Wipes, miniforms add to competetive hygiene field

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Through most of the 1990s, feminine products were one of the bright spots for global consumer products powerhouse Procter & Gamble Co.

P&G's Always brand, launched in 1983, overtook Kimberly-Clark Corp.'s Kotex and New Freedom brands for leadership in sanitary pads by the mid-1990s. And P&G took clear leadership of the overall feminine protection category with the 1997 acquisition of Tampax.

COMPETITORS GAIN GROUND

But as a new century opens, P&G finds itself in the unfamiliar position of playing defense as competitors Playtex Products Co., Johnson & Johnson and Kimberly-Clark Corp. gain ground.

Tampax has steadily lost share to Playtex since P&G acquired the brand, despite a new "Tampax Was There" ad campaign last year. Playtex has been particularly effective targeting teens with its all-natural, odor-absorbing tampons through TV and print ads that encourage youths to make the switch from pads.

P&G is out to reverse the decline in Tampax by upgrading its base Tampax product to appeal more to first-time users with a new, more comfortable and flushable applicator that allows for more comfortable insertion, according to a retail buyer.

Johnson & Johnson's ads touting "four wall protection" of its Stayfree pads brand have similarly helped the company gain ground on Always and Kotex.

Kimberly-Clark's shares have held relatively steady to off slightly the past two years following launch of its Safety Zone improvement for Kotex pads. But just holding steady hasn't been a bad feat as the company tries to minimize share loss in the process of merging its smaller New Freedom brand into Kotex.

BRANDS MERGED

Merging brands solves a problem that K-C rival P&G still faces in diapers, says Jim Ebel, president of CenterBrain, a positioning consultancy that has worked on Kotex. Kimberly-Clark faced an uphill battle against a leading brand as it attempted to support both a premium and value brand in the sanitary pad category, just as P&G does with Pampers and Luvs against K-C's Huggies in diapers, he says.

For P&G, the best defense appears to be offense, as the company looks for a boost from last spring's launch of Always feminine hygiene wipes and a new, more absorbent Clean & Dry version of Always pads.

This spring, the TV and print ads that backed the wipes showed P&G demonstrating a new edge. Rather than living-room testimonials for the category, the ads featured muscular, bare-chested men under a beach shower rather than the traditional women and girls discussing comfortable levels. The sexual content of magazines carrying the ads were a concern for media buyers handling the P&G business.

Launched in March, Always Wipes logged only about $2 million in sales through July 16, according to IRI.

P&G's pad sales were $485 million in the 52 weeks ended July 16, according to Information Resources Inc., down 1% from the $490 million recorded for the 52 weeks ended March 26, notes Information Resources Inc.

ENVIVE COMBINES FEATURES

Meanwhile, P&G in April began testing in Eau Claire, Wis., a new feminine hygiene brand, Envive miniforms, which combine some of the best features of pads and tampons. P&G is marketing Envive for use alone, as a supplement to pads during menstruation or as a hygiene product for use between periods.

To back both Always and Tampax, P&G this summer also rolled out BeingGirl.com, an online community for girls with product information, sampling, advice, interactive quizzes and message boards.

The Web site already has gotten attention -- some of it unwelcome. GOP vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney, a P&G director, came under fire from some conservatives at the Republican National Convention in August because of a BeingGirl sex quiz that allegedly presumed young teen girls are sexually active and didn't mention abstinence as an alternative, according to CNS News.com, a site sponsored by conservative media critic L. Brent Bozell III.

A revised quiz later mentioned abstinence as the only 100% effective method of birth control.

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