Dove to launch hair care in U.S.

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The U.S. hair-care category is due for a European invasion in early 2003, expected to be led by Unilever, which retailers anticipate will expand its Dove brand into shampoo and conditioner.

A Unilever spokeswoman said the company has no plans to expand Dove hair-care products into the U.S. at this time and denied sales reps held talks with retailers on the launch. But several retail executives and competitors are anticipating the launch, and one retail executive reported last week being told by Unilever to expect Dove hair care early next year, backed by an estimated ad budget of more than $50 million.

likely candidate

Dove's global agency of record, WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, Chicago, is the likely candidate to handle advertising for the launch, to be managed by Unilever's Chicago offices.

Dove shampoo and conditioner already have had successful runs in European and Asian markets, Unilever Co-Chairman Antony Burgmans told an investor conference last month.

Retailers expect the Dove launch around the same time as the early 2003 $20 million launch of L'Oreal's Garnier Fructis in the U.S., following successful runs in Europe and Canada. Publicis Groupe's Fallon Worldwide, New York, which two weeks ago won L'Oreal business, would not comment on the exact nature of the assignment, and a L'Oreal spokeswoman would only confirm that it's for the Maybelline/Garnier business.

Dove shampoo/conditioner has become one of Unilever's key global priorities, with plans already in place to start relaunching the brand in 2004 in markets where it already has launched, even as the global rollout continues in 2003, Mr. Burgmans said.

For Dove, the shampoo/conditioner launch is the latest in an effort to turn what began in the 1950s as a U.S. bar-soap brand into a global personal-care "master brand." Dove has grown from a $200 million North American brand at the beginning of the 1990s to a $1.7 billion global brand, growing at a rate of 25% annually worldwide, Mr. Burgmans said.

Dove shampoo follows Dove deodorant/antiperspirant, which entered the U.S. in 2000.

hard fight

Dove and Fructis make the fight for survival of slower-moving brands harder in the already crowded hair-care category, said one retail executive. Not even category leader Procter & Gamble Co. is immune, the executive said, noting the new launches could knock P&G's struggling VS Sassoon off shelves.

P&G's key Pantene, Head and Shoulders and Herbal Essences brands have done well in the past year, but slippage of such smaller brands as VS and Physique have offset those gains. Still, P&G leads Unilever nearly two to one, with a 37% dollar share in shampoo and conditioner to Unilever's 18.6% for the 52 weeks ended March 24, according to Information Resources Inc., whose figures exclude Wal-Mart stores, dollar and club stores.

contributing: kate macarthur and lisa sanders

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