Special Report: Health & Beauty

NEW YORK Two years after it sent shockwaves through the broadcast networks and the ad community by gutting marketing bucks committed during the annual upfront negotiations, packaged goods giant Procter & Gamble finds itself among the major players now fueling growth in prime-time spending by health/beauty accounts.

After earlier declines, the picture last year got prettier for the category, which encompasses personal-care products like soap and shaving aids and over-the-counter drugs like laxatives and cold medicine. Health/beauty contributed $1.63 billion to prime time in 2006, up from $1.53 billion the year prior, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

On the horizon, look for a rash of new fragrances—appealing to both young male and female demos, with an emphasis on the floral—as well as blossoming new lipstick varieties to help drive prime-time business this year, advises Karen Grant, senior beauty analyst with Long Island-based market research firm NPD Group.

Despite all the bad news about dwindling network viewership and the range of media options from cable to the Web, for health/beauty marketers, “network TV continues to have such great reach, especially reach among the young,” Grant says. “When you have something important to say and you want to make sure your message is getting out there…[network] continues to be one of the best [media options].”

Those who follow the sector agree that, even as they funnel more dollars into alternative media like cable and Internet, health/beauty marketers must continue to secure their spots in prime time, especially on female-skewing hits like ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and Ugly Betty and CW’s Gilmore Girls—especially when they’re launching new products such as Olay’s new anti-aging line, Definity, and Revlon’s new haircare brand, Colorist, which was introduced during the Super Bowl with spots featuring Sheryl Crow via IPG’s Momentum.

P&G, whose brands include consumer lines such as Ivory, Secret and Pantene, dramatically beefed up its prime-time outlay last year, laying out $389.4 million, up 9.6 percent over 2005, and retaining its standing as the top spender in the category by far. This, after it previously gutted spending in product areas including shampoo, hair color and deodorant.

P&G’s CoverGirl, which last year invested $92 million on all ads, continues to bank on celebrities to sell products in prime time and beyond, this month signing movie star Drew Barrymore to be the face of an upcoming campaign, and even co-creative director on one TV spot.

P&G is not alone in cozying up to the broadcast nets. Last year, among the top 10 advertisers in the sector, only two players—No. 2 spender Johnson & Johnson, with major brands including Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, Neutrogena and Listerene, and No. 8 Bayer—-slashed their prime-time spend.

No. 3 spender L’Oréal, which encompasses consumer lines Maybelline and Garnier as well as luxury names like Lancôme and Ralph Lauren Fragrances, has also poured more bucks into prime, last year investing $145.3 million, up 11.1 percent versus 2005. Look for upcoming appeals to promote a health/beauty-oriented neutraceutical beverage from L’Oréal and partner Coca-Cola Co., expected to launch next year.

Also boosting its spend on prime is Unilever, which has invested heavily to push brands including Dove and Pond’s—pumping $122.8 million into network pockets last year, a 16 percent jump. Another big source of revenue for the nets has been Japan’s Kao Corp., whose brands include Biore. It upped its investment in prime last year 14 percent to $46.7 million. Also delivering dramatic increases in their prime-time outlay: MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings, which includes Revlon, boosting its spend 72.3 percent to $43.8 million.

While cosmetics and other women’s products dominate network business, guys are a growing focus of health/beauty marketers. “We’re seeing stronger sales coming out of men’s product lines, fragrances and skincare,” NPD’s Grant reports. P&G is attempting to breathe new life into the 70-year-old Old Spice brand, giving rivals like Unilever’s Axe a run for their money with a series of spots, via Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, featuring the tagline “Experience is everything.” And Coty Inc.’s Stetson tapped NFL star Tom Brady to become the face of the fragrance line in a series of TV and print ads via Laird + Partners, New York, set to launch this September, just in time for the new fall season.