Colgate challenges Gillette dominance in electric brushes

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Oral-care companies are powering up their marketing efforts as demand for electric toothbrushes grows.

Colgate-Palmolive Co. will launch its first entry into the $229 million category in May. Category leader Gillette Co. plans new promotions and increased spending behind its Braun Oral-B Plaque Removers. Even a niche player that found early success with a kid's product has grander plans.

Colgate's Actibrush is a battery-powered toothbrush with a round head and soft bristles. It is packaged to be sold alongside Colgate's manual toothbrushes, and moderately priced to entice consumers to trade up. The handle and two brush heads will sell for $19.99, while refill packages will sell for $9.99.

Actibrush's May launch will be followed in June by a campaign from Y&R Advertising, New York. Efforts from various units of Y&R parent Young & Rubicam will include consumer advertising, direct mail, coupons and marketing materials for dental professionals.

Colgate's new product is an effort to leverage the brand's core competency in oral care, said William Steele, analyst with NationBank Securities. Powered toothbrushes are popular with dentists, and since Colgate markets a large volume of product via dentists' offices, the company saw an opening, he said.


Gillette is ready for the competition. It has developed a public relations effort for Braun Oral-B around a study published in March by The Journal of the American Dental Association that found 73% of dental professionals believe powered toothbrushes lead to better oral hygiene habits.

Gillette also will spend a total $19.5 million in 2000 to promote its Braun Oral-B powered toothbrushes, a 70% increase over 1999 spending. It will target consumers with quarterly in-store promotions from Lowe Lintas & Partners Worldwide, New York, and reach dental professionals with overwraps on issues of People distributed to dental offices.

An in-store promotion that breaks this month, tagged "Power up to a better clean," will offer Braun Oral-B's entry-level model for a suggested retail price of $19.99 to encourage trial. A promotion in August and September, "Power up to the better clean of 3-D," will feature the premium 3-D Plaque Remover model, retailing from $49.99 to $79.99.

Gillette has tagged Braun Oral-B as one of its core lines as part of a strategy to concentrate on key businesses and improve financial results. In February, the company hired J.P. Morgan & Co. to review a possible sale of the Braun unit, except for its dental-care and hair-removal products.

Braun Oral-B is by far the leader in the powered toothbrush segment, according to Information Resources Inc. The Braun Oral-B line garnered $107.5 million in sales for the 52 weeks ended Feb. 27, while Optiva Corp.'s Sonicare totaled $49.6 million and Teledyne's Water Pik line hit $22.2 million in sales.

Electric and battery-operated brushes and refill packs were a $228.5 million market in 1999, up 6.8% from 1998, according to ACNielsen.

"Every year, the category is growing . . . [because] dentists and hygienists support it," said Loren Krok, marketing director for Oralgiene USA.


Oralgiene introduced its first advertising in December for the 60-Second TimeMachine Power Toothbrush, designed for children 6 to 12-years-old. The brush features a clear plastic handle with flashing lights and visible gears.

Oralgiene, which handles advertising in-house, has expanded distribution from specialty and toy stores into retail outlets such as Bloomingdale's and Bed, Bath & Beyond, Ms. Krok said. The company also began shipping a version aimed at teens and young adults in March.

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