged antiperspirant-deodorant category.

In a new campaign reminiscent of Nestle's Taster's Choice coffee ads of the early `90s, the brand today breaks the first of three new spots in a serial TV effort from Bcom3 Group's Leo Burnett Co., Chicago, and director Joe Pytka. The 30-second ads feature 25-year Secret vignette husband-and-wife characters Jack and Shirley, in a new format with new twists. These include interloper Teddy, Shirley's old-flame-turned-nude-male-model, who joins the couple in letterbox-style "to be continued" serial cliffhangers. Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, created the Taster's Choice ads.

Also new is the tagline, "Keep it Secret," which elbows out, at least for now, Secret's long-running "Strong Enough for a Man But Made for a Woman." That selling line has even more history than Jack and Shirley, having debuted when former P&G Global Marketing Officer Bob Wehling was Secret brand manager in the 1960s.

"Strong Enough" was once limited to benefit-oriented campaigns, and may yet re-emerge, but won't, as it had in recent years, creep into Secret's softer-sell "equity" ads featuring the perpetually thirty-something couple Jack and Shirley, a P&G spokesman said. The new Jack and Shirley make perhaps the softest sell in brand history, with the Secret package and tagline making only brief appearances at the beginning and middle of ads, with the finales reserved for freeze-frame "to be continued" scenes.

teaser spots

The ads follow Shirley's decision to quit her job and return to art school, where she encounters former boyfriend Teddy as a nude model. The third spot, titled "Torso," shows Jack and Shirley at a gallery observing her rendering of Teddy, with the couple's heads discreetly, if not subtly, obscuring what lies below the torso. Jack asks "Who's Torso?" just before Teddy introduces himself as the model and ex-boyfriend, leaving an awkward silence and cliffhanger for a yet-unmade future installment.

The campaign "really just contemporizes [Secret advertising] and brings it more to the forefront of where women's lives are right now," said Burnett Chairman-Chief Creative Officer Cheryl Berman. She credited Mr. Pytka's storytelling ability and P&G executives for encouraging Burnett to push the creative boundary, as did P&G's President-Global Skincare Susan Arnold.

P&G faces a struggle making its deodorant opera an instant success. Competition in the category has grown fierce since rival Unilever, bent on capturing leadership over P&G in the U.S. that it already enjoys overseas, introduced Dove antiperspirant two years ago. Revlon is bringing its Almay cosmetics brand to antiperspirants this fall in another attack on Secret.

Sales of Secret, the leading brand in the $1.2 billion category, were flat at $161.9 million in the 52-weeks ended June 16, according to Information Resources, Inc. That meant a share gain against a category decline of 2.2% in figures that don't include Wal-Mart Stores, dollar or club channels.

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