Editorial: Crest dresses up for women users

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Procter & Gamble Co. says it is changing, and it is. That's good, but not without risk. Latest example: Think P&G and you think "R&D." Its labs spew out product advancements and its marketers sell the heck out of them. But P&G's latest "new" toothpaste, Crest Rejuvenating Effects, is a product that even P&G concedes has no new breakthrough functional benefits. Success or failure rides almost entirely on its marketing proposition. Has the P&G world turned upside down?

Perhaps not. As Advertising Age reported last week, the team of three female marketing executives behind the product contends its uniqueness is in its positioning rather than in what it does. As super-premium European toothpaste imports are beginning to be sold at some cosmetic counters here, Crest Rejuvenating Effects will be the first mass-market brand with advertising, packaging, taste and color all meant to appeal specifically to women aged 30 to 44.

P&G invests heavily to get "new & improved" products. In the marketer's fiscal 2001, it spent $1.8 billion, or 4.5% of every dollar of P&G revenue, on research and development, vs. $3.2 billion, or 8.1% of revenue, for global advertising. Its R&D budget dwarfs that of rivals such as Clorox Co., Colgate-Palmolive Co. and Revlon, each of which last year invested less than 2% of sales in R&D.

Certainly, Crest has a hallowed history as a product that capitalized on its benefits claims. (Crest's health benefits were the first, for a dentifrice, to be formally certified by the American Dental Association, which helped establish the brand with consumers.)

Today's P&G is far more conversant with marketing products related to women and beauty than the P&G of 40 years ago. Clean teeth and fresh breath are part of the beauty "package." Crest Rejuvenating Effects may offer few real product advances, but tailoring this Crest sub-brand to make it part of a woman's beauty routine is clearly a marketing advance.

Chancy it may be, but P&G is smart to take the gamble.

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