New Spots for Antibacterial Soap Hype Germ Fear

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Be careful with this page, you don't know where it's been.

That's essentially the message Dial Corp. is hammering home in a new branding campaign for its antibacterial soaps that pushes consumers' cleanliness buttons enough to inspire obsessive-compulsive showering to rival that of Jack Nicholson

A toilet-slurping dog that licks its owner stars in one of the Dial spots.

in the film As Good as it Gets.

Two new spots from GSD&M, Austin, Texas, break today in the Omnicom Group shop's debut campaign for the brand since winning the $20 million to $25 million account in June 2001.

Under the theme "You're not as clean as you think," the spots unapologetically but humorously remind consumers how germ-ridden they really are. Media buys will run in prime-time network TV and cable primarily on sitcoms, as well as morning shows.

Thirsty mutt
The first 30-second execution opens with a thirsty mutt lapping up water from the family toilet, then running downstairs to greet its owner with excited licks to her face. It gets more personal in another spot featuring a sweaty man who wipes his armpits and nether region with a towel he finds outside the gym's sauna, then deposits it back on the hook where he found it. A second man exits the sauna and uses the same towel to wipe his dripping face.

While other brands have antibacterial items, Dial is the only brand with an all-antibacterial line. Problem was, consumers didn't think it mattered.

"In focus groups, people would all say they thought they were clean or clean enough," said Rich Tlapek, vice president of group creative director at GSD&M. "That left us in a difficult situation of how do we increase the relevance [of the antibacterial position] if people think they're already clean?"

$950 million bar soap category
In fact, bar soap and liquid hand soap sales have slipped about 3% while body washes are on the rise, according to Information Resources Inc. IRI figures show No. 2 Dial has a 16% share of the $950 million bar soap category, well behind the 25% share for Unilever's Dove. However, those figures omit Wal-Mart Stores, where Dial has significant sales.

Dial is also outspent by Dove. For the first nine months of 2001, Dial soap was supported with $11.5 million in measured media, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR, as compared to $29 million for Dove. Since half Dial's ad budget went toward testing the campaign, "we wanted to make a big impact," said Tom Gilmore, senior vice president and group creative director at GSD&M.

The effort replaces the brand's previous campaign, from Omnicom sibling DDB Worldwide, New York, themed "Doesn't that feel better?" that showed a little girl washing away the cares of the day with Dial. The strategy also plays off Dial's "Aren't you glad you use Dial?" tagline first begun in 1953.

Consumer paranoia
The current creative harks back to an old tradition of soap marketers tapping consumer paranoia. It's been decades since the bar soap category moved away from the hard-sell approach it first relied on in the 1930s, according to James B. Twitchell, an advertising professor and author of Twenty Ads That Shook the World: The Century's Most Groundbreaking Advertising.

In the 1930s soap was sold "to overcome your natural propensity to be a carrier of foulness," he said. "[Dial is] creating the discontent to then resolve it."

But will the spots turn people off? "We definitely don't want to be in the fear-mongering business," said Bill Puentes, director of marketing at Dial. "That's why we took a humorous approach."

"It's not an exaggerated sense of grossness, just stuff that really happens," said Mr. Tlapek. "Just think of where we could have gone."

Jack Neff contributed to this report.

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