Toothbrushes: Power struggle is on as battery brushes proliferate

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The toothbrush category has become a power struggle as marketers turn their attention to the battery-operated segment in a gold-rush-style frenzy.

Into a U.S. category that had been dominated by Gillette Co.'s Braun Oral-B brand, Colgate-Palmolive Co. launched last summer the Colgate Actibrush, helping set the stage for a host of new disposable battery-powered brushes.


Procter & Gamble Co. responded by purchasing the Dr. John's power toothbrush brand late last year and restyling the brand as the Crest Spinbrush. Priced under $6, the Spinbrush, which is disposable rather than using replacement batteries and heads, is less than a third the price of Actibrush.

Not to be outdone, Colgate is rolling out in November the similar, fully disposable Colgate Motion, priced under $5. Ads from WPP Group's Y&R Advertising, New York, are expected to break in December.

In 1998, Gillette had a 70% share of the global power toothbrush market, and Colgate had nothing, Colgate Chairman-CEO Reuben Mark noted earlier this September at a conference hosted by Prudential Securities. He said Colgate's share of that market had risen to 16% vs. 40% for Gillette in first-half 2001.

Gillette is not a passive observer, though. New Chairman-CEO James Kilts, in a June meeting with analysts, poked fun at Gillette's slowness at entering the disposable-battery segment, given that it markets Duracell batteries and Braun Oral-B.

By July, Gillette had shifted the global Oral-B ad account from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Gotham, New York, to Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide and was preparing to roll disposable-battery-powered brushes into Europe. While Gillette hasn't announced plans for a disposable model in the U.S., analysts expect one by early next year.

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