Can we talk?  What do Joan Rivers, Labor Day, the color white and big, bright smiles all have in common? A "white hot" PR program that broke all the rules.  Procter & Gamble turned to MS&L/Chicago to design a public relations program to tease and create buzz about Crest Whitestrips, a new over-the-counter whitening system that gave consumers exactly what they were looking for…noticeably whiter teeth at a consumer-friendly price. At the same time, MS&L was charged with generating traffic and subsequent sales through the product's Web site and toll-free number.  The public relations program was so successful that within one month of launch, the brand had directly attributed more than one-third of sales directly to public relations activities.


Crest products are usually sold in retail stores, therefore consumers expected Crest Whitestrips to be available there as well.  However, the Crest brand decided to take a non-traditional approach and offered Crest Whitestrips exclusively online and through the toll-free number for several months before selling it in retail stores nationwide.  Therefore, MS&L needed to generate consumer awareness and interest not only for new Crest Whitestrips, but for the Web site and the toll-free number as well.  This also gave MS&L the unique opportunity to track product sales and link them with publicity efforts.


Consumer research showed that while 61 percent of all people were interested in whiter teeth, less than five percent had actually had their teeth whitened.  Additional research revealed two key reasons for this low action rate: 1) people believed dentist-administered tooth whitening was too expensive; and 2) people didn't believe tooth whitening products currently available over-the-counter lived up to their promise of providing whiter teeth.  That wasn't the case for Crest Whitestrips.  In fact, consumer product testing showed that Crest Whitestrips did indeed deliver whiter teeth at a consumer-acceptable price.  

A media audit pointed to another challenge.  The topic of tooth whitening had already been covered extensively and wasn't exactly the topic editors/producers wanted to cover.  A clever hook was needed to capture their attention and revive their interest in the topic of tooth whitening. 

Our primary consumer target was men and women ages 18-49.  Through research, we identified key influencer groups to target: bridal consultants, salon and spa owners and national and local sorority leaders. We learned through our research that consumers looked to these audiences to provide recommendations about image-enhancing products and that these audiences were open to offering such recommendations.

Our objective was to generate sales of Crest Whitestrips among key audiences by driving traffic to the Crest Whitestrips Web site and toll-free number.  We planned to do this by creating awareness and generating word of mouth.


Based on our research and our previous work on behalf of Crest, we knew we needed to design a program that demonstrated the powerful whitening benefits and fostered subsequent buzz.  We knew seeing was truly our avenue to making consumers believe in this case.  And, we also knew we had to capture the media's attention and interest in tooth whitening by giving them a reason to write about Crest Whitestrips in the fall as opposed to waiting until the product was available at retail.

Our overall strategy was two pronged – first, to expedite diffusion of innovation through word of mouth by seeding product with key influencers and chat leaders; and second, to utilize media to create awareness and generate credibility for the product.  Our research showed the target Crest Whitestrips user was predisposed to seeking information from health and beauty magazines.  An additional strategy was to clearly link Crest Whitestrips to beauty and fashion because of its image-enhancing benefits rather than oral health where Crest is traditionally positioned.  

Since seeing truly is believing, we designed the “uppers challenge” – the user completes a full treatment on the upper teeth and leaves the bottom teeth the original color for comparison.  The uppers challenge showcases the product results, and we utilized it as a key component of the Crest Whitestrips launch, which was set for mid-September.  We decided to break another rule with our launch… a long-standing fashion rule…You can't wear white after Labor Day!  Our theme, "Now It's Okay to Wear White after Labor Day," cleverly conveyed the benefit of Crest Whitestrips while at the same time provided media with a reason to cover Crest Whitestrips now, rather than wait for the product to be available at retail. 


Our program included: an event for long-lead editors, spokespeople, teaser campaign, launch day sampling events, press kit and media relations, specific television effort and grassroots outreach.  Details of each follow.

Long-lead Editors Event: Since the target audience looks to health and beauty magazines for information, we wanted to make sure these editors were familiar with Crest Whitestrips.  To do this, we sponsored a luncheon specifically for magazine editors, where we briefed them on the product, distributed product samples, delivered key messages and showcased the results of those who have taken the “Uppers Challenge.”  

Spokespeople: To further capture media attention and reinforce our beauty/fashion positioning, we enlisted mother-daughter celebrity duo Joan and Melissa Rivers.  Through media interviews and appearances at consumer sampling events, Joan and Melissa granted Americans permission to break the "no white after Labor Day" rule and encouraged them to wear white – as long as it’s a bright, white smile.  The Rivers’ were perfect spokespeople because they were an ideal fit with our theme and offered a built-in, bi-coastal appeal.  Also, we recruited respected dentists to serve as spokespeople to lend additional credibility.

Teaser Campaign: New York and Los Angeles set trends for beauty and fashion.  So, we targeted these markets with a teaser campaign to jump start word of mouth in advance of our Sept. 20 national launch day. A bright-blue sparkling teaser postcard was sent to local market media and distributed to consumers at major shopping centers the day after Labor Day inviting them to come hear Joan or Melissa Rivers tell them why it's now okay to wear white. Also, we designed and coordinated a giant billboard located in New York's Times Square for the same purpose. Just prior to the events, we sent an animated, viral e-mail featuring Joan Rivers as a reminder to media and targeted consumers.  

“It's Okay to Wear White” Launch Day Sampling Events: Imagine New York's Herald Square or Los Angeles' Third Street Promenade.  Now, picture thousands of consumers, a huge display booth fashioned after the design of a Crest Whitestrip and Joan and Melissa Rivers handing out samples and signing permission slips allowing consumers to wear white after Labor Day.   In the background, a local top radio station conducts trivia contests and gives the first 100 people wearing white free boxes of Crest Whitestrips.  Dispersed throughout the area is a cadre of trained greeters armed with 6,000 individual samples, time-sensitive dollar-off coupons and key messages about Crest's latest breakthrough.  These aren't ordinary greeters, but those who have taken the "Uppers Challenge."  This product demo was a terrific and easy way for consumers to see for themselves and return to their offices, homes and schools to spread credible word of mouth about Crest Whitestrips.  A special "White Sale" promotion also was created to coincide with the day's activities to provide consumers a deal for purchasing that day.

Launch Day Press Kit and Media Effort: Starting at 3 a.m. on the West coast and 6 a.m. in the East, we conducted a bi-coastal media blitz.  While Melissa appeared on radio and television stations throughout the country as part of a satellite media tour, Joan was trekking all over New York appearing on morning shows. Later that day, Joan and Melissa attended the consumer sampling events where video footage and photos were captured for national distribution.  Simultaneously, eye-catching press kits and full product samples were timed to land on reporters' desks at key online media and top daily newspapers.  The press kit cover and letterhead mimicked the product’s texture, colors and shapes.  The entire kit had a smooth, modern feel to it and lent itself to the new age presence of the product.  The press kit materials featured product information and a slide, photos the uppers challenge and quotes and background information on Joan and Melissa Rivers.

Specific Television Effort:  We worked with KUSA-TV, the NBC affiliate in Denver, for two months to develop a story on Crest Whitestrips.  The placement -- which included interviews with the inventor and a consumer who had tried the product, as well as store and manufacturing footage – also ran on the station’s web site.  The product information was so well received by consumers that the evening the story aired, the TV station’s ratings jumped from 24 to 32 percent share.  In addition, the story generated so much viewer excitement that the station has decided to run another Crest Whitestrips story in February, during sweeps.  The Brand was also extremely excited about the piece because it caused the largest spike in sales to date.  Since this segment was so well received, we used it as a guide to put together similar efforts for the top 25 NBC stations across the country. These stations, in turn, passed the information on to smaller NBC stations nationwide.  As a result, more than 40 NBC stations across the country, including those in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas, aired stories on Crest Whitestrips, garnering more than 5.7 million media impressions for this initiative alone.     

Grassroots Outreach: Our targeted influencer outreach began when we took Crest Whitestrips on the road to the National Panhellenic Conference to reach sorority leaders and to the Association of Bridal Consultant’s annual conference to reach bridal consultants.  We distributed Crest Whitestrips samples, delivered key messages and showcased the results of those who have taken the "Uppers Challenge."  Our booth was the most-visited booth at both meetings.  In addition, we sponsored a dinner banquet and presentation for the National Cosmetology Association, where we delivered key messages and distributed product samples.

The launch of Crest Whitestrips broke the rules.  For once, we could answer the age-old PR question: "How many cases did you sell?"  The brand attributes more than one-third of sales directly to public relations activities by tracking a special code imprinted on all materials.  More than 227 million media impressions have been counted to date with coverage still expected from additional long-lead publications and newspapers.  National broadcast coverage included segments on the Today Show, Fox & Friends, the All News Channel and Lifetime Live.  Print and online coverage included iVillage, MainFloor,, Elle, Allure, Jane, W, Glamour, InStyle, Mademoiselle, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day, McCall’s, Self, Men’s Health and US Weekly.  MS&L/Chicago generated awareness, motivated trial and most importantly contributed to our client's business by generating sales through the Web site and toll-free number.