Alberto-Culver Aiming for Noxzema Comeback

New Owner Likely to Increase Ad Spending, Close to Concluding Agency Review

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BATAVIA, Ohio ( -- Alberto-Culver Co. looks to add a heavy-hitting agency to its roster as it enters the final phase of a review for newly acquired Noxzema in preparation for a substantial increase in marketing support behind the long-neglected skin-care brand.
A search for a new agency is expected to conclude by year's end.
A search for a new agency is expected to conclude by year's end.

Vying for the account as finalists are independent Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore.; Interpublic Group of Cos.' Martin Agency, Richmond, Va.; and Omnicom Group's GSD&M Idea City, Austin, Texas, said Gina Boswell, president-global brands of Alberto-Culver. She expects the review to conclude by year's end.

Change of owners
The winner will succeed incumbent Leo Burnett Co., Chicago, which handled Noxzema for years under Procter & Gamble Co., from which Alberto-Culver purchased the license for the brand in the U.S., Canada and portions of Latin America on Oct. 1. P&G retained rights to operate Noxzema in shaving, deodorant and personal wash categories in Western Europe.

Alberto-Culver is looking beyond its existing creative agencies, Interpublic's Campbell-Mithun, Minneapolis, and Omnicom's Element 79, Chicago, Ms. Boswell said.

"We've got great agencies of record," she said. "We just wanted to deepen our roster to accommodate a broader range of needs."

Aegis Group's Carat handles media.

To be sure, Noxzema is attracting some substantial agency interest for a brand that got only $2 million in measured media support last year and a total of $69.6 million the prior five years, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Rumors of major spending
But Alberto-Culver clearly is looking to spend much more. Though Ms. Boswell declined to specify a budget, one person familiar with the deal said the company may spend as much as one year's sales on an initial marketing push.

Noxzema had $39.9 million in sales across numerous categories for the 52 weeks ended June 15, according to Information Resources Inc., but U.S. retail sales likely reach closer to $60 million in all channels, not counting other countries. That would peg annual sales out Alberto-Culver's door in the U.S. at more than $40 million.

"Obviously [Noxzema's] been unattended to for too long," said Ms. Boswell, who joined Alberto-Culver in February after a career that's seen stops at Avon Products and Estee Lauder. Clearly, she said, the brand is going to mean a lot more to Alberto-Culver, with annual sales of $1.4 billion, than to P&G, with annual sales of more than $85 billion.

"This is a great opportunity to work on this iconic brand," Ms. Boswell said. "We're really excited about restoring it to its glory and beyond."

But she said the company is still in the early stages of planning, only roughly 40 days after closing the deal.

Limited experience
While the Noxzema finalists have big names, they have relatively light experience in personal and beauty care.

Martin parted ways with Burt's Bees, now a Clorox Co. brand, after a brief run in 2007. GSD&M lost its last major personal-care account, Henkel's Dial, to sibling Energy BBDO, Chicago, in 2004. And Wieden & Kennedy's experience in the sector has come mainly in the past three years with P&G's Old Spice and more recent assignments for prestige fragrance brands and Graham Webb professional products.

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Contributing: Rupal Parekh, Jeremy Mullman
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