Crest Is King: Brand Wrests No. 1 Spot From Colgate

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It took almost 10 years and $2 billion in ad spending, but Crest has grabbed toothpaste-category leadership from Colgate in the U.S.
Crest Pro-Health toothpaste helped to close the gap between Crest and Colgate.
Crest Pro-Health toothpaste helped to close the gap between Crest and Colgate.

Like any claims in hotly contested category-leadership wars, this one comes with caveats, unverifiable internal data and significant differences in interpretation. But, at least for the first quarter of 2007, Procter & Gamble Co.'s Crest beat Colgate-Palmolive's eponymous brand in market share in the U.S.

P&G likewise beat Colgate as the leading U.S. toothpaste marketer, encompassing minor brands such as P&G's Gleem, Oral-B and Zooth and Colgate's Tom's of Maine and Ultra Brite.

Last year's launch of Crest Pro-Health, which promises to address all seven major oral-care problems identified by dentists, closed most of the remaining gap in Information Resources Inc. data between Crest and Colgate. But it was actually the more low-tech Crest Nature's Expressions that pushed the brand over the top in the 13 weeks ended March 25.

Holding onto market share
For the quarter, Crest beat Colgate 35.1% to 33.5%, according to IRI, though for the 52 weeks ended April 22, Colgate still had the edge: 34.3% to 34% in the $1.2 billion category.

By P&G's accounting, with all-channel data from ACNielsen scanner data and consumer panels tracking Wal-Mart and club stores in a category well over $2 billion, P&G Chairman-CEO A.G. Lafley pegged his company's first-quarter lead as much bigger -- 38% to 32%. P&G declined to provide details on the data.

In a May 1 conference call, Mr. Lafley noted that in 1998, the first full year after Colgate introduced its gingivitis-fighting Total, "we had a 25-plus share [and] Colgate had 27-plus share in the U.S. ... Nine to 10 years later, all outlets, we have a 38 share -- almost to 38; they have about a 32 -- almost at 32."

Long hard road
Crest first edged out Colgate for U.S. share leadership in the 1960s after a brand manager named John Smale, who later would become CEO of P&G, got the American Dental Association seal of approval for Crest with fluoride. Crest lost share leadership again to Colgate when John Pepper was CEO in the late 1990s.

Getting leadership back wasn't easy or cheap. Crest has outspent Colgate by more than $1 billion on advertising the past nine years and by a $1.25 billion to $422 million margin from 2001 to 2006 under Mr. Lafley. Some of that advertising was for toothbrushes and whitening kits, but the bulk was for toothpaste.

Colgate is not conceding the leadership shift will last or even directly that it has taken place. "Colgate was the U.S.-toothpaste-market-share leader in 2006 and expects to maintain this leadership position for 2007," the company said.
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