P&G’s reasons to smile

Christine DesJardine is breathing new life into the oral care business.
Christine DesJardine

By Melinda Mattos and Emily Wexler

Christine DesJardine wasn’t all that surprised when her oral care team was nominated for the Procter & Gamble Brand Builder Award. While she knew they faced tough competition from other P&G divisions that had seen tremendous growth, she also knew that oral care had an outstanding year, turning around a category and overseeing the record-breaking launch of 3D White – a mega-property that spans Crest Whitestrips, toothpaste, rinse and brushes.
As category brand manager for oral care, DesJardine oversees Crest, Oral B, Scope and Fixadent. She began her career with P&G straight out of university 11 years ago, starting in the market research department and moving on to senior marketing assignments in fabric care, hair care, blades & razors, male grooming and now oral care. This year she led a team of 18, exceeding all targets in terms of volume and sales (up within 7 to 9%), trials and shares.
What’s the secret to their success? Three years ago, the oral care business at P&G was in decline in the face of aggressive competition and deep discounting, so P&G made a strategic move to eliminate a few lower-tier SKUs that were denigrating the category. At first, this affected P&G’s numbers, but eventually the competition followed suit, resulting in a significant rebound this past fiscal year.
The turnaround was also helped by a combination of smart segmentation work, mega-property launches for 3D White and Pro Health and leveraging scale, as well as seemingly ubiquitous visibility at retail that yielded results exceeding the U.S. business.
For the first time, this year P&G Canada divvied up the oral care consumer into four groups, each targeted by a separate communication plan and execution.
“[In looking at] what oral care consumers exist in the market, we were able to identify four distinct consumer segments,” DesJardine explains. “In our Oral Health Month execution [in April], what we did was go to market against the three largest ones, so we reached more than 80% of the population with a message that would be relevant to them.”
Oral Health Month was a Canadian-specific execution, designed from scratch for the Canadian consumer. “P&G is a global company so a lot of what we do is leveraging our scale, but clearly we also recognize that there are unique local insights and nuances in each market,” she says.
The umbrella campaign for Oral Health Month was “Life Starts with a Smile,” which each mega-property laddered up to. For example, dentist offices were targeted for the Pro-Health line of products with “A Great Check Up Starts with a Smile” using print in oral health reports, poster boards and demos with hygienists. For Scope, “Getting Closer starts with a Smile” utilized interactive iMedia, resto/bar sampling and in-store display.
As part of the launch for 3D White, DesJardine and her team aligned with the P&G Beauty resources to appeal to a female target. “Winning Them Over Starts with a Smile” leveraged print in fashion and beauty magazines, and also included online media, a website, search, as well as in-store display and sampling.
The result was record shares during Oral Health Month, shipment growth of more than 10% in April, May and June and high performance at all top retailers.
Of course, not all segments are created equal. Although whitening products are all the rage on store shelves lately, not everybody’s doing it, so the key for DesJardine and her team has been laser-focus on those that are.
“We know this consumer segment that’s interested in whitening products specifically is not one of the biggest segments that exists, but they actually spend heavily in the category,” says DesJardine. “We talked to [the consumer] with our individual forms – so a Crest Whitestrips product or a paste product, etc. – but we also [spotlighted] the total regimen and helped her understand the benefits of using all the products together.”
Facilitating that dialogue with the consumer is AOR Publicis and media agency SMG, as well as MSL for PR, Digitas for digital, Azimuth for tactical and promotional work, Upshot for experiential and Extreme on some new projects.
The oral care category has certainly changed in the last few years, thanks to innovation that has given consumers what can sometimes seem like an overwhelming number of options. The choice is no longer between a red toothbrush or a blue one – now it’s electric, battery-powered, soft-bristled, whitening, etc. Since P&G was already the category leader for oral care, DesJardine says that getting existing customers to “trade up” to premium products and add additional components to their oral care regimen was a key part of this year’s growth.
“Consumers have been demanding better products,” she says, noting 3D White and Pro-Health as examples. “As a result you see a lot of trade-up happening in the category where premium products are driving category dollars.”
To maximize the fact that 70% of brand purchases are made at the “first moment of truth,” in other words, at the shelf, DesJardine and her team work with retailers to optimize the shopping experience, with tools such as the power toothbrush “touch and learn” unit.
“We bring the product out of the box so the consumer can actually see, touch and feel it, experience the handle, see what the design looks like and really compare each of the products,” says Desjardine. “We have tested it with our top retailers [starting with Shoppers Drug Mart] and it’s been successful, so now you can see that being rolled out more broadly.”
While oral care may not seem like the sexiest category, DesJardine and her team have managed to breathe new life into it by truly knowing their consumer, translating into sales, category growth and award wins.
“I believe you generate excitement by listening to the needs and wants of your consumers and delivering on them,” she says. “Understanding them better than they ever would’ve expected allows you to truly delight them. Our previous CEO, A.G. Lafley’s mantra was always ‘Consumer is boss’ and ultimately that’s the truth.”

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