FUTURE GETS BRIGHTER

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At-home tooth whiteners have been the fastest-growing category in package goods for two years. But it's not all smiles in the oral-care aisle.

The rivalry between Procter & Gamble Co.'s Crest and Colgate-Palmolive Co.'s flagship brand has focused most keenly on whiteners. Leadership of the category is up for grabs, and bragging rights as No. 1 overall U.S. oral-care brand hinge on the results.

Crest Whitestrips launched nationally in May 2001 and for more than a year practically owned the category. But Colgate Simply White became an instant hit when launched last September priced at under $14, less than half the price of Whitestrips.

The Colgate brand quickly gained volume leadership, but P&G fired back in November by slashing prices to under $25 and unleashing a biting attack ad claiming Whitestrips works five times better. The strategy helped Whitestrips' volume and dollar shares rebound and slowed Simply White's advance.

Recent launches of Crest Night Effects and Colgate Simply White Night bedtime whiteners-both priced under $15-have produced a new wave of comparison ads.

LAUNCH TENSION

So intense is the battle that every week counts. Crest Night Effects, originally set to hit stores in March, was delayed until early May. Colgate Simply White Night hit stores six weeks earlier. Yet Crest Night Effects broke ads in April, ahead of Simply White Night's campaign from WPP Group's Y&R Advertising, New York.

Whiteners are part of a growing wave of at-home products, says Valerie Skala, VP-analytic product management at Information Resources Inc. These items replace professional services and cater to baby boomers. With the 55-64 age group to grow at a 5% annual clip the next 10 years, boomers will attract heavy marketing attention.

Further crowding the field, Den-Mat Corp.'s Rembrandt in March launched a brush-on product for twice daily brush-on use.