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Procter & gamble co.'s Always feminine-hygiene brand had languished as No. 2 with flat sales in a flat category for several years, when things changed in May 1995.

Then, P&G launched the first of what would be five new products or upgrades over two years. The company also invested more heavily in advertising by D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York; measured ad spending jumped from $28.9 million in '95 to $51.5 million last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

In addition, there was a sampling program and a fifth-grade "Always Changing" education campaign.

P&G's market share surged from 29.1% for 1994 to 38% for the 52 weeks ending April 27, according to Information Resources Inc. Always wrested category leadership from rival Kimberly-Clark Corp. by early 1996, and its 15.5% sales increase in IRI's most recent 52-week period more than accounted for the 2.3% growth in the entire $1.1 billion category.

"The recent success of the Always business is evidence of the power of listening to the consumer," says Nancy Swanson, VP-worldwide strategic planning for P&G's feminine-hygiene business. The executive became general manager overseeing the company's U.S. feminine-protection business in 1994.

"It is this fundamental understanding of the needs of women that has led to the introduction of new and better products, as well as the creation of cutting-edge advertising that effectively communicates our product benefits," she adds.

Always appeals to the retail trade by having the fewest stock-keeping units in the category, according to a spokesman.

"By keeping our total number of SKUs in check," Ms. Swanson says, "we are helping to reduce consumer confusion and make the shelf more manageable and

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