Wrigley shatters tradition

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Historic firsts seem almost a mandate of the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. under the aggressive management of William Wrigley Jr., and upcoming initiatives for Wrigley's Spearmint gum and new Eclipse Flash Strips are no exception.

Spearmint is getting a new product improvement and package update, the first in the brand's 109-year history, backed by TV and print breaking this week. Likewise, the kickoff this week of a fully integrated campaign for Eclipse Flash Strips-part of the $50 million earmarked for the new oral-care brand-marks Wrigley's first U.S. introduction of a non-chewing-gum product in all of its 111 years.

The tradition-breaking innovations are part of Mr. Wrigley's ambitious growth plans, the extent of which were unveiled last week when the company surprised analysts and industry observers by announcing it had bid $12.5 billion for leading confectioner Hershey Foods. Although the bid was rejected after the controlling Hershey Trust opted not to sell, Wrigley publicly stated its disappointment as well as its clear interest in pursuing similar strategic acquisitions in the near future.

That bold move is a clear indicator of new management's riskier approach, according to Prudential Securities analyst John McMillin. "Bill's father [previous CEO William Wrigley Sr.] wouldn't borrow a nickel, and now here he is looking to buy a company for $12 billion."

Wrigley's VP-consumer marketing Kathryn Olson said she came on board nearly a year ago as a result of Mr. Wrigley's "intriguing" plans for growth, both organic and through acquisition. Ms. Olson and her team, along with Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, Chicago, have already updated the staid Wrigley gum portfolio-first Big Red, then Winterfresh, Double Mint and others-with product revamps and uncharacteristically hip creative. Spearmint was one of the last holdouts.

Even though it's now one of the smallest Wrigley brands, with Information Resources Inc. data showing its sales down 5.4% to $21 million for the 52 weeks ended Aug. 11, Spearmint "presented the greatest challenge because of its iconic stature," Ms. Olson said. "We needed to make sure the package, positioning and product were done right."

The new product features the same Spearmint taste but with longer-lasting flavor. Its positioning has shifted from the smoking-alternative message last used by the brand in 1997 to a broader message-"Now, you won't want to chew on anything else"-imparted through humorous depictions of Spearmint as an alternative to chewing on shoes for a puppy and on people for a shark.

modern times

Wrigley's new Eclipse Flash Strips, which began shipping in July, likewise are intended to meet the needs of modern consumers, many of whom are looking for stronger breath-freshening flavors. In a play to compete against Pfizer's Listerine PocketPaks breath strips (a powerhouse $112 million brand in its first year), Wrigley will position its Flash Strips as a discreet, portable breath freshener for the free-thinking 18-to-35-year-old crowd. TV, outdoor and print from BBDO kicks off this week featuring actress Thora Birch and R&B singer Res.

The hip ingenues are intended to represent Flash Strips' ability to free people's attention for creative things, and the tagline asserts: "There's more on your mind beyond fresh breath." To that end, Wrigley will also partner with GenArt.com to award up to $60,000 in grants to young artists in the areas of visual arts, fashion, film and DJ'ing, and will use Dallas-based performance artists the Art Guys to sample Flash Strips creatively in 10 top markets beginning in October.

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