Unilever Takes Aim at Dandruff, as Well as P&G, in China

As More Chinese Fret About Flakes, Company Launches Clear Brand Into Category Ruled by Head & Shoulders

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Unilever is going head-to-head with Procter & Gamble in a category P&G created and virtually owns in China: anti-dandruff shampoo.
Joanna Wang, VP of Unilever's beauty-care business in China, says the challenge of the Clear brand is to appear young and sexy.
Joanna Wang, VP of Unilever's beauty-care business in China, says the challenge of the Clear brand is to appear young and sexy.

In the U.S., P&G has a 60% share of the anti-dandruff category that makes up about one-quarter of U.S. shampoo sales. Unilever's U.S. sales in that category don't even add up to $1 million.

It's different in Asia, where Unilever developed leading anti-dandruff shampoo Clear in Indonesia decades ago and sells the brand all over Southeast Asia and now in China.

Eager for tips
Young Chinese are eager for grooming tips from brands in personal-care categories such as shampoo and toothpaste. P&G markets Head & Shoulders as a premium-priced youth brand, even linking it with MTV for road shows. With Clear, Unilever will be going after the same consumers. As many as 70% of Chinese claim they have dandruff concerns, according to Unilever's internal research.

A former P&G exec, Joanna Wang, now VP of Unilever's beauty-care business in China, is in charge of launching Clear using brand guidelines established by an international team based in Bangkok, Thailand.

To convert longtime Head & Shoulders users, Unilever's Clear agency, Lowe Worldwide, created stylish ads featuring Taiwanese celebrity talk-show host Xiao S. Ads are running in outdoor media, fashion magazines, and online, where Cleared.com.cn has sections for blogging and sharing photos (media agency MindShare helped create the site). Developed around the tagline "Dandruff will not come back," ads promote the vitamins and minerals in Clear's formula that restore the scalp's natural balance. Unilever hopes the message will resonate with Chinese, who are firm believers in internal-healing techniques.

High hopes
But the brand is more aspirational than medicinal. A 200 ml bottle retails for nearly $2.60, about 40% higher than mass-market shampoo brands.

"Our bull's-eye core target is men and women from age 25 to early 30s, so the challenge is to make Clear young and sexy," Ms. Wang said. "The brand's DNA is very straightforward, to give consumers great confidence by eliminating dandruff. That will allow them to be more attractive and charming."

In a market with more than 2,000 shampoo brands, professional anti-dandruff products account for about 18% of total shampoo sales in China. Most of those sales go to Head & Shoulders, which has been on sale in China for nearly two decades.

Trying to change the market, Unilever is selling two versions of Clear: a unisex variant with white packaging aimed at women and couples, and a blue version for men. Ms. Wang says this is the first time any shampoo brand in China has been marketed specifically to men.

Gone unchallenged
"[It's] a breakthrough for the market," she said.

"Other hair-care brands have an anti-dandruff variant, but aren't professional products," said Dean Aragon, Unilever's Tokyo-based VP for hair care in North Asia. "That's why Head & Shoulders has had such a high market share in China, and until Clear came along, we've allowed it to remain unchallenged in that market."

Elsewhere in Asia, Unilever is relaunching Clear with more stylish creative and the same packaging used in China. The company is also introducing the brand in Eastern Europe, starting in Russia, and in South America.

But there are no plans to take Clear to North America and Western Europe, Mr. Aragon said. "In those markets, the company has picked different battlefronts."

An agency executive who handles P&G beauty brands in China said Clear's debut "is something P&G is watching very, very carefully."
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