Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen made history last month in kids oral care. SpongeBob, Mickey and Cookie Monster are well-entrenched in the toothpaste aisle, but September’s launch of mary-kateandashley Aquafresh toothpaste in a number of drugstore chains and Wal-Mart marks the first time the image of a human celebrity has ever graced a tube of the minty fresh dental cleanser. The fact that powerhouse kids brand mary-kateandashley – with its various licensed products generating more than US$1 billion in sales last year – has jumped into kids oral care speaks to the category’s viability in the retail market.
Brand spokesman Michael Pagnotta says Dualstar, the teen wonders’ company, saw the toothpaste license as more of an opportunity to break new ground for the brand than as a guaranteed money-maker.
However, in the US$1.5-billion U.S. oral care market, kids sales accounted for approximately US$68 million last year. According to reps from Aquafresh manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline and Orajel maker Del Pharmaceuticals, the kids oral care category has been growing between 8% and 9% annually over the last few years, and it shows no signs of slowing down.
The category’s manufacturers are always looking for new ways to appeal to kids and their parents, and licensed properties seem to be a natural fit. Brushing along with their favorite characters – and now celebrity personalities – makes oral care more fun, and that moves product. And what licensor wouldn’t want to get into parents’ good books by making easier work of the dreaded chore that getting kids to brush their teeth can sometimes be?
GlaxoSmithKline’s consumer healthcare spokesperson Lori Lukas says the use of licensed properties is increasing in this category, although her company had no toothpaste licenses prior to mary-kateandashley Aquafresh. The company was looking for something different in that arena, which is why it went with the twins.
She says using the image of the Olsen twins at age 13 on the packaging and having them personally select the toothpaste’s flavor helps children’s Aquafresh differentiate itself from the character-driven offerings on oral care shelves. The twins are a proven success with kids, especially girls ages two to 12, and GSK is hoping that cachet will boost its toothpaste sales. But it’s too soon to say whether the strategy will pan out since the product shipped just a few weeks ago and initial sales figures have yet to be tallied.
Similarly, Del Pharmaceuticals went shopping a few years ago for an appropriate property that would make its new line of Orajel toddler-training toothpaste stand out on shelves. ‘We evaluated the market, and when you start looking at children above the age of two, choosing products becomes a combination of the mom’s rational choice and the emotional pull of the child,’ says Randy Sloan, Del’s senior VP of marketing. And what moves children, he explains, is their favorite characters.
His company identified Nelvana’s Little Bear as the perfect preschool character for its brand and launched Little Bear toddler-training toothpaste in late 2001. The product has sold well, says Sloan, adding that the Little Bear brand currently corners a 13% market share of children’s toothpaste sales in U.S. food, drug and mass retailers. That makes it the number-two toddler oral care product behind Crest. Two SKUs are currently on the market, with a new two-in-one toothpaste/breath freshner formulation making it into drugstores just last month.
The Orajel toddler-training toothpaste formulation, which has no fluoride and is safe for wee ones to swallow, is the first of its kind. It also presented a niche licensing opportunity for Nelvana. Sid Kaufman, the company’s executive VP of worldwide merchandising, says the deal allowed Nelvana to break into a category that was a bit more open than the toy business to properties without the marketing clout of Disney or Nickelodeon. ‘We looked at it as a competitive opportunity,’ says Kaufman. He adds that Little Bear has widened its exposure net via Del’s North American distribution channels in drug stores and grocery aisles.
As for other products making a stir in kids oral care, Crest’s Spinbrush and other battery-powered brushes are poised to make manual brushing a thing of the past for kids. A full 15% of all households in the U.S. are using battery-operated toothbrushes, says Crest spokesperson Brian McCleary, and the category continues to grow. Spinbrush, which launched in 2001, racked up sales in excess of US$200 million last year. Crest offers a Spider-man Spinbrush and a number of other generic models for kids. Who knew that a super-cool cell phone, rocket, fire truck or military walkie-talkie could clean your teeth?
Sherice Guillory, Nickelodeon’s VP of home, gift and packaged goods, is pretty excited about kids transitioning from manual toothbrushes to power brushes. SpongeBob and Jimmy Neutron battery-operated models are currently being manufactured and marketed by Johnson & Johnson’s Reach brand, and a Dora the Explorer Spinbrush hits shelves this month. In early 2004, Nick is shifting its licenses (except Dora) to Colgate, which will launch an all-new line of toothpaste and power brushes for many of the kidnet’s core characters.
Sales increases for Nick’s oral care products for kids are keeping in line with the category’s 8% to 9% annual growth, and Guillory says Nick will stay active in the category because it’s an important place to be. ‘Kids want to have fun when they brush their teeth, and Nickelodeon characters help them do that.’