P&G back to basics with Crest

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Procter & Gamble Co., by our count, sells 39 variations of Crest toothpaste. Does it really need another? Yes, because it finally has a product that can outperform Colgate Total.

Crest sales leapfrogged Colgate in the early '60s after P&G won acceptance from the American Dental Association for Crest's ability to help prevent cavities. Crest stayed on top till right before Colgate-Palmolive Co. introduced gingivitis-fighting Total in 1998. Colgate's been No. 1 ever since.

P&G in the intervening years rolled out dozens of Crest variants, from Rejuvenating Effects Gel to Vivid White Night Moonlight Mint, but none lived up to Crest's original brand promise: a scientifically proven solution to a real dental problem.

Now, P&G finally has a toothpaste worthy of the family Crest. In August, it will introduce Crest Pro-Health Toothpaste, which will carry the ADA seal and have the ability to treat seven common oral-care problems (gingivitis, plaque, tooth decay, stains, sensitivity, tartar formation and bad breath).

P&G is the nation's biggest advertiser, but it's also by far the biggest R&D spender in package goods, pumping 33¢ into R&D for every dollar spent on ads. P&G invests whatever it takes to create top-performing products that can command a premium price. Pro-Health will sell for 50¢ above other Crest toothpastes.

It took a long time for Crest to one-up Colgate Total. But consumers will benefit, for P&G has built a better mousetrap. Competition is a good thing.

Colgate-Palmolive, of course, will fight back with marketing and promotion, and its labs presumably also are working on product improvements. Colgate-Palmolive, which gets 38% of sales from oral-care products, last year spent $246 million on R&D (21¢ per ad dollar).

P&G does have one marketing challenge of its own making: It has spent the past decade trotting out Crest variations with plenty of hype but no real therapeutic advancements. P&G now will spend $100 million on ads to prove that the latest Crest really is new and improved.
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