Suave to fortify weak link

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Playing off successes in hair care and body washes, Unilever's Suave master brand is looking to strengthen its weakest link, which is also one of personal care's most hotly contested categories-antiperspirants and deodorants.

Suave will restage the line next year with new packaging and new advertising from WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, as the focal point of a combined $100 million marketing push for the brand. Suave's repackaged lineup begins shipping to retailers in December, with ads expected to break in late spring. The campaign's main vehicle will be magazines, with $3 million earmarked for Hispanic advertising and promotion alone.

Sales in hair care, the strongest category for the $600 million value brand, have grown more than 20% so far this year, according to Unilever. But Unilever de-emphasized Suave antiperspirant/deodorant in recent years as it concentrated on launching Dove into the category, said Ralph Blessing, Suave category director.

"Our packaging on the old Suave line kind of looked more and more like a poor man's Secret," Mr. Blessing said, referring to competitor Procter & Gamble Co.'s brand, which still leads the women's segment of deodorants in the U.S., despite major inroads by Dove, launched in 2000.

Replacing the pale blue reminiscent of Secret's packaging, the new Suave antiperspirant includes a range of products, some packaged in a darker blue meant to connote performance and some in a brighter shade. Suave Silky Smooth will use white packaging closely resembling sibling brand Dove, and offering a similar skin-care benefit. A restaged Suave Naturals line comes in aromatherapy scents for consumers who want the same scents in deodorants as in shampoos and body washes.

Key to Suave's underarm strategy is winning over hair-care consumers for antiperspirants and deodorants. Household penetration for Suave hair care tops 50%, but only 23% of the hair-care consumers have bought the deodorant, Mr. Blessing said.

He'll try a number of tactics to get Suave consumers to cross over, including direct mail aimed at Suave hair-are consumers, multi-packs, on-pack coupons and cross-category retail displays, for which Suave has installed specialty display units in some retail accounts.

"Advertising next year will have a master brand feel to it," Mr. Blessing said. Besides product-specific ads, others will highlight multiple products or the entire range. He did not specify how much of the budget was to go to media overall, but Suave is spending about $20 million in 2001 and he said: "As the brand grows, we are continuing to invest more."

Antiperspirant/deodorant plays an important role for the Suave brand, he said, because it's "the most performance-oriented category that we're in right now. If you can make antiperspirants work well, it really sends the message that Suave is not just about beauty or fluffy stuff, it's also about efficacy categories. And that potentially can open the door to other types of categories."

Suave's demographic strengths really lie more in the size of a family than its income. Households making more than $100,000 are only about 7% less likely than average to be Suave consumers. Far from being budget-seeking pariahs scorned by margin-hungry retailers, Suave consumers spend and shop more than average because of their larger family sizes and are also big buyers of higher-margin items such as school supplies and breakfast cereals.

"I think a lot of Unilever people were surprised when we showed the demographics of the brand were not low-income consumers," Mr. Blessing said. "We do not want to be a low-price brand."

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