P&G Tries Again With Pantene

NEW YORK Procter & Gamble is giving Pantene a new gloss as the company tries once again to recharge the underperforming haircare brand.

The new push, estimated in the $100 million range, stars former beauty editor and TV celeb Stacy London and touts an upgrade in silicon technology that translates to stronger, shinier hair. Pricing, however, will remain the same as P&G positions Pantene as a value buy that’s just as good as salon brands, but less expensive.

The campaign is the latest attempt to jump-start the brand, which has repeatedly been singled out as a laggard in P&G’s North American beauty business. Most recently, Pantene was blamed for making P&G miss the usual 5 percent annual beauty growth mark. In an earnings call with analysts this April, CEO A.G. Lafley attributed much of that decline to last spring’s failed restaging of the brand. Called “Parthenon,” that campaign, also via Grey, New York, called for organizing the brand’s many SKUs into 18 easily identifiable “benefit-themed” collections, including ones for healthy, colored and treated hair. Aimed at minimizing the confusion, the strategy ultimately failed.

Now P&G is trying a different approach. A teaser campaign which launched mid-November directed consumers to Secrettogreathair.com and sampling inserts inside major Sunday newspapers heralded the brand’s latest positioning.

Pantene North America brand manager Seth Klugherz said the campaign is the biggest launch for the brand since the 2000 restaging of Pantene as Pantene Pro-V. Though he declined to delineate a spend, he noted, “We have always been the leader in spending and we will very much continue to do that.” Nielsen Monitor-Plus data shows that P&G spent $203 million on U.S. measured media for Pantene in 2007, excluding online, and $114 million through September of this year.

Klugherz said the campaign drew its insight from research testing among consumers, in which P&G found that the “gold standard” in hair care for many was salon brands. And so, in a blind test of 3,600 salon users, P&G asked the women to compare the new formulation to salon brands. (Seven out of 10 participants voted for Pantene.) Marketing research firm TNS conducted the trials.

Klugherz said that while previous ads for Pantene touched upon the value approach, it was never more overt than now. And P&G is comfortable with that messaging. “Consumers will tell you that value is not defined as cheap. It’s the mix of something that works really well at a price that is not ridiculous,” he said.

Meanwhile, rivals Tresemme and Suave have already adopted similar tactics. Tresemme, which is owned by Alberto-Culver, has begun airing new commercials for its Flawless Curls product. The ad, via Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis, shows a woman getting her hair primed at a salon. Her friend, however, achieves the same results with a bottle of Tresemme Flawless Curls at home. Tresemme U.S. marketing director Rob Keen said the positioning has worked well  for the company thus far. “Tresemme is the No. 1 styling brand and No. 5 hair-care brand in the U.S. and continues to enjoy double-digit growth year-on-year,” he said. Tagline: “Stylized curls that look like a splurge, at a price that feels like a steal.”

Unilever has been running ads explaining that women can get salon-quality hair with Suave’s professional haircare line. “There are a breadth of brands that are talking in similar language, about this idea of salon quality for less, but we are quite comfortable with that because with Suave, we know we own that message,” said David Rubin, Unilever’s U.S. haircare marketing director, adding the brand is now in 60 percent of all U.S. households.

Despite the competition, analysts like Sanford Bernstein’s Ali Dibadj said Pantene has been the victim of confused marketing and too many extensions, but this will move the brand in the right direction. “It’s the first step in this whole process,” said John Faucher of JPMorgan.