Suave: Ralph Blessing

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Value brand Suave hasn't always gotten much regard from retailers, competitors or even its corporate owner Unilever, which focused on more upscale offerings in recent years. But even before a faltering economy turned new attention on value, Suave was quietly growing at an average annual rate of 10% during the past 13 years.

Economic weakness this year has only made things better for Suave, whose haircare sales grew 22% over a year ago through July; market share topped 10% in June and July for the first time in the brand's history. Suave also became the leading body wash brand with a 10.7% share in July, according to Unilever's ACNielsen figures.

"Suave was very familiar to us [at Unilever's Home & Personal Care operations] in Chicago, but it was not very familiar within Unilever," says Ralph Blessing, 40, category director. "I think one of the big changes is that it's gone from an unknown brand to one of the top priorities."

Having worked on the Suave brand for two years, Mr. Blessing has helped manage a shift toward marketing the $600 million-plus U.S. business as a "master brand" rather than as separate categories. That gets more bang from its in-store promotions and advertising by WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, Chicago. Suave also has forged alliances with other value brands, such as a summer promotion with Carnival Cruise Lines. "We can do those things across the categories," Mr. Blessing says, "and the synergies make sense for a master brand."

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