Unilever launches breakthrough contraceptive

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LONDON -- Unilever subsidiary Unipath on September 30 announced the global introduction of a contraceptive product that has been 15 years in secret development and that the company is hailing as a major brand launch.

"The biggest thing to happen to contraception since the 60s," as the U.K. national and women's press ads through Ogilvy & Mather describe it, Persona is the fruit of tens of millions of dollars investment. Its U.K. launch is backed by a $7.8m marketing campaign that, along with the ads, includes an Internet site, a free phone "careline", retailer point-of-sale and direct mailings to the medical profession.

Ogilvy & Mather, a Unilever roster agency, was appointed last year to create ads that would work internationally. The product roll-out will start with France, Germany and Italy in the second quarter of next year, eventually taking Persona to the rest of Europe, the U.S. and Australasia, and into 20 countries by 2000. Over 130 million women use contraception in these target markets and Unipath believes up to 25% are dissatisfied with their current choice.

"This is going to be a big Unilever brand," says Senior Brand Development Manager Susannah Day. In research among hundreds of women in the U.K. and Germany, 30% said they were likely to buy it. Leendert Staal, chairman of Unipath, says Persona will have "a major impact on Unipath."

The company's turnover is expected to top $156m this year. Persona works by measuring a woman's hormone levels via home urine tests and revealing the days in a month when she is least at risk of becoming pregnant. Reliability is claimed to be 95% - the same as condoms.The product costs $77.92 for the first month's kit which includes a monitor, then $15.52 each month thereafter. Currently it is only available through Boots stores nationwide, though the company is in discussions with the National Health Service over subsidies. Unipath aleady produces home pregnancy and ovulation tests.

Copyright October 1996, Crain Communications Inc.

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