Marketing with candor: adult incontinence products, tampons

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Kimberly-Clark, the company that manufactures Kotex brand pads and tampons as well as Poise and Depend adult incontinence products, has decided to take a more straightforward approach in hawking its wares. Last month Whoopi Goldberg appeared in a TV ad for Poise during the Oscars portraying several famous historical women with the same wee problem. (Everyone from Lady Liberty to Mona Lisa confesses that they sometimes “spritz” and Cleopatra announces, “I have been leaking for years!”) In early March Kimberly-Clark announced that they would begin selling Depend adult incontinence pads and underwear in bright colors and floral prints, and recently began a TV ad campaign featuring active older people whose friends and families “know” so much about them, but don’t know that they have a leakage problem.

When it comes to marketing menstrual pads and tampons, the company now opts for humor over the familiar approach of euphemistic explanations and demonstrations with clear blue liquid. The tag line on the top of the U by Kotex website states what every woman past puberty already knows: “People are so freaky about periods. What gives?” The site also has an ad in which a guy ostensibly sent out to the supermarket to buy tampons for his girlfriend solicits the help of random shoppers. At one point he recruits the help of a stocky man in a sweatsuit, who reads off the labels of different boxes of pads and when he comes upon one labeled “long” turns to ask, “Is your girlfriend tall?” Allison Silverman at used the new ad campaign as inspiration to explore the worst pad and tampon marketing cliches in an amusing slide show that points out the bizarre similarities between ads selling cigarettes and those marketing everything from tampons to birth control.

The company’s efforts to infuse their ad campaigns with humor began last spring, when they debuted unscripted documentary-style ads directed by Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Errol Morris. (That’s right, the guy who won an Oscar for The Fog of War.) If it seems like Kimberly-Clark is pulling out all the stops to market adult incontinence products, it’s with good reason. Between 25 to 27 million American adults suffer from urinary incontinence—and spend some $1.2 billion annually on incontinence products.