Editorial: From crestfallen to Crest rising

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Procter & Gamble Co. is smart to invest in Crest for the line's most ambitious brand campaign in a generation. P&G will have the chance to redefine what's become a fuzzy brand.

P&G has worked hard to rebuild the franchise since the late `90s, when Colgate-Palmolive Co. swept past the crestfallen marketer to become the nation's toothpaste leader. Crest and Colgate now appear about even in U.S. toothpaste sales, and Crest looks to have an edge in overall U.S. oral-care sales when battery toothbrushes and whitening strips are added in.

The problem is that P&G brought Crest back to life by line extensioning it to death. On the Crest Web site, we counted 23 toothpastes, 17 toothbrushes and three whitening products. There's one more coming: Glide dental floss, which P&G bought and is bringing into the Crest family. Crest has more varieties (44) than we have teeth (32).

Crest, introduced in 1955, was a superior product with unforgettable advertising (Benton & Bowles' "Look, Ma! No cavities!"). For a generation, Crest was toothpaste. It did one thing, as promised.

Today, Crest offers a cure for every oral fixation-whitening, tartar, breath, cavities-except gingivitis, where Colgate Total has the patented solution. Each product-Crest Whitening Expressions Fresh Citrus Breeze toothpaste, Crest Massage Plus brush-no doubt has its defined target. The P&G machine churns them out, negotiating shelf space at Wal-Mart, printing coupons, running ads.

But something has been lost: The brand promise of Crest, encapsulated in the memorable tagline of a sustainable campaign. P&G vows to deliver such a campaign later this year. Global Marketing Officer Jim Stengel has shown a commitment to improve the creativity and lasting appeal of P&G advertising. P&G and Saatchi & Saatchi-which inherited Crest from D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles-must deliver great advertising. Crest needs to be a defining brand that gives consumers reason to buy the products behind the name.

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