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After years of touting protection against the sun, marketers in the $400 million-plus suncare category are once again glamorizing the tan-and promoting products that offer little or no sunburn defense.

The two leaders, Schering-Plough Corp. and Playtex Family Products, have introduced lines aimed at teens and sun worshippers who go for a burn on the way to a tan. Schering-Plough's Coppertone Gold is a replacement for Tropical Blend, while Playtex's Tan Express is a sub-brand under the Banana Boat umbrella.


Although their most heavily marketed-and best-selling-products are protective, the two appear to be hedging their bets with the new lines. Like other competitors, they're offering these largely unadvertised tanning oils and lotions so as not to lose sales to specialty brands, such as Australian Gold's product carrying that brand name.

The tanning products are drawing criticism from the American Academy of Dermatology and even from within the industry itself.

"We find this confuses the public and is counter to our messages to stay out of the sun and protect yourself from the sun," said an AAD spokeswoman. "It's of great concern to us."

Last year, tanning products grew at a faster clip than products with SPF 15-and-above protection, according to ACNielsen Corp., which tracked the respective growth rates at 15% and 12%, respectively. But zero-protection products were only 4% of the total business.

So far this year, however, the tanning items represent 6%.

Even teens, on paper at least, appear to be fairly sun aware. The May issue of Seventeen said that in a telephone survey of 500 teen respondents, 71% said they use an SPF 15 or higher product.


Less protective products, said Pfizer Skincare Category Director Doug Sweetbaum, are not a "long-term sustainable trend and not responsible to society."

Pfizer acquired Bain de Soleil from Procter & Gamble Co. last year, and the brand has undergone a major revamping that drops the deep, dark tan imagery of the past.

A new 30-second TV commercial from Kline Davis Mann, New York, touts the long-lasting protection of Bain de Soleil, as an animated sun says, "C'est la vie."

For a new oil-free and protective brand for teens called Mademoiselle, Pfizer will use network radio spots, with ad spending expected at the $4 million level, with another $3 million for promotion.


Mr. Sweetbaum said in 1998 the company will bring out Bain de Soleil orange gelees in SPF 8 and 15, as it tries to capitalize on the fondness consumers have for orange gelee SPF 4 because of its unique texture and scent.

Ken Meeker, VP-marketing of suncare for Playtex, defends products like Tan Express and its low SPFs for use by teens who otherwise might use nothing and for the consumer who goes on a three-day winter weekend in the sun for color.

"This is the [consumer] who gets drunk once a year. Is it smart? No. . . . But as a major marketer, we have to offer a broad spectrum of product for different types of consumers," he said.

He noted that his company offers protection under Banana Boat, as well as a new line called BioSun.

Grey Advertising, New York, handles creative and media placement for Banana Boat, which received about $2 million in ad support last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Radio is created in-house and placed by J. Brown/LMC Group, Stamford, Conn., a unit of Grey.

Playtex plans to increase ad spending 35% in 1997.


Schering-Plough's Cop-pertone and other suncare products are handled by Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmet-terer/Euro RSCG, New York. Last year, Coppertone was the only advertised suncare brand by Schering-Plough, according to CMR, with more than $7 million in advertising behind it.

The company's Shade and Tropical Blend-the forerunner to Coppertone Gold-were unsupported, according to CMR.

Playtex, which has targeted Schering-Plough as its main rival, now has a 15.1% market share compared to Schering-Plough's 29.6%, according to Information Resources Inc., for the 52 weeks ended March 30.

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