Baking soda duel

Marketing executives at Church & Dwight, maker of Cow Brand baking soda, must be grinding their teeth in frustration as they watch Colgate-Palmolive Canada roll out its new baking soda toothpaste.TV advertising for Colgate Baking Soda toothpaste broke on Oct. 7...

Marketing executives at Church & Dwight, maker of Cow Brand baking soda, must be grinding their teeth in frustration as they watch Colgate-Palmolive Canada roll out its new baking soda toothpaste.

TV advertising for Colgate Baking Soda toothpaste broke on Oct. 7 in Western Canada and begins today in the rest of the country.

Lynn Benson, Colgate’s director of marketing for personal care products, says the Toronto-based company will back the brand with $2 million in tv advertising over the next year, adding Colgate’s entire fourth-quarter media buy for toothpaste will be used to support the new baking soda brand.

With the launch of the campaign, which was created by Toronto agency Young & Rubicam, Colgate becomes the first Canadian toothpaste manufacturer to take a position in the emerging baking soda toothpaste category.

But it was Church & Dwight’s u.s. parent that created a market in the first place.

Four years ago, Princeton, n.j.-based Church & Dwight launched its Arm & Hammer Dental Care brand of baking soda toothpaste south of the border and it has since captured 10% of the total dentrifice market.

Much to the delight of Church & Dwight, u.s. toothpaste manufacturers were caught flatfooted by the success of Arm & Hammer Dental Care and have been slow to respond.

Colgate was the first to hit back with the launch of Colgate Baking Soda, but that did not occur until the last quarter of 1991, giving Church & Dwight a three-year head start.

Meanwhile, Procter & Gamble, maker of Crest toothpaste, and Chesebrough-Pond’s, maker of Aim, Close-Up and Pepsodent, brands are still only in the product-testing stage.

And SmithKline Beecham Consumer Brands, which makes Macleans and Aqua-fresh, has so far not appeared to have responded at all. Unfortunately for Church & Dwight, it is unlikely to see a repeat performance in Canada of the 10% market share grab it has managed in the u.s.

Because of regulatory differences between the two countries, Church & Dwight’s Canadian division has been unable to get off the ground in its Canadian launch efforts for Dental Care.

And now that Colgate has introduced a product in Canada, Church & Dwight will not enjoy, as it did in the u.s., the advantage of being first in the market.

Church & Dwight’s difficulties in launching Dental Care in Canada stem from its use of saccharine as a sweetener.

It uses saccharine in Dental Care in the u.s., but it has been prevented from doing so in Canada, where the controversial sugar substitute is banned by the Department of Health & Welfare. (Colgate also uses saccharine in the u.s., but reformulated its Canadian product with an alternate sugar substitute, sodium cyclamate.)

After years of studying saccharine, Health & Welfare has indicated it will soon declare the product legal, but Robert J. Cross, Church & Dwight’s Canadian manager of new products, says he is not holding his breath.

‘The government has indicated their intention to lift the ban on saccharine, but we all know it could take a day, a week or a year,’ he says. Still, Cross says the company is revved up to launch Dental Care in Canada once it gets the green light.

‘We have already talked to the trade, and we’re ready to go,’ he says.

Cross admits building market share for Dental Care in Canada will be different than in the u.s. since the brand will have to contend with a competitor from the outset.

But he says he believes ‘we can be successful here.’

Cross says Dental Care’s ‘taste and mouth feel’ will ultimately win over consumers, adding the product leaves mouths with ‘a unique feeling of fresh and clean.’

‘That’s the kind of thing we want to talk to our Canadian consumers about,’ he says.

Church & Dwight’s Canadian ad agency is McKim Baker Lovick/BBDO.

For her part, Benson is equally sanguine about the potential of Colgate Baking Soda.

‘I think that when we are establishing a whole new category of toothpaste, being first is very important,’ she says.

Benson says she hopes the baking soda category, which is expected to develop into a premium category here as it has in the u.s., will inject new life in the moribund Canadian toothpaste market.

Benson, who notes Canadians spend about $100 million annually on toothpaste, says average toothpaste prices have fallen 20% since 1989. According to Benson, the baking soda category will give marketers something different to talk to their customers about, thereby taking the focus away from the price.