AT Dr. Craig Arcidiacono’s dental practice in Middletown, N.J., Terry Stanzione, a receptionist, works with many patients who want whiter teeth. Although she stands by the $600 procedure performed by her boss, she herself tried over-the-counter whitening strips instead — with unhappy results.
“When I put it on, they didn’t stay on,” she said. “I didn’t like the way it fit. I couldn’t talk.” Ms. Stanzione, who used the strips when they first came out, said she would be willing to try a new product if it improved on her first experience.
She is exactly the kind of customer Listerine is seeking as it tries to reinvigorate the market for teeth-whitening products. These products took the market by storm six years ago but waned in popularity because the early products were expensive and difficult to use. Some of them had to be stuck to the teeth overnight.
Now Johnson & Johnson is introducing a second-generation product, Listerine Whitening Quick Dissolving Strips, which dissolve within five and 10 minutes. With regular use, Listerine says, a $24 box of them will produce whiter teeth and fresh breath within two weeks. According to the company, the strips, which will arrive in stores on Wednesday, are barely visible.
A 30-second television spot for the product will start today on broadcast and cable networks. Created by the New York office of JWT, it opens with the words, “Tell Us Where You Whiten,” and shows people milling at a house party. The ad, shot in a bumpy home-video style and framed by the screen of a camera phone in parts, follows a young woman as she arrives at the party, opens her bag to show the whitening strips, and narrates the product’s attributes while bumping into friends. “You can talk and all anyone sees is your pearly whites,” she says.
Listerine Whitening, a growing division of Listerine, is also sponsoring ABC’s “Good Morning America” concert series as part of the promotion.
The commercial, said Lisa Lieberman, senior product director for Listerine Whitening, is “a slice of life showing consumers engaging and interacting,” and is meant to carry the message that Listerine Whitening Quick Dissolving Strips “really do give you the freedom to be out in public.”
As for the deliberately herky-jerky cinematography, she said: “It has a very modern look and is meant to look different from other commercials — it’s a real lifestyle situation.”
White teeth remain a national obsession, according to a Gallup poll conducted for Listerine. The results indicate that 72 percent of consumers want whiter teeth, but only 25 percent have ever tried a whitening product.
“We looked at the category created in 2001, and sales were declining as people weren’t satisfied with the whitening products,” Ms. Lieberman said. “They weren’t convenient or pleasant, and there was an opportunity to change the whitening experience.”
Listerine describes this product introduction as one of the most significant in the brand’s 100-year history — and also the most noteworthy one since Johnson & Johnson’s $16.6 billion deal to acquire Pfizer consumer health care in June 2006.
Listerine is aimed squarely at loosening Crest’s formidable grip on the business. The top three sellers in the whitening category are whitening strips from Crest, a unit of Procter & Gamble, that command about half of sales volume. Whitestrips, which were Crest’s breakout product, effectively introduced modern teeth-whitening products in 2001.
Sales in the category — which includes other brands like Aquafresh White Trays, from GlaxoSmithKline — rose to $333 million in 2003, but have steadily declined, according to the Chicago-based Information Resources, which collects sales data from many retailers but does not include Wal-Mart and a handful of other stores. Industry sales in 2006 dropped to $218 million, while sales through June 17, 2007 were $112 million, Information Resources said.
While its rival, Crest, has worked hard to win product placements on television shows and endorsements from celebrities, Listerine’s marketing team prefers to get the brand into the hands of potential consumers so they can try it. A national sampling program, aided by Arnold Worldwide of Boston and New York, is starting as part of an effort to distribute as many as 17 million samples during the first year.
Some strips will be taped to other Listerine products; others given away at stores like Wal-Mart. The company plans to dispatch teams of workers on motorcycles in 20 cities to give away T-shirts that read, “Do It Here. Do It There. Do It Anywhere,” referring to consumers’ ability to use the whitening strips.
“With a new launch we need to drive trial and awareness,” said Ms. Lieberman, who added that the company invested heavily in its sampling program. The experience of using the strips, she said, “is game-changing.”
/pages/There are other nontraditional aspects to the campaign. Listerine is running a consumer-generated photo contest that allows people to upload photos of themselves using the whitening strips while doing other things, like walking the dog. The contest — at www.wheredoyouwhiten.com — will be judged by the singer Jennifer Nettles of the band Sugarland, who is being enlisted as a spokeswoman.
RappCollins, the New York agency, is handling relationship marketing and the digital component, while Edelman, the public relations agency, has been briefing magazine editors on the new product.
Listerine has some recent success at bringing new brands to market: its PocketPaks dissolvable breath strips ranked No. 2 on Information Resources’ “New Product Pacesetters” ranking for 2002, incidentally just behind Crest’s Whitening Strips.
John Deighton, a professor at Harvard Business School who specializes in marketing, said that consumer product companies these days have to keep expanding their popular product lines. “A brand like Listerine has to get bigger or risk being pruned,” he said.