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The first alkaline batteries were made in the 1950s in response to the great demand for batteries after the invention of the transistor. Alkaline batteries replaced the shorter-lived zinc carbon batteries in most portable, battery-powered devices.

In 1959, the Eveready Battery unit of Union Carbide introduced its alkaline product to consumers via. William Esty Co. and then rebranded the batteries under the Energizer name in 1980. The rival Duracell brand, made by the P.R. Mallory Co., was introduced in 1965 in a modest campaign by Needham, Harper & Steers.

Alkaline batteries made their TV-advertising debut in 1974, after Peter G. Viele, president of the Duracell Products division of P.R. Mallory Co., decided to thrust them into the public consciousness. In a TV spot created by Needham, Harper & Steers, a roomful of stuffed, battery-operated pink bunnies beat drums until only one remained drumming-the one powered by a "copper-topped" Duracell. The tagline, "No regular battery looks like it or lasts like it," pointed to Duracell's longer life compared with its competitors.

Not only did the battery have a long life, the pitch did too. The campaign lasted 10 years and enabled Duracell to take the lead in the alkaline battery segment of the market.

In 1986, Ralston Purina Co. acquired Eveready. Spots from William Esty featured actor Robert Conrad daring viewers to knock the battery off his shoulder and Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton symbolizing the battery's high energy. The spots did not resonate well with consumers, however; nor did a commercial featuring screaming Australian rugby player Jacko. The battery account was put up for review and DDB Needham (successor to Needham, Harper & Steers) emerged the victor.

Rebirth of the bunny

DDB Needham took a fresh approach with a familiar pink face: Duracell's old pink bunny. This time the bunny was less fluffy and sported Ray-Ban sunglasses. A commercial that premiered in fall 1988 showed the drum-banging Energizer Bunny barging into ads for fictional products.

DDB considered that a one-shot effort, but Eveready wanted to turn it into a full-blown campaign. Chiat/Day (later TBWA/Chiat/Day) replaced DDB after that first campaign in the fall of 1988, and in 1989, Chiat/Day started a series of memorable parody commercials for fake products such as Chug-a-Cherry soda and a TV show about lady cops called "H.I.P.S." All the ads ended with a sudden interruption by the bunny that "keeps going and going."

Duracell, meanwhile, came up with a new cast of characters. In the mid-1990s, a battery-operated, robotic-looking family, the Puttermans, arrived on TV screens in spots from Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. In one, the Puttermans—who all had Duracell copper-top batteries protruding from their backs—laughed during a family picnic when a relative without a Duracell ran out of power and fell over into a plate of spaghetti.

The No. 3 battery marketer in the U.S., Rayovac Corp., was less active in advertising, but in the mid-1990s emerged as a scrappy contender for its own market share. After Thomas Lee Co. acquired the company in 1997, Rayovac set out to reinvigorate its value message.

The pitch "Lasts as long as the other guys for less" was changed to "Maximum power, maximum value," and Rayovac signed basketball superstar Michael Jordan for the spots, which were created by Young & Rubicam.

In late 1996, Gillette Co. acquired Duracell in a $7 billion stock deal and in January 1998 fired Ogilvy, handing the estimated $90 million to BBDO Worldwide, which already worked with Gillette.

Premium offerings

Nearing the end of the decade, the focus of the battery marketers became new-product introductions. In 1998, Duracell launched its premium-priced Ultra battery, which promised to last 50% longer, for electronics that drain power quickly. The tab for the campaign from BBDO, New York, was $60 million.

Energizer Holdings Corp., spun off by Ralston Purina in 2000, introduced Energizer e2 with a $100 million marketing campaign from DDB Worldwide, which won the account for the new titanium-based superpremium battery after an agency review. Shortly thereafter, Duracell launched the third generation of its Ultra battery, dubbed "M3" for "more fuel, more efficiency, more power," via BBDO.

Meanwhile, Gillette filed suit against Ralston over the Energizer Bunny spots. With a share of a $2.6 million-plus market at stake, neither company was willing to turn the other cheek. In May 2000, a federal judge sided with Gillette and ruled that the Energizer Bunny could no longer continue to torch, crush and pummel rival batteries in TV, Internet and print ads.

In 2001 and 2002, both Energizer and Gillette began de-emphasizing their superpremium lines in favor of the base Energizer Max and Duracell Coppertop brands.

Following a creative shootout with sibling DDB in 2001, Omnicom Group’s TBWA Worldwide, Playa Del Rey, Calif., won the entire Energizer account. TBWA saved the bunny, albeit in a more obsure role, in the "Have You Got the Bunny Inside?" campaign.

The following year, Gillette pulled the plug on Omnicom’s BBDO in favor of independent Acme Idea Co., South Norwalk, Conn., which won the business with a spec creative pitch. Acme’s "Trusted Everywhere" campaign sidestepped the category’s long-running legal disputes by making an implied superiority claim based on Duracell’s leading market share. In 2003, Gillette cut list prices, did away with major free-goods promotions and poured more money into advertising, matching Energizer in media voice for the first time in several years. But the brand also surrendered some market share in the process to smaller, more aggressively promotional rivals, such as Rayovac and Panasonic.

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