Sometimes a missed opportunity pushes a company back further than it should. Pepsodent is a perfect example of this.
The Pepsodent brand was once one of the top brands of toothpaste in America, however, due to some slow market decisions, it’s fallen off into a brand that is a shadow of its former glory.
Pepsin for Good Teeth
What originally set Pepsodent apart was the pepsin in its products. This active ingredient was a digestive aid that was meant to help digest the food that stuck to teeth and thereby prevent tooth decay. This was the reason for both the company name and the brand name.
It was introduced by the Pepsodent Company out of Chicago in 1915. The toothpaste had a minty taste that came from the sassafras plant.
Girl on a Swing
At the height of the toothpaste’s popularity, it had a giant, moving neon sign hanging in Times Square in New York City. This massive animated neon showed a young girl on a swing. It was so memorable and so remarkable that it was recreated in the 2005 film King Kong to establish the timeline of the movie, as the Pepsodent sign was only up from 1930 to 1933.
The Pepsodent Show starred legendary entertainer Bob Hope and aired on NBC radio for a decade, driving the company’s marketing efforts and huge popularity.
The company’s most famous tagline was “You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.” This tag was hugely popular for the brand at its height. Later down the line in the 1970s, Pepsodent was relaunched in South Africa with a variation on this tagline “You’ll wonder where the dullness went when you polish your teeth with Pepsodent”.
Unilever is one of the largest multinational companies on earth, and it bought out Pepsodent in 1944. For the next several years, Pepsodent grew by leaps and bounds. The company had to expand its production facilities several times, moving into Unilever factories that were vacated by other businesses.
The company saw a dramatic downturn in the late 1950s. This was because the company was late to jump onto the fluoride bandwagon that swept across the toothpaste industry at that time. Companies like Crest and Colgate rose quickly to the top, eating up Pepsodent’s market share. This is widely viewed as a huge missed opportunity for the company, who could have ridden the wave of its popularity had it not been so averse to the change. Some market research analysts blame the management at Unilever for the brand’s demise.
Since 2003, Pepsodent has been owned by Church & Dwight in North America, though Unilever still produces and markets the brand in other parts of the world.
Pepsodent today is considered a value brand that is sold in discount stores and retail outlets for about half of the price per ounce of its higher-priced rivals like Colgate. The formula still includes pepsin.
The product is still made and marketed around the world today, only with the addition of fluoride that might just have made all the difference seventy years ago.