For about a decade, though, Pert Plus has been advertised only intermittently and some years not at all, and has slipped to only about a 2.8 percent share of the market today, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a market data firm.
But now, Helen of Troy, which acquired the brand in 2010, is introducing an ambitious advertising and marketing campaign aimed primarily at men aged 25 to 34.
Television, print and online ads superimpose the heads of various animals on men’s bodies, and include the slogan, “Don’t be an animal.”
A television spot features an actor with the head of a dog in a doghouse — literally and figuratively, it turns out — who describes to a neighbor the birthday gift he gave his wife: “She wanted something that would go from zero to 200 in three seconds — so I got her a scale.”
When he asks his neighbor how he always avoids being “in here,” the neighbor replies, “I guess I take care of the little things, like flowers once in a while and keeping my hair clean: Pert Plus does the job.”
A print ad featuring a heavyset man wearing a tie and with the head of the bulldog has the headline, “When you listen to bull all day, you need a shampoo that isn’t.” The copy continues, “I told my boss about Pert Plus 2-in-1. It’s shampoo plus conditioner, so it does the job quickly. In. Out. Done.”
The campaign, by the Sigma Group, Oradell, N.J., is scheduled to be introduced on television Tuesday on The Discovery Channel, History Channel and MLB Network, and in the September issues of print publications including Family Circle, Men’s Fitness and ESPN the Magazine.
Since its sales began declining in the 1990s, so many marketers have tried to breath life into Pert Plus that it has come to resemble a CPR mannequin.
Procter & Gamble, the original owner, tried to revive the brand by reformulating it in 1999 and promoting it with a $20 million marketing campaign, then sold it to Innovative Brands in 2006. In 2009, Innovative Brands, noting that the products were popular with men, introduced Pert Plus for Men, a line that Helen of Troy promptly discontinued when it purchased the brand in 2010.
“Pert Plus for Men was cannibalizing the brand, because Pert Plus already was a men’s brand,” said Rick Cutler, director for marketing at Idelle Labs in Danbury, Conn., a division of Helen of Troy.
Even though the brand ostensibly is unisex, 73 percent of its users are men, a trait it shares with Head & Shoulders, the P.& G. brand, whose users are 70 percent men, according to Mr. Cutler, who cited usage data from Simmons.
The new campaign faces the challenge of engaging men who are not apt to linger in the shampoo aisle.
“We started from the larger insight that men don’t care about shampoo by and large,” Mr. Cutler said. “This is a low interest category, and men don’t have an interest in complex hair routines.”
Many grooming products aimed at men take the same approach as Axe, the Unilever brand whose over-the-top ads feature attractive, libidinous women hurling themselves at Axe users.
But Carl Sorvino, a creative director at Sigma who worked on the campaign, said the typical Pert Plus user is “past the Axe stage” and has already settled down.
“We’re looking at family guys from their late 20s up and we don’t want to say that if you use Pert you’re going to be transformed into some magnificent women magnet,” Mr. Sorvino said.
Those men, rather, want the convenience of the shampoo-and-conditioner product, and a common refrain in the ads — “In. Out. Done.” — is a “strong message” for such men, Mr. Sorvino said.
To reach young fathers directly, Pert Plus is running promotions at about 20 minor league stadiums across the country that began earlier in the summer.
Through a partnership with Minor League Baseball, brand representatives survey the stands for men with particularly bad cases of hat head, the term for when wearing a hat causes hair to either flatten or stick up.
Several men are ushered down to the field during the seventh inning stretch for a “Hat Head Intervention,” when the crowd applauds loudest for the worst case, and contestants are given Pert Plus hats and a bottles of the product.
Large video screens at the games have been featuring highlight videos, identified as “Pert Plus Hair Raising Moments,” and the brand also is in the process of distributing about two million samples at the games. Octagon, a sports and entertainment marketing company, is handling the stadium promotion. In another new commercial for Pert Plus, a man with the head of a bear is being examined by his doctor, who tells him he is overweight, appears to have been asleep for months and that his hair looks terrible.
“You sound like my wife,” the patient says, to which the doctor responds, while pulling on a rubber glove, “Funny you should mention your wife — she wanted me to do one more thing.”
Depictions of men as hen-pecked, and proctological allusions may not be to everyone’s taste, but that is a risk the brand is willing to take.
“We need to stand out,” Mr. Cutler said. “It’s O.K. to be polarizing, but we can’t be quiet.”
By ANDREW ADAM NEWMAN
Published: August 1, 2011
Hair News Network