Can Crest Find Success With New Whitestrips?

P&G Planning Huge Push for Pricey Upgrade Despite Weak Economy

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BATAVIA, Ohio ( -- Procter & Gamble Co. is betting consumers will fork out $45 amid a deep recession for a vastly improved way to whiten their teeth at home -- Crest Whitestrips Advanced Seal -- by convincing them the reasons they stopped using whitening products or never tried no longer apply.

Does it have teeth? Crest says product will stay on as you drink, talk, kiss.
Does it have teeth? Crest says product will stay on as you drink, talk, kiss.
On one hand, history is on P&G's side. It won a similar gambit during another recession, when the original Crest Whitestrips launched in 2000. But eight years and $1 billion in marketing spending later, success this time means winning back the millions who've tried the product and never repeated, and winning over some of the nearly 100 million who want to whiten their teeth but have never tried.

To do so, P&G plans to spread the love. It's touting Advanced Seal's four-layer design, which molds to and stays on teeth even when you're drinking, talking or kissing. In addition to the usual big-budget TV effort via Saatchi & Saatchi, New York (its closing effort, as the account is shifting to sibling Publicis), P&G is planning some steamy online makeout sessions and an extensive partnership that includes a product placement in next month's film "He's Just Not That Into You."

The company is also launching a 3-D website,, via Digitas. It's planned to go up Jan. 30, and visitors will be able to select mild or steamy kisses to watch. The surprise ending is that the couple are wearing Advanced Seal Whitestrips. Rather than distributing its own 3-D glasses, P&G hopes to capitalize on those in circulation from a spate of recent movies and SoBe's 3-D Super Bowl commercial.

P&G will tread on some other risky turf, as it positions Advanced Seal against far costlier dental services to get consumers to pony up for the new product in a recession -- justifying the $45 outlay by pitching it as a relative bargain to the $500 it costs to whiten teeth at the dentist.

Consumer skepticism
One of the biggest barriers to expansion of the category, once the hottest thing in package goods but stagnant in recent years, is the belief that the products don't work, said Sunny Jain, associate marketing director for Crest whitening at P&G.

"So we're making the claim that this product whitens comparably to products you find at the dentist," Mr. Jain said. He hastened to add that P&G is trying to make a point about efficacy, not take business away from dentists, who've been crucial to building the Crest brand for generations.

"The consumers willing to pay $500 have actually told us they wouldn't be interested in buying this product," he said, adding that comparable performance or not, Advanced Seal takes more than a week, compared to an hour or two at the dentist.

Hot 3-D kisses online are aimed at debunking another consumer objection: that at-home whitening is too time-consuming or disrupts routines. The site is meant to demonstrate you can do about anything you normally would while wearing improved Whitestrips. "It's more of a torture test that someone will be having a hot kiss with a strip on," Mr. Jain said.

The original Crest Whitestrips were also priced at about $45, though they've since come down to $19.99, with various premium flankers priced somewhere between that and Advanced Seal.

Like eight years ago, P&G has used extensive word-of-mouth in advance of this launch, including distribution of samples last summer through shopping-party program Shecky's Girls' Night Out and distribution late last year of 2,500 samples through Facebook, which has yielded hundreds of favorable comments.

All that aside, however, P&G has spent more than $1 billion on all forms of marketing, including lots of TV and print, for Whitestrips in the past eight years, he said, while competitors have spent another $200 million to $300 million. Yet only about 60 million of the 160 million Americans who are interested in whitening their teeth have bought products to do so, Mr. Jain said. And of those, only about 14 million are repeat users, accounting for about 20 million transactions annually, according to P&G research.

Winning about 10% of the 50 million or so lapsed users and 5% of the would-be whiteners on the sidelines could "explode the category," he said, adding 10 million to the existing base of repeat users. The category could use some fireworks, having plateaued at about $300 million in annual sales in all channels in recent years, Mr. Jain said.

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