The assignment comes as the toothpaste brand tries to cope with the strong success of Colgate-Palmolive Co.'s Total.
Gotham created a TV spot for Mentadent, breaking this week, and two more may be in development.
There is some speculation the assignment is a prelude to a shift of the $50 million account, now handled by Ammirati Puris Lintas. Both Ammirati and Gotham are owned by Interpublic Group of Cos.
UNLIKELY TO MOVE
"It is possible, but unlikely, the account will move," said one Unilever executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Unilever companies have become a little more willing to use agencies outside of their normal stable, and if Ammirati ran into walls trying to come up with creative solutions for the brand, it makes sense to go outside."
Another executive familiar with both agencies said Gotham was asked to come up with a fresh creative approach for Mentadent.
Other executives with knowledge of the situation said Ammirati also is working on new spots for Mentadent, which could create a runoff against Gotham.
"The work will speak for itself," said one executive, noting that for now Gotham's role is seen as that of a consultant.
John Rice, Unilever exec VP, said Gotham's work has "no implications for [the] agency of record."
FENDING OFF TOTAL
Mentadent is said to have needed a new approach not just because the existing campaign had grown a bit stale, but also because of Total's onslaught.
Mentadent is a baking soda and peroxide toothpaste, while Total is formulated with triclosan, the only ingredient approved by the Food & Drug Administration to claim prevention of gum disease.
Total has only been fully national in the U.S. for the last two months, but it boosted Colgate back into the top spot in the category over Procter & Gamble Co. for the first time since 1962.
COLGATE LEADS BY 10%
According to ACNielsen Corp., for the four weeks ended Jan. 31, Total had a 14.5% share, giving Colgate a corporate share of 33.4%, compared to 23.6% for P&G.
Data from Information Resources Inc. for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 25 show Colgate's corporate share at 24.9% in the $1.5 billion category, compared to 24.4% for P&G. Colgate's sales were up 17.6% to $380.7 million, while P&G was down 7.9% to $373.3 million.
IRI puts Unilever toothpastes, including Mentadent, in third place with a 15.9% share on sales of $243.8 million, off 0.5%.