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Procter & Gamble Co. has launched a new version of its Dawn dishwashing liquid and is testing a tablet form of Cascade automatic dishwasher detergent in an effort to overcome gains by competitors in the categories it traditionally has dominated.

P&G is testing Cascade Power Tablets in Colorado, Wyoming and parts of Nebraska and South Dakota. TV commercials broke late last month from Saatchi & Saatchi, New York; they continue the brand's long-running "Mom knows best" campaign and compare the product to an unnamed competitor.

Benckiser's Electrasol Tabs, launched last year and backed by $12 million to $16 million in advertising from Margeotes/Fertitta & Partners, New York, have helped Electrasol build its share of the $580 million category to 15.5% in the first quarter of this year, from 9.7% in the third quarter of 1997, just prior to the launch, according to Information Resources Inc. figures.


Category-leading Cascade has held its own amid Electrasol's surge, maintaining a share of around 45%. But P&G's share has been eroding slightly since topping out at 46.8% in 1994, according to Salomon Smith Barney.

In light-duty dishwashing liquids, where P&G faces a similar challenge from a resurgent Colgate-Palmolive Co., the marketer is introducing nationally Dawn Special Care, a version of its grease-fighting brand designed to go after grease without drying out oils on hands.

Ads with the tagline "Tough on grease, easy on hands" broke in late April, from D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York.

Colgate has captured a 3% chunk of the $777 million category since last August with its Palmolive for Pots & Pans. Long positioned as gentle on hands, Palmolive went after Dawn's grease-fighting positioning with the line extension.

Overall, the Palmolive brand is No. 2 to Dawn, and was up 10.1% in sales for the 52 weeks ended March 29, to $201.4 million, according to IRI. Colgate's Ajax brand, which rolled out an antibacterial version last year, grew 32.7% to $72.7 million.

Though Dawn has been relatively strong, with sales up 5.6% in the period, P&G's overall category share has been stagnant in recent years, primarily due to its Ivory brand.

For its part, Colgate is seeking to continue the momentum for Pots & Pans with a new TV commercial from Y&R Advertising, New York, that broke last month focusing on how clean the soap makes cooking utensils.

"These categories are essentially flat, and the only way to increase operating profits . . . is to maintain and expand share points," said Burt Flickinger, consultant with Reach Marketing. "P&G is not going to give up any share points easily to [Benckiser] or Colgate."


The biggest loser in both dishwashing categories has been Unilever, whose Sunlight brand has been passed by Electrasol as the No. 2 automatic dishwashing brand for the past two quarters.

In light-duty liquids, the combined share of Unilever's Sunlight and Dove brands has fallen from 16.3% in 1994 to 11% in the first quarter of 1998, according to IRI figures.

Sunlight, Unilever's leading brand in both categories, was restaged with new packaging last year, but gets little ad support beyond free-standing inserts in newspapers and couponing.

That lack of ad support, Mr. Flickinger said, combined with the marketer's current U.S. reorganization, has left Unilever at least temporarily vulnerable in the categories.

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