White fight for Crest, Colgate

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Procter & Gamble Co.'s Crest Whitestrips is returning fire in its whitening battle with Colgate-Palmolive Co., with new ads attacking the effectiveness of Colgate Simply White.

Two TV ads from Publicis Groupe's D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York, that broke Nov. 15 prompted Colgate to file a formal challenge with P&G that same day. Colgate's move could be a prelude to litigation before the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau or in court.

war of words

What got Colgate bristling is P&G's claim in a comparison ad that most of Colgate's Simply White gel washes off users' teeth in two minutes while Whitestrips keeps its active ingredient, peroxide, in contact with teeth for 30 minutes. "This statement is false and misleading," a Colgate spokeswoman said. "We are formally challenging it and demanded these inaccurate statements stop immediately."

"The advertising is truly informative and comparative at the same time," said Ayman Ismail, global marketing director for Whitestrips and new oral-care business ventures at P&G.

Mr. Ismail said P&G-sponsored research shows Whitestrips are five times as effective as Simply White, a claim that is not in the ads. The Colgate spokeswoman said, "Our research indicates there is no perceptible difference in whitening between the two products when [both] are used correctly."

Colgate says Simply White is outselling Whitestrips three to one and is now the national market leader. Even after a recent price cut, P&G's brand still sells for as much as twice Simply White's retail price of $13 to $15. But P&G's Mr. Ismail said business in Whitestrips' second year "is up 60% versus a year ago."

But moments of truth are nearing for both products, which are recommended for use every six months. Consumers who bought Whitestrips in summer when P&G upped spending to blunt Colgate's launch will be deciding whether to buy again in December. Simply White users, who began buying the product in September, will begin repeat decisions in March.

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