Early on in the Whitestrips innovation process, Bob Dirksing, an elite P&G Research Fellow, and young Paul Sagel worked side-by-side. Sagel states, “You can’t plan innovation; it emerges from an ongoing cycle of limitless curiosity, experimentation and observation that appears chaotic to an onlooker.” Dirksing’s wisdom and guidance paired with Sagel’s enthusiastic energy and creativity collectively produced something far superior than the two parts combined.
Needless to say, the dynamic pair increased the prototype’s stability from hours to days, weeks to months, and eventually years. Today, Crest Whitestrips has a shelf life of more than two years, despite what nearly all peroxide experts thought was impossible.
Dodging Relational and Legal Curveballs
The challenges did not cease there for Sagel and the P&G research and development team. When Crest Whitestrips was first set to launch, dentists were still consumers’ prime source for tray-based whitening options. Crest had a strong relationship with the dentist community and did not want their new product to sacrifice the relationship nor the dentists’ multi-million dollar industry. Through careful deliberations and honest conversations, Crest was able to maintain positive relations with dentists. According to Crest, Whitestrips is the #1 dentist-recommended teeth whitening product in the U.S.2
Despite several prosperous overhauls made during the Whitestrips engineering process, there was one more curveball aimed at Crest, this time from their chief competitor—Colgate. In 2003, Colgate claimed that P&G falsely advertised Crest Whitestrips as, “clinically proven to be superior and whiten teeth ‘two times better’ than Colgate’s product, Simply White.”3 After one year of defense—Sagel served as the expert witness and corporate representative—and a unanimous vote later, Colgate lost $79 million to P&G. The case is now used as a case study for the Harvard Business School.