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Banana Boat is gunning its engines in the $561 million suncare market and could pick up more speed when the Environmental Protection Agency and National Weather Service introduce the National UV Index.

Only 50% of consumers know the Banana Boat name, compared with a 99% awareness level for market leader Schering-Plough Corp.'s Coppertone.

But the ultraviolet ray index, expected to be announced this month, should give a lift to the entire category, up 9% in 1993. And it could be a particular boon to Banana Boat, which this year is heavying up on radio promotions with messages like "It's a Banana Boat kind of day."

"Where the index exists-in Canada and other countries-suncare category sales have increased with more regular use of sunscreens," a Schering-Plough spokeswoman said.

EPA officials couldn't be reached for comment.

Schering-Plough intends to leverage its high awareness by tying directly into the UV index, a daily measurement of damaging UVA, UVB and other rays that this summer will become a regular weather report feature.

By July 4, the company hopes to run paid public service announcements, via Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, educating consumers about the index and sun protection. It will also run brand ads with an index hook. The budget wasn't disclosed, but last year Schering-Plough spent $8 million on suncare ads.

Banana Boat will spend $2 million on advertising in 1994, switching to an all-radio schedule from print, via Shelton, Leigh, Palmer.

In the $373 million mass market segment, the brand's sales rose 33.8% for the 52 weeks ended Feb. 27, according to Information Resources Inc.'s InfoScan, giving Banana Boat 9.9% of market. That compares with a 30%-plus share for Schering-Plough's Coppertone, Shade and Tropical Blend; 10.1% for Procter & Gamble Co.'s Bain de Soleil; and 9.4% for Tanning Research Labs' Hawaiian Tropic.

Banana Boat VP-Marketing Ken Meeker predicted that by the end of this summer, his brand will also eclipse Bain de Soleil. "The momentum is ours," he said.

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