Shampoo may once have been thought of as little more than soap for the hair, but nowadays the sector is trying to present itself as a vital beauty product. Brands in Japan, the world's second-largest market, have long supported shampoo sales with a host of conditioners, serums and leave-on tonics.
"Japan is a very treatment-driven market and we need to find a way to bring this down to the less developed markets," says Yashaswini Samat, senior vice president and regional business director for Grey in Asia-Pacific, who manages Procter & Gamble in the region. With hair conditioner still rarely used in most Asian markets according to Nielsen, this will not be easy. But shampoo products themselves continue to offer considerable growth opportunity. The challenge for advertisers lies in creating brand loyalty in a category Samat calls "promiscuous."
"People are always changing brands, especially as markets develop," she says. "You need to be seen as an innovative leader to make sure that when consumers look for the next new thing they look for you."
For some brands, "innovation" takes the form of using increasingly scientific jargon to support product claims. Tom Pinsett, senior regional planner for Ogilvy, who works closely with Dove, says that that brand consciously shied away from such an approach in markets such as India and Thailand.
"Our adverts use what we call "kitchen science" experiments that intuitively make sense and people could do at home," he says.
Dove is also famous for eschewing celebrity endorsements, something that Pinsett says has worked well for that brand, yet is the lifeblood for competitors in Asia such as L'Oréal, Lux and Bawang.
By using non-celebrities, Pinsett says Dove has been able to position itself as a "trusted friend that celebrated all women". The approach has translated into impressive sales figures in India.
"Dove launched in 2007, and by the end of the first 10 months it caught up with Pantene, which had been in the market for the past 10 years, and with Garnier, which had been there for four years," he says.
For other brands, celebrity endorsements, however improbable, are crucial. Chinese brand Bawang, which bases the ingredients of its range on traditional Chinese medicine principles, saw sales rocket once action star Jackie Chan became its spokesperson.
Helen Heatley, account director for Lux across Greater China and Japan at JWT, says that while advertisers in China have to appeal to consumers for whom price is a priority, it is important to build a tangible relationship between consumers and the brand.
"In key cities like Shanghai and Beijing, consumers want to be entertained and engaged by brands that have a personality," she says.
While Pantene and Pantene Clinicare are the biggest players in the market, Heatley says because of their functional positioning they are losing out to new entrants like L'Oréal that has a more internationally glamorous image.
"In 2009, Lux become a brand offering more than just shampoo through its campaign featuring Catherine Zeta Jones," Heatley says. "Lux took the view that they wanted to engage their consumers, beyond the functional benefits of the shampoo."
Samat says this is the crux of the challenge to advertisers.
"No one is looking for the next big thing in shampoo technology," she says. "You need to focus on the things that really interest people."
One such way, says Dave McCaughan, regional strategic planning director for McCann Worldgroup, is to promote shampoos as being specifically for Asian hair. Brands such as Kao's Asience, which is fronted by Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, and Shiseido's Tsubaki, are marketed as being ideally suited to Japanese hair.
While shampoo brands are looking at how they can best use digital and social networking sites to share information and create allegiance among their customers, McCaughan says that uniting hair salons and magazine advertising still offers an important source of credibility to the average consumer.
"If a women in a salon sees an advert in a magazine and her hair stylist endorses the brand, a strong bond has been created," he says.
Top 10 shampoo
2 Head & Shoulders
7 Vidal Sassoon
10 Clairol Herbal Essences
This article was originally published as part of the 2010 Top 1000 Brands report.