Battery ads run low

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A price promotion war cited by insiders as the category's fiercest ever is fast draining battery ad dollars, leaving the Energizer Bunny drumming more softly and longtime pitchman Michael Jordan retired by Rayovac.

Category ad spending fell 29% collectively to $54.4 million during the industry's critical fourth quarter from a year ago, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. Those cuts came despite well-publicized campaigns from Omnicom Group siblings BBDO Worldwide, New York, for Duracell and TBWA/Chiat Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., for Energizer.

The shift from media advertising to trade promotion runs counter to a vow last June by James Kilts, chairman-CEO of category leader Gillette Co., to do the opposite. A spokeswoman for Gillette's Duracell did not dispute that the brand has cut ad spending while increasing promotion. But she added that, company-wide, Gillette increased ad spending 17% last quarter to $137 million, while corporate ad spending as a percent of sales rose to 7.9% from 7.2% a year ago. She said Duracell has stepped up promotion in response to steep deals started in 1999 by its rivals.


In a conference call late last month, Rayovac Chairman-CEO David Jones blamed Duracell for a promotion frenzy he called the most intense he's ever seen-and for a $40 million decline in total ad outlays last year to $100 million. "That $40 million plus much more went into this promotional war. ... That's not something we are particularly proud of endorsing," he said.

Duracell led spending declines with a 38% cut to $16 million in measured media. As a result, the leader was outspent almost 2 to 1 by No. 2 Energizer, though the bunny also got a 31% haircut to $30.7 million. Distant No. 3 player and value brand Rayovac, which made the least noise with ads, actually increased fourth-quarter ad spending 33% to $7.7 million.

While hard to quantify, category price promotion is rising both in frequency and depth, said Andrew Shore, analyst with Deutsche Bank Securities. Last spring, he predicted Duracell would cut prices to gain share on its more-vulnerable, battery-dependent rivals. Gillette denied that and publicized a $100 million marketing effort, including the first ad support in four years for the Duracell Copper Top base brand.

But following fourth-quarter ad cuts, Duracell spent so much on price promotion last quarter-the industry's off season-that it lost $1 million on sales of $322 million. Despite a 6% gain in unit volume, dollar sales fell 3%.

Rayovac's Mr. Jones and other category players are girding for more ad-sapping promotions, though all three players promise new ads later this year. Energizer President Patrick Mannix said on a conference call the brand will break a new ad this month. Duracell, now off air, will have new TV ads this year, the spokeswoman said, though she wouldn't say when or how much.

Mr. Jones projected a slight rise in ad outlays from last year behind Rayovac Maximum Plus alkaline batteries, though Rayovac last quarter cut what little off-season media spending it does by $1.5 million to almost nothing. Despite shipping Maximum Plus to retailers last month, Rayovac won't likely start TV ads from Condon & Root, Barrington, Ill., until the fourth quarter, when 40% of batteries are sold, said John Daggett, director of creative services for Rayovac.

For the first time in seven years, Rayovac won't use Mr. Jordan, but Mr. Daggett said the move was motivated by Rayovac's desire to focus on the product and Mr. Jordan's previously stated interest in scaling back endorsements.

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