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One Procter & Gamble Co. marketing executive likened joining the Crest team a few years ago to boarding the Titanic.

Several promising P&G marketers on the brand already had run up against an iceberg called Colgate-Palmolive Co., whose flagship brand chipped away at Crest in the 1990s to secure leadership in toothpaste in the U.S. Some fled the company after the ordeal.

But that was before Michael Kehoe, 46, a mild-mannered, unassuming Canadian manager with a flair for marketing, took the helm. As VP, and most recently president-global oral care, he's led the strategy that turned Crest toothpaste, one of P&G's biggest wrecks, into a fast-growing billion-dollar-plus oral-care brand that encompasses high-price Crest Whitestrips and Night Effects whitening kits, Spinbrush power toothbrushes and, soon, dental floss.

By outflanking Colgate in whitening kits and power toothbrushes while clawing back share in toothpaste, Crest has shot past Colgate for overall U.S. oral-care leadership in the past year with sales of $706 million to Colgate's $637 million, according to Information Resources Inc.

Mr. Kehoe prefers credit go to a marketing team headed by Diane Dietz, marketing director for Crest toothpaste and brushes, and Ayman Ismail, marketing director for whitening kits and new products.

Ads by Publicis Groupe's D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, and later Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, have since helped stake Crest's claim to being more than toothpaste.

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