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Conservative Procter & Gamble Co. has a surprising secret: It has an eye for teen-age girls.

With its stable of such household products as Tide laundry detergent and Bounty paper towels, P&G has long been associated with homemakers and soap operas. But P&G's growing personal-care business, the bulk of which it acquired or developed over the last two decades, has tied its fortunes increasingly to teen girls. Teens have become entry-level or core consumers for such P&G brands as Cover Girl, Always, Tampax and Pringles.

Nowhere within P&G do teens play a bigger role than for Cover Girl. The cosmetics brand has won P&G top-10 status-along with such teen icons as Nike and Abercrombie & Fitch-in Teenage Research Unlimited's annual rankings of the "coolest" brands among young women.

An "American Toiletries & Cosmetics 2001 Diary Study" showed 32% of girls ages 11 to 16 and 43% of females ages 17 to 24 use Cover Girl weekly, both more than double the brand's overall dollar market share of 15.1% in the $2.8 billion 2001 cosmetics business, according to Information Resources Inc.

Cover Girl gained share on all cosmetics competitors last year, according to IRI. Its overall sales increased 3.3%, well ahead of 0.7% category growth. That success owes largely to such new products as CG Smoothers foundation and Outlast lip color that have been particularly popular with teens, says Anne Martin, manager-global cosmetics marketing for P&G.

Ms. Martin credits a combination of teen-oriented products and marketing for the brand's success. Seasonal theme lines include an Enchanted You prom collection. On the CoverGirl.com Web site, teens can enter information about their skin color and other preferences to receive free samples, she says.

strong web aspect

While P&G trails L'Oreal's Maybelline by 1.4 share points, according to IRI, CoverGirl.com led Maybelline.com 261,000-211,000 in unique monthly U.S. visitors during the fourth quarter, according to ComScore Network's Netscore.

"The current generation of teens tends to be very tech-savvy, and the Internet is where they go for a lot of their information," Ms. Martin says. CoverGirl.com advertises heavily on teen portal Alloy.com and also offers e-mail newsletters to teens.

Cover Girl's media plan, aimed at females 12 and up, is heavy on teen magazines. In fact, Ms. Martin says Cover Girl has been the largest advertiser in teen magazines for several years. Grey Global Group's Ericsson-Fina, New York, handles. Cover Girl spreads its media buy to also reach the 50% of brand consumers who are over 35, but, reflecting teens' importance to the brand's long-term health, integrates programs aimed primarily at teens.

Such efforts include last year's 30-mall "Cover Girl Live Zone" tour in partnership with Alloy, via Omnicom Group's USM&P, Los Angeles. The tour included modeling contests, fashion shows and cosmetics testing bars. It received spot radio ad support. "A girl hears about [the mall event] on the radio and tells 10 of her friends," Ms. Martin explains.

Getting them there produces results: P&G research shows brand purchase intent ratings increased 70% among those attending the mall events.

No other P&G brand has Cover Girl's teen cachet. As a researcher for TRU puts it: "No feminine hygiene brand is ever going to make the coolest brands list." But P&G works to help spread Cover Girl's aura to sibling brands where teen loyalty is crucial, including Always, Tampax, Secret and Noxema, through retail and other promotions.

Toejam community

In Southern California, P&G is testing Toejam (an acronym for Teens Openly Expressing Just About Me), an on- and offline community for teen girls sponsored by Cover Girl, Pantene, Tampax and other P&G brands. Toejam solicits essays and organizes offline events and venues, including mall events and a Toejam Changing Room store at the Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park in Los Angeles. The Changing Room sells Toejam merchandise and teen-oriented fashions. Barefoot Advertising, Cincinnati, helped create the Toejam concept and handles advertising for it. Toejam, alone among P&G teen-targeted brands, responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Toejam invited girls to submit essays about their feelings.

P&G also is looking to develop teen expertise for its own brands and non-competing marketers via Tremor.com, an online community that has recruited a panel of thousands of "teen trend leaders" to aid product development and viral marketing efforts. Tremor last year ran a pilot program with AOL Time Warner's WB network in which teen panelists reviewed a script for "Dawson's Creek" before the show aired.

Many other P&G brands have their own teen efforts, such asBeingGirl.com, a Web site that promotes Always and Tampax, and Always Changing, a fifth-grade "puberty education" program. "This is an extremely strong brand-loyalty category," a spokeswoman says, "probably more so than any other category."

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