Brushing Up to Kids

The Waterpik Water Flosser for Kids. The company targeted dental professionals, which drive the bulk of its sales to children.

The Waterpik Water Flosser for Kids. The company targeted dental professionals, which drive the bulk of its sales to children.

 By David Gill

“Get ’em when they’re young” has apparently become an important marketing focus for manufacturers of electric oral-care products.

Recently, Water Pik, the Sonicare product line from Philips and the Oral-B line from Procter & Gamble debuted programs that combine launches of products geared specifically to kids with efforts directed at getting parents involved in their children’s oral care.

Last August, P&G’s Oral-B and Crest brands partnered on a collection of tooth-care products made specifically for “tweens” (kids ages 8 to 12), called Crest and Oral-B Pro-Health FOR ME. The line includes an Oral-B-branded vibrating toothbrush, with a pressure sensitive split head that adjusts to the contours of children’s teeth; the CrossAction toothbrush, which combines patented CrissCross bristles and a patented Power Tip to clean between gaps in teeth; and Oral-B Pro-Health-branded floss picks to complement kids’ teeth brushing. Also part of this line are a Crest-branded fluoride anti-cavity toothpaste and rinse.

The tweener line recognizes the unique needs for children in this group. “We found that adult toothbrushes were not always the best size for older children’s mouths, and adult rinse and toothpaste flavors were often too strong,” said Kelly Heaps, P&G brand manager.

Philips’ Sonicare brand has combined a new product launch with partnerships with organizations to promote better oral health for kids. The new product is the Philips Sonicare For Kids toothbrush, which is designed to operate in two modes—a low mode for children ages 4 to 7, and a high mode for children between 7 and 10 years old. It has a handle ergonomically designed to fit into a child’s hand, and includes two gripping locations, which allow children to learn how to hold the toothbrush with their parents.

Sonicare has also formed alliances with in-person groups and online blogger networks, with the purpose of engaging both children and parents on oral care. In partnership with Scholastic (the children’s book publisher), Sonicare For Kids developed a storybook in the September issue of Parent & Child magazine called Ruthie’s Toothy. Other Sonicare programs involve social networking and blogs specifically for parents seeking health information.

The goal of these efforts “is for parents and children to learn about oral care together,” said Shannon Jenest, senior manager of Philips Consumer Lifestyle. Not only do they provide important facts about a critical health subject, but “they allowed Sonicare to reach the target purchasing audience (parents) in places where their conversations are already happening, and where they look for advice.”

Water Pik has been active on both the new-product and online front in reaching out to children. The new product, unveiled last month, is the Waterpik Water Flosser for Kids, whose design encompasses a new water-flosser technology that is claimed to be twice as effective as traditional floss, and a handle that accommodates the hands of children ages 6 to 12.

Jay McCulloch, vice president of marketing for oral-health products for Water Pik, said the Water Flosser’s design is intended to make flossing easy and fun for kids, who normally don’t like flossing. “Kids also wear braces, they get tooth decay and even gum disease from poor oral hygiene,” McCulloch said. “So our first marketing priority was to create something that would make the job easy and fun.”

While Oral-B and Sonicare reached directly to children and parents, Water Pik first zeroed in on dental professionals. “Currently the bulk of our sales is driven by dental professional recommendations,” McCulloch said. “So first, we introduced the product to dentists, hygienists and orthodontists.”

Once Water Pik had connected with the professional community, it then went to the parents. “Getting kids to floss is a challenge for most parents,” McCulloch said, “so making it easy and fun is a great way to get more kids to establish good oral-care habits early in life.” Water Pik began a campaign directed at mothers of children age 6 and older, including broadcast, print, online and social media.

The pluses Water Pik (and the other brands) gain from these efforts include creating brand loyalists for life early on. “It’s a very profitable category, with most users being adults who are 35 to 74 years old,” McCulloch said. “So if we can attract a new demographic segment, we can help increase overall category sales and benefit everyone from the consumer to the retailer to the manufacturer.”