UNILEVER JOINS THE BATTLE FOR HAND SANITIZER NICHE: BURGEONING SALES ENTICE RIVALS FOR PIONEERING PURELL

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Some of the world's biggest consumer products marketers are moving into the suddenly booming category of hand sanitizers.

Unilever's Suave brand is the latest, with a line of instant hand sanitizers backed by an estimated $8 million TV and print campaign from Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago.

The brand joins Dial, Lysol and Softsoap in being extended into the business within the past year.

Made of ethyl alcohol, plus fragrances and moisturizers, the products are designed to be squirted and rubbed onto the skin for instant disinfecting.

PURELL WAS FIRST

Gojo Industries essentially established the category in late 1996 with its launch of Purell. Now the marketer finds itself fighting back. Its weapon: a new TV and print campaign from Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago, that will break by December, with a likely increase in the current $8 million budget.

Gojo wouldn't specify the amount of the budget increase.

Hand sanitizers have been used in the foodservice and healthcare industries for years, and Gojo launched its retail product after workers in those industries kept writing to ask how they could get them for personal use, said Sandy Katz, VP-marketing.

With consumers eating more meals away from home, marketers have positioned hand sanitizers as a sort of home-handwashing replacement, particularly for kids.

SALES JUMPING

Purell rang up $12 million in retail sales in 1997, its first full year of distribution, according to Information Resources Inc. statistics cited by PaineWebber. The brand's sales already were up to $20.4 million for the 52 weeks ended Aug. 23, according to IRI.

The category doubled last year to $30 million, and is poised to more than double again this year. Sales were $35 million though the first half of '98.

Though Purell still commands a 45% share, most category growth this year has come from the launches last winter of Colgate-Palmolive Co.'s Softsoap and Dial Corp.'s Dial entries, which logged sales of $6.5 million and $6 million, respectively, through Aug. 23, IRI said. Reckitt & Colman's Lysol had sales of $4.2 million.

CHANGING BEHAVIOR

To build sales long-term, however, marketers must do more than sell product, said Wendy Ellis Gardner, VP-marketing of AcuPOLL Precision Research, a concept-testing company. "They have to change consumer behavior."

Ads for the products generally focus on the use of hand sanitizers in situations where hand washing is impossible, such as an ad for Dial antibacterial hand sanitizer from DDB Needham Worldwide, New York, that shows a mom having her daughter use the product after playing with a dog at a picnic.

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