Procter & Gamble Co. opened a test site targeting teen-agers in Southern California in early March and another is on the way.
Designed for girls 13 to 19 years old, Toejam.com will be used as a subtle marketing vehicle for P&G brands and products such as Noxema, Cover Girl, Always, Tampax, Crest Whitening Strips and Folgers Cafe Latte.
“All the products have a vested interest in the teen population,” said Tami Jones, a spokeswoman for P&G. “More teens are influencing buying decisions and it is an important and growing segment.”
P&G, Cincinnati, has not set a launch date for the other site, Tremor, which appears to be more for product test marketing than Toejam's professed purpose: a forum for self-expression.
P&G's advisory panel of teen girls developed Toejam's name, an acronym for Teens Openly Expressing Just About Me, and had input on the site's content.
The teens even take shots at brands sponsoring the site.
“Some of the brands we use think our idea is a great one … but, hey, they don't control us. We're free to do our own thing with Toejam, as long as that 'thing' is promoting self-expression,” the site said.
The self-expression includes the opportunity to submit poems and journal entries and send personalized postcards to friends. A contest with Longs Drugs invites teens to take photographs of their friends, expressing their “energetic and healthy lives.” The stipulation is that the contestants must have their film processed at Longs. The winner receives $500.
Another contest allows site visitors to win tickets to a California Backstreet Boys concert while a monthly drawing allows users to win two Cybiko Inter-tainment Systems.
In addition to current P&G sponsors (and one non-P&G brand, Mentos), Toejam invites other potential sponsors to contact the site.
Industry analysts doubt the site's ability to promote P&G brands because they are rarely mentioned and a list of sponsors is difficult to find.
“It was very hard to find sponsors,” said Keven Wilder, owner of Wilder & Associates, Chicago. “You have to click on several sections.”
Instead, P&G should play up its brands by, for example, providing a contest to win a Cover Girl makeover with a famous makeup artist.
Another glaring omission on the site that promotes self-expression, said Wilder, is the absence of chat rooms and message boards.
“I wonder about the stickiness of the site,” Wilder said. “Chat rooms have to be part of this. Teen-age girls love to communicate with each other.”
P&G is overly cautious about chat rooms on the site following an experience with its now-defunct United Kingdom teen site, Swizzle. It closed the site in December, not long after some parents complained about sexual discussions in chat rooms on the site. “Swizzle was a partnership with an external project, and was not totally run by P&G,” Jones said. If chat rooms and message boards were added to Toejam in the future, P&G would carefully consider how to implement them, she said.
Industry observers also doubt that the site will be able to compete with well-established teen sites, such as Bolt and Alloy. Those sites have more of a portal feel, providing everything a teen wants to know, said Lisa Melsted, an analyst at The Yankee Group, Boston. “The language and the tone of other sites feels more straightforward,” Melsted said. “This [Toejam] felt like a marketing tool.”
Instead of developing Toejam and Tremor on its own, a smarter move for P&G would be partnering with popular teen sites.
“Sites such as Bolt and Alloy are already involved with the teen market on a broad scale globally and nationally,” said Lisa Parente, director of Greenfield Consulting Group, Westport, CT. “It's very difficult to create something that's cool among this segment and maintain its coolness. What's cool could change within two weeks.”
Although P&G sunk dollars into print advertisements (in Teen People and YM editions available in Southern California) and radio spots to promote Toejam's San Diego and Los Angeles launch parties, the company is not saying whether it will promote the site on a regular basis.
Despite the unpredictability of the site's popularity, industry analysts believe the pilot project is a smart move for P&G.
“The fact that P&G is launching these teen Web sites, and really being at the forefront of things involved with the Web, we have to applaud them,” Parente said. “Long term, I don't know if they will be able to develop a community of teens, but they will … be a lot smarter than some of their competitors.”
Similar to the concept of P&G's Reflect.com, Toejam will allow P&G to “get to know their clients one on one,” said Pamela Stubing, a retail/consumer analyst at Ernst & Young, New York.
Catering to the growing teen population is a smart move, Stubing said, as well as an attempt to regain sliding market share for brands such as Tampax and Colgate