Copyright 2002 www.reuters.com

[ March 19th 2002 ]

Anglo-Dutch food and consumer products giant Unilever Plc is heading to Hollywood to promote its Degree deodorant brand in the U.S. with a 30-second, action-packed commercial from the director of box-office successes Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Con Air.

In tapping Simon West to direct a commercial for Degree Body-Heat Activated Gel, Unilever is hoping for the type of mini action movie that will grab the attention of men in their late teens, 20s and early 30s, a group deodorant makers have been sweating to attract. The new gel is being launched nationally this month.

Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co. (PG) recently began a campaign to sell Old Spice to 18- to 34-year-olds, many of whom think of the brand as something their grandfathers used, while Gillette Co. (G) launched Right Guard Extreme Sport in 2000, seeking the 13- to 25-year-old market.

The key is to catch young men when they start buying their own deodorant instead of having their mothers buy it. The U.S. deodorant market has been stagnant at about $1.2 billion in sales for the past several years, William Steele, consumer products analyst at Banc of America Securities, said. That makes it more important to win new customers, because a young man's first deodorant of choice could be what he uses for a long time. "It's been an untapped market when you look at personal care," Steele said of marketing toward young men.

Degree has about 8 percent of the U.S. deodorant market, ranking fourth, just ahead of Old Spice. Most men's deodorants hold an 8 percent to 9 percent market share -- with Right Guard at 9.9 percent -- and are trying to break out of the pack, Esther Lem, vice president, deodorant brand development, Degree, said. Degree, which had been a growing brand for a decade, has stumbled recently. "You can make money at an 8 share," she said in an interview "You can imagine what the prize is at a 10-1/2 share."

The West commercial, called "Clutch Time," uses elements of graphic novels and action movies to catch the attention of the 18- to 30-year-old male crowd. "These are guys who have no attention span whatsoever," Lem said. So the ad uses live action on top of an animated backdrop to help make an impact, she said.

In the commercial, the first of two West directed for Unilever, the hero, in a scene reminiscent of the "Mission Impossible" or "Entrapment" movies, has to defeat several security devices to steal a painting, all the while receiving instructions from a female accomplice via a headset. To defeat a heat-sensing alarm in the floor, the hero actually rubs Degree on his feet. Degree's technology is activated by body heat, giving extra protection when the temperature rises.

Unilever is the latest company to ask a big-screen director to try to get its message across in a small screen commercial. Most recently, retailer Kmart Corp. (KM) said Spike Lee would direct a series of commercials. Lem said West approached Unilever to do the commercials when the company started looking for a Hollywood director.

While West may not have the marquee value of Lee or some other directors who have done commercials, he had experience with the action-packed movie style Unilever was trying to emulate, Lem said. The commercials will begin airing Monday on MTV and Comedy Central, among other networks. A print campaign will also run in men's magazines like FHM and Maxim, as well as Rolling Stone, Spin and Vibe.

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