By  on December 17, 2004

NEW YORK — In a category as competitive as hair care, it’s never lonely at the top. Established players and feisty newcomers are all vying for space in the overcrowded category, and would like nothing more than to oust the top seated brand, Pantene.

Beginning in January, the $2 billion Procter & Gamble brand will swing back with a barrage of new initiatives, including an updated formula, backed by a $250 million marketing budget, according to industry sources.

Here’s what Pantene has slated for 2005: a reformulation of the basic line; the introduction of a color care collection called Expressions; a new subline for Hispanic women dubbed Extra Straight, and a slew of styling and treatment products to augment existing lines.

“We are basically touching every piece of the business,” said Sonsoles Gonzalez, vice president, North American Hair Care for P&G.

To complement its mushrooming portfolio, Pantene has recruited three celebrity hairstylists to its newly formed Pantene Shine Squad, namely stylist Brett Freedman, colorist Rita Hazan and owner of Luxe salon in Manhattan Tippi Shorter, who specializes in African-American hair. Their combined client list includes A-listers such as Kate Hudson, Jennifer Lopez and Kimora Lee Simmons.

“We started with trying to find stylists who would mirror Pantene’s philosophy, which is ‘great hair starts with healthy hair.’ We also wanted them to be high-profile and well-known in the industry. Each of them specializes in a different type of consumer, and they will play critical roles in how we approach those consumers,” said Gonzalez.

Although executives would not discuss figures, industry sources forecast that Pantene’s ambitious launch schedule and aggressive marketing plan will generate $170 million in sales over 2005.

Bent on broad-stroke change, Pantene has updated its ubiquitous Pro-V formula with amino acids to create Amino Pro-V Complex. Pantene’s principal scientist, Cheri McMaster, explained that after five years of research, P&G developed a formula to restore three of the six amino acids lost through brushing and general wear and tear of hair. The Amino Pro-V Complex is designed to repair damaged locks, restoring their strength to that of virgin hair (healthy hair free of environmental or chemical damage), said McMaster. She added that clinical tests show that the new formula will make good on this claim within seven to 10 days of regular use. P&G scientists will present the Amino Pro-V Complex formula at the American Academy of Dermatology this February.The formula change, which will appear on packaging this February, will sweep across all shampoos and conditioners and a handful of styling products. The challenge for Pantene will be educating consumers on the benefits of amino acids. “Part of our goal is to make sure consumers are aware and understand what amino acids are and how they promote healthy hair,” noted Gonzalez. While their benefits will be called out on all marketing materials, Pantene will also deploy new technology, called the Inner Health Meter, into stores. This portable, handheld device, manned by a trained consultant hired by P&G, analyzes hair health at the roots and at the tips. After the reading and several questions about the shopper’s styling habits, the consultant will suggest a regimen of Pantene products.

The meter, which can be attached to a computer to provide a visual aid, is an improvement on similar technology used in Europe called the Pantene Sonic Comb, a device that measures hair health through hair friction, explained Tom Sturgis, senior scientist, P&G.

The Inner Health Meter will be deployed throughout the market in February and is scheduled to appear in 5,500 stores by July.

Advertisements will break in February. “This is the biggest news that Pantene has had in its history, and we plan to treat it as such with very strong marketing support,” noted Gonzalez.

Pantene aims to widen its share of the color care segment, which it carved out with Color Revival. It will launch a new collection called Pantene Pro-V Expressions in mid-January. The premium-priced line seeks to build sales in an underdeveloped market. P&G research indicates that while 55 percent of women color their hair, only 12 percent of them use shampoos and conditioners specially formulated to protect color.

“Part of the reason women do not use a color-protecting product is that they don’t think it makes any difference. Or they find themselves having to make a trade-off between protecting their color and protecting their hair. We are able to do both,” declared Gonzalez.

Similar to John Frieda’s color franchise of Sheer Blonde, Brilliant Brunette and the upcoming Radiant Red, Pantene has organized Expressions into the same trio of hair colors. Each collection — which includes shampoos, conditioners and styling aids — is designed to reduce color fade by 70 percent. Red Expressions is said to reduce fade by 79 percent, said McMaster, who is a redhead.Expressions relies on noncolor-depositing technology. The Pantene products are said to deliver 75 percent richer color and prevent fading using proprietary technology dubbed BAPDMA. “Women spend a lot of time and money coloring their hair. This product is not in any way meant to change what they already achieved. It’s to help preserve it,” commented Gonzalez.

Styling and treatment products are matched with individual colors: Blonde Expressions includes a Detangling Foam, Polishing Crème and Maximum Hold Spray; Brunette contains a Conditioning Treatment, Sleeking Balm and Glossing Serum, while Red — the smallest collection of the three — has a Moisture Rich Treatment and Fortifying Spray. Each item in the 18-stockkeeping-unit collection is priced at $6.49, up from the brand’s traditional price point of $3.99.

In-store materials will reflect that premium positioning, with shelf talkers touting the phase, “healthy hair keeps your color looking richer for color that looks lit from within.” Television and print advertisements will break in January. Pantene will also tap into its sister brand Clairol’s consumer database of women who color their hair. “We will leverage the Clairol information in several ways,” noted Gonzalez.

Pantene will also add a color-care shampoo and conditioner to its existing Relaxed & Natural line, a collection of products specially formulated for African-American consumers. Color Radiance shampoo and conditioner, to be merchandised alongside Relaxed & Natural in the general market section, will target the 33 percent of African-American women who color their hair.

Pantene will continue its strategy of customized collections with Extra Straight, a line developed for Hispanic consumers. Extra Straight, which bowed in Latin America in 2003 as Extra Liso, is designed to smooth textured or frizzy hair. The four-item collection, which includes a shampoo, conditioner, Intensive Treatment and Combing Cream for $3.99 each, will bow in the States this February. Extra Straight will have national distribution, and will be placed either in the ethnic set or alongside Pantene’s general market offerings.

“Our desire is that Extra Straight will be shelved with Pantene products because we know that many Hispanic consumers do buy general market products as well,” said Gonzales, who previously oversaw P&G’s Latin America hair care business.Beginning in February, Pantene will begin targeted marketing efforts for Extra Straight, which will include Spanish language ads.

Pantene will round out several of its existing collections with styling and treatment products, adding four sku’s to Full & Thick, three to Moisture Renewal, two to Smooth & Sleek and one to Pro-V Classic and Color Revival. In all, Pantene will add 35 products to its portfolio, excluding the launch of Amino Pro-V Complex. 

With competitors, including Dove and Garnier Fructis, planning broad extensions to their lines, space in the category is limited. What’s more, several retail buyers have complained companies add without taking older sku’s out of the mix.

Pantene’s leg up, noted Gonzalez, is its ability to create targeted collections, such as Relaxed & Natural, this year’s introduction of Full & Thick and the 2005 launch of Extra Straight.

Gonzales commented, “For Pantene to stay on top we need to continue to meet different and emerging needs. Extra Straight and Relaxed & Natural are prefect examples of how we are expanding into growing segments. The role, we believe, Pantene needs to play is to bring the benefits of Pantene to more consumers.”

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