Colgate-Palmolive is betting $100 million on a new product launch aimed at dimming the smiles of Crest marketers in the tooth-and-gum battle for a place atop American toothbrushes.
Colgate's new Total is the only toothpaste the Food and Drug Administration has approved as a fighter of gum disease.
Anyone who doesn't know that will find out during the company's largest-ever new-product launch, which began Monday, featuring network television spots, billboards on New York bus shelters, and coupons in major newspapers beginning in mid-January.
"It's going to be positioned as a product that works between brushings to help prevent all of the major dental problems that people are affected with today, which are plaque, gingivitis, tarter and bad breath," Colgate-Palmolive spokesman Robert Murray said.
On Dec. 15, Total entered a crowded $1.5-billion U.S. market for products backed by a dizzying array of claims to make teeth cleaner, whiter, stronger and minty fresh. But analysts say the high-profile campaign should shake up a fickle market led by Procter & Gamble, which launched Crest MultiCare in July.
Total, sold in nearly 100 countries around the world, contains the ingredient triclosan, common in antibacterial soap. The FDA stressed that nobody yet knows just how triclosan works inside the mouth.
But in combination with fluoride, the triclosan-containing toothpaste helped prevent tooth decay, plaque and gingivitis, the FDA said. The agency says no other toothpaste has proved an ability to prevent gum disease.
P&G is reportedly considering a domestic version of triclosan-based Crest Ultra, sold in Canada but not in the United States. But FDA requirements for clinical trials may mean delays before Crest can make similar gum-protecting claims.
In New York Stock Exchange trading, Colgate shares rose $1.44 to close at $70.44, and P&G shares rose $2.19 to close at $79.81.