By  on November 17, 2006

Can ghost brand Pert Plus be brought back to life? Phoenix-based Innovative Brands believes so and, backed by Najafi Cos., a private equity firm with more than $1.1 billion in assets, has the wherewithal to do something about it. The company bought Pert Plus in July for an undisclosed sum from Procter & Gamble and now is hatching plans to jump-start the two-in-one shampoo and conditioner brand, which is often lumped into the ghost category given its dearth of promotional support in the past few years.

Joe Jacober, chief executive officer of Innovative Brands, declared the ghost label is coming off early next year. Innovative Brands plans to roll out a full-scale marketing campaign, perhaps one of the most aggressive Pert Plus has ever experienced, with radio, TV and print ads.

"We are going to go back to consumers and talk about why Pert is an important part of their hair care regimen," said Jacober. "We are turning over every rock to make sure we are going to get the message out to consumers."

Although the details are still being hashed out, the marketing message is expected to stick to what originally made Pert Plus attractive: that it's an easy-to-use, two-in-one product. Jacober argues that straightforward brands like Pert Plus, even though they retain a substantial audience, have become overshadowed with the spotlight moving toward professional salon items.

"We are going to make sure that the industry understands this is a niche," said Jacober. "There is a small percentage of the population — maybe 10 to 15 percent in the category — who want simple, basic cleaning that gives great hair."

Innovative Brands is currently scouting advertising firms, and is uncertain if it will rely on a celebrity spokesperson. Past advertising efforts by P&G featured well-known spokespeople, including athletes Mike Piazza, Mia Hamm and Dorothy Hamill. Andrew Pierce, a senior partner in the New York office of brand consulting firm Prophet, warned that turning around a brand is not possible with promotion alone. "It can't just be a new marketing campaign and suddenly it is new again," he said. "Oldsmobile tried to continually reposition and change the advertising and marketing around, but they never changed the product, and it always failed."Jacober did not rule out addressing other aspects of Pert Plus. He said altering the packaging "is on the table," but implied it is a delicate proposition because the green bottles with white lettering are "very recognizable."

In surveys of some 10,000 people and focus groups, Innovative Brands found that two-thirds of Pert Plus users, who are 60 percent male, report it is their primary choice. The line of products, which has an average retail price of $3 each, currently consists of 40 stockkeeping units and six varieties of Pert Plus, including dandruff, kids and light, medium and deep conditioning. A Kmart spokesman said, "Pert Plus is a trustworthy brand still popular with many Kmart customers." Jacober is looking for increased promotional activity — including bonus packs, displays and circular ads — to drive sales. He noted that one retailer was able to increase Pert Plus sales 16 percent in 24 weeks with targeted promotions.

Introduced in 1986, Jacober described Pert Plus as the first two-in-one hair product available on a "national basis." Its sales have tailed off since the brand hit its peak in the Nineties — becoming the top selling shampoo in the U.S. In 2001, P&G shifted its attention to global brands following its acquisition of Clairol and effectively ended Pert Plus marketing about three years ago. Jacober would not disclose the exact sales figures, citing an agreement with P&G not to discuss revenues.

Innovative Brands, which also picked up the deodorant brand Sure from P&G in September, is not in a hurry to ramp up Pert Plus sales. Jacober stressed there is no talk about an "exit strategy," and Innovative Brands would be satisfied with steady 10 to 15 percent year-over-year growth.

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