P&G heads into Hispanic-hair battle

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Procter & Gamble Co. is preparing to tangle with Unilever in the next hair-care battleground: Hispanic-targeted shampoos and conditioners.

The marketer is plotting a major boost to its fledgling U.S. Hispanic lineup in February with Pantene Anti-Sponge/Anti-Esponjado shampoo, conditioner and combing creme. It's also adding an Extra Straight/Extra Liso two-in-one shampoo and conditioner extension to its Extra Liso line introduced last year. The moves are aimed in part at preventing Unilever from bringing its Sunsilk brand north from Mexico, according to P&G documents reviewed by Advertising Age.


The "anti-sponge" products are similar to anti-frizz products already on the market, but specifically positioned for Hispanic women, 78% of whom name frizz as their top hair-care problem. Using such ingredients as guar and silicone, the Pantene line promises to eliminate frizz all day.

Besides targeting a fast-growing and lucrative market, the rollout's goal is to preempt Unilever from launching Sunsilk Anti-Sponge products. While those products aren't yet launching, P&G believes eventually they will hit the U.S., according to the documents.

Sunsilk, a global brand also known as Sedal in Latin America, long has been a focus of concern for P&G hair-care-marketing executives. Besides its strength in Latin America and Europe in shampoos, conditioners and styling aids, the brand also has been Unilever's vehicle for entering into hair colorants in parts of the world.

Sunsilk's U.S. cousin, Thermasilk, has struggled in recent years after a strong start in 1998, leading to industry speculation that it may be restaged as Sunsilk and styled primarily as a Hispanic brand. Thermasilk is not among a trio of hair-care brands Unilever has put on the market. (see story, P. 3)

Possibly catching wind of the Pantene rollout from retailers, Unilever filed a U.S. trademark application for Sunsilk Anti-Sponge on Sept. 15, which could create problems for Pantene if Unilever can enforce protection for the still-novel-to-the-U.S. "anti-sponge" designation. P&G has yet to file an application for Pantene Anti-Sponge.

A Unilever spokeswoman said the company routinely files U.S. trademark applications for foreign brands as it explores options for global expansion. A P&G spokeswoman declined to comment on the Anti-Sponge launch.

Major focus

WPP Group's Wing Latino, New York, will be lead creative on the Pantene launch, which includes Hispanic TV and print breaking in March, focused primarily on such markets as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Dallas. Publicis Groupe's Starcom MediaVest Group handles communications planning and media buying.

Though it lacks the specifically tailored brands of the African-American market, the Hispanic market has become a major focus for U.S. hair-care marketers. "Every hair-care brand skews Hispanic," said one industry executive, noting that not only are Hispanics the fastest-growing ethnic group, but they also use more hair-care products proportionally than other groups.

Some of the industry's biggest successes of recent years, such as Kao Brands' John Frieda Frizz-Ease and L'Oreal's Garnier Fructis, have been especially strong with Hispanic women.

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