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In its biggest product launch ever, Colgate-Palmolive Co. has already spent about $100 million for Colgate Total, an antibacterial toothpaste it touts as a "technological breakthrough."

"To our knowledge, it's been the most successful toothpaste launch in the history of the toothpaste category," says Jack Haber, VP-general manager of oral care at Colgate-Palmolive.

"We expect that with success and demand so strong that the marketing expenditure this year could be about 20% higher than last," he adds.

Although Y&R Advertising, New York, has created a series of print, TV and outdoor ad campaigns for the toothpaste that carry the tag "the brushing that works between brushings," Mr. Haber says he believes word of mouth really helped build success for the brand.

Before the product was distributed at retail, Colgate sent about 30 million samples to dental practitioners nationwide to create demand from the bottom up.

"By the time Colgate Total was approved by the [Food & Drug Administration] in July 1997, the demand was already incredibly strong," he says.

With ingredients including fluoride and triclosan, Colgate Total provides long-lasting protection between brushings against plaque, tartar, cavities, gingivitis and bad breath, the company claims.

Colgate Total already has achieved a dollar share of more than 10% of the $1.5 billion category, says Mr. Haber, which has helped Colgate dethrone Procter & Gamble Co.'s Crest from the market-leader position for the first time since 1962.

In the 52 weeks ended Jan. 25, 1998, Colgate's corporate share was 24.9%, compared with P&G's 24.4%, according to Information Resources Inc.

However, competition will soon be increased as P&G plans to launch a toothpaste touting similar benefits, called Crest Azure.

Colgate plans to continue its traditional advertising into 1998, plus do more consumer sampling, more couponing and more online marketing. "At this point, Total has record high levels of trial and repeat purchase is strong," says Mr. Haber. "But a product like Total needs to be sampled, so that's a key focus for us."

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