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Sun, Jul 03, 2005 - Page 12 News List

It's way of generating consumer involvement beyond mere advertising

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

When Crest introduced a new toothpaste line two years ago, it used focus groups to help pick three flavors: cinnamon, herbal and citrus. This time around, the new flavor of Crest whitening expressions will be chosen by customers.

Crest, a division of Procter & Gamble, is asking people to go to the Web to vote for their favorite new flavor from a short list of contenders: lemon ice, sweet berry punch or tropica exotica. Samples of the flavors are attached to Crest products.

Marketing executives say Crest's campaign reflects an increasing interest by companies in involving consumers in their advertising. Doing so is another way to break away from traditional advertising that viewers increasingly can tune out with TiVo and other digital video recorders, and marketers say the Internet has made interactive campaigns easier to conduct.

"This comes with the inherent declining power of traditional media advertising," said Clive Chajet, chairman of Chajet Consultancy, a brand consulting firm in New York. "All marketers today are seeking different ways to market their products." Crest is running television and magazine advertisements about the promotion, and sending e-mail messages to 4 million consumers on the company's e-mail list. Voters must go to Crest.com and register (possibly winning something like a year's supply of toothpaste). Then, they receive an e-mail message from Crest urging them to vote every day.

Similarly, Staples Inc. is starting its Staples Invention Quest vote Aug. 10. Staples accepted product ideas from customers this spring and said it would award a US$25,000 grand prize in September and nine semifinalist prizes of US$5,000 -- along with possible production agreements -- for the best inventions, chosen by Staples judges and online voters.

Since the Crest voting began May 2, about 500,000 votes have been cast, said Tonia Elrod, a Crest spokeswoman. Staples, based in Framingham, Massachusetts, received about 12,000 invention proposals this year, up from about 8,300 last year, said Jevin S. Eagle, the senior vice president of Staples Brands. Results for the contests at both Crest and Staples will be released in early September, and both companies will begin marketing pushes.

Crest and Staples have another recent advertising tactic in common: Both introduced products last year on the NBC show, The Apprentice. Crest introduced its vanilla mint whitening expressions flavor last fall during the show, and Staples executives appeared on an episode in April to judge the inventions of contestants. Staples had the winning invention -- the desk apprentice, a desktop storage container for office supplies -- on store shelves the day after the show appeared. Staples also featured a video game about the desk apprentice on its Web site.

Procter & Gamble has run Web promotions for several other brands as well. For instance, Secret's secret sparkle deodorant line features downloadable instant message icons to decorate consumers' screens and a secret sparkle buddy option, which sends users beauty tips, games and quizzes when they log on their instant messenger screens. Secret sparkle's newly released body spray features a Web log that includes postings by four fictitious characters that represent each body spray scent. Visitors to the site can also post messages there.

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