Pantene Goes Natural with Nature Fusion

Can a brand as scientific as Pantene also be natural? Procter & Gamble claims it can. The packaged goods giant has launched a new Pantene hair care collection called Nature Fusion, and a campaign that touts the collection’s naturally derived nourishing properties.

Nature Fusion, which hits shelves this month, taps into the natural trend while leveraging the brand’s scientific claims. Ads breaking this week highlight the brand’s promise of delivering “softer, shinier and stronger hair.”

One TV spot, via Grey, New York, opens with Top Chef host and former model Padma Lakshmi asking the question: “Think only a salon brand can unlock nature’s power? Well I’ve discovered something new.” The ad then shows a cassia flower engulfed in a honey-golden capsule, representing Pantene merging with nature.

“We think that consumers who enjoy natural ingredients also deserve high quality performance, so we’re thrilled to be able to offer women a hair care collection that actually does what it promises,” Craig Bahner, vp and general manager of P&G North American hair care, said in a statement.

Nature Fusion comes in two varieties: Moisture Balance shampoos and conditioners that are made with ingredients such as cassia, ginger and aloe vera extracts; and Smooth Vitality, which includes bamboo and grapeseed extracts. Both retail for $3.99. A leave-in Fusion Smoothing Crème is also part of the collection and sells for $5.99.

The new collection is P&G’s latest attempt to reinvigorate sales of its slowing beauty brand. IRI data, ending the week of December 28, shows Pantene sales dropped 11.82 percent to $217 million, compared to the year-ago period. Conditioner sales, likewise, fell 13.76 percent to $157 million. Both the shampoo and conditioner markets are growing slowly, with shampoo sales down 2.30 percent, and a 2.77 percent drop for conditioners.

Caitlin Ewing, the Grey creative director who worked on the Pantene account, said the campaign’s focus on both the natural and the scientific elements was critical. While women tend to seek natural products, “there is also the reputation that natural products don’t always do the job,” Ewing said.

Nature Fusion joins a host of other hair care brands that make natural claims. L’Oreal, for instance, has an EverPure Moisture shampoo that’s “100% vegan with natural botanicals.” Alberto Culver offers Tresemme vitamin C and E natural shampoo and conditioner duo.

The natural aisle isn’t such a bad place to be right now, said John Faucher, a J.P. Morgan analyst who covers P&G. “Even in a recession, consumers are still willing to pay more for green products,” he said. A study published last month by The Boston Consulting Group found that consumers worldwide expressed an interest in buying green products despite the slumping economy. In fact, some salon-level brands like Alberto Culver’s Nexxus and Tresemme have been experiencing strong growth.

Marilyn Raymond, evp at the Arbor Strategy Group in Ann Arbor, Mich., said Pantene needs to stay in tune with the times. “[Introducing] new technologies . . . that give the consumer a reason to believe that the newest version is better than the older version . . . is a valid innovation strategy,” she said.

Ali Dibadj, a senior analyst at Sanford Bernstein, however, warned that Nature Fusion has entered a tough market. In recessionary times, consumers will seek value even when it comes to everyday necessities such as shampoos and conditioners, Dibadj said. “Making something that’s a little more high end or has a different benefit associated with it may not fit that very basic need of the consumer” right now, he added.

P&G spent $203 million advertising Pantene in 2007, and $137 million through November of last year (excluding online), per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.