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Perhaps Procter & Gamble Co.'s Comet might be better known as the "Comeback Cleanser."

The leading powder cleanser had fallen behind competitors in the $1.4 billion category until three years ago, when Comet Bathroom Cleaner spray was introduced. That was the first successful line extension since Comet was nationally introduced in 1956, and all Brand Manager Hank Flores, 33, needed to know.

Under his supervision, P&G started a number of rollouts in rapid succession. The marketer introduced Comet Liquid Gel with Bleach and Comet Limescale Remover in 1993; Comet Mildew Stain Remover and Comet Cleaner with Bleach in 1994 and, this year, Comet Heavy Duty Powder cleanser.

In all, the Comet family of cleaners in 1994 posted sales of $125.9 million, almost a 25% increase over 1993, according to Information Resources Inc.

Mr. Flores, recruited directly out of Harvard University's MBA program in 1990, says Comet last year regained market leadership for the first time in seven years, nudging Lysol out of the top spot. In all, Comet's total share is up 70% since 1991, rising from a 5.4% category share before the line extensions to 8.8%.

Pointing out that several early attempts to extend the Comet brand were unsuccessful, Mr. Flores notes that this time around P&G zeroed in on what consumers were looking for in household cleaners.

The team first discovered that consumers had come to believe Comet powder wasn't convenient.

As fewer hours are devoted to cleaning, they were demanding easy-to-use sprays and liquids. In fact, consumers now purchase almost half of all the cleaners they use in spray form.

"Consumers have different needs based on the type of cleaning surface and soil they're trying to clean," he says. "Through our research, we identified these different product needs ..... in a number of product forms-powder, liquid, spray or gel."

Advertising from agency Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising underscored that there now was a Comet product for specific cleaning needs. And P&G thinks Comet can cover every niche.

"I could think of nothing better than someday walking down the cleaner aisle in the supermarket and seeing only Comet products on the shelves," says Mr. Flores.

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