With new, larger-size diapers, category heavyweights Procter & Gamble Co. and Kimberly-Clark Corp. are taking advantage of a social phenomenon that parents long suspected and grandparents decried-kids are taking longer than ever to potty train.
POTTY TRAINED BY 21/2: 22%
According to a study released last year by the American Academy of Pediatrics, only 22% of children are potty trained by age 21/2 these days, compared to 90% in 1961.
That may not thrill parents, but it excites leading diaper marketers by offering new opportunities to significantly expand the $3.6 billion category.
P&G just last month introduced size 6 Pampers Baby-Dry Stretch diapers, for kids 35 pounds and up. The rollout is being supported by ads featuring soft-spoken celebrity baby doctor T. Berry Brazelton encouraging parents to let kids toilet train at their own pace.
Kimberly-Clark, meanwhile, earlier this month began rolling out a new extra-large size of its Pull-Ups training pants and GoodNites disposable underpants for kids with bed-wetting problems, which will now cover children from 85 to a whopping 125 pounds.
Perhaps not coincidentally, 1961 is the year P&G began test marketing Pampers and Dr. Brazelton published an article arguing parents shouldn't push toilet training before kids are ready physically, mentally and emotionally.
In an interview with Advertising Age, Dr. Brazelton said he isn't sure why kids are taking longer to toilet train. Growing pressures on two-career families and problems coordinating toilet training between home and daycare may contribute.
So, too, may be what he sees as a "swing to the right" in child rearing, as parents again pressure kids to toilet train earlier, which in turn can create resistance.
"It didn't work in the '40s and '50s and I don't think it's going to work now," Dr. Brazelton said of the forced approach.
RESEARCH LOOKS FOR ANSWERS
The AAP study could find no relationship between attendance at daycare, moms working outside the home, the presence of siblings or other behavioral issues and when kids toilet train.
Could disposable diapers -- many decorated with kids' favorite cartoon characters -- themselves be to blame, making it more comfortable for parents and kids alike to put off toilet training?
"We don't have any real data to support that," said a P&G spokesman, who still admitted, "The hazards of cloth diapering maybe drove parents to training their kids, and now [the pressures] are not as acute as they once were."
PARENTS MORE RELAXED
Kimberly-Clark's consumer research indicates the biggest factor behind kids training later is that "parents are simply more relaxed about toilet training," a spokeswoman said.
"In the past, there was a social stigma attached to a child [who] was not toilet trained by a certain age," she said. "Today, parents begin toilet training when their child is ready."
Larger sizes of Pull-Ups and Goodnites "are the No. 1 request from consumers" in the diaper category, the Kimberly-Clark spokeswoman said, adding, "The shift to larger sizes is continuing every year."
The P&G spokesman said the company has noted "a significant increase in testimonials to our consumer [toll-free] line" since size 6 diapers and the ads with Dr. Brazelton -- from D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York -- hit the market last month.
Certainly P&G and K-C stand to gain by keeping kids in some form of disposable diapers or training pants longer.
K-C said parents may use fewer of the larger-size diapers and training pants daily. But bigger diapers cost substantially more -- a 22% premium in the case of Pampers size 6 over the next largest size.
The company is more interested in switching kids to training pants, a $400 million segment where its Pull-Ups have a roughly 80% share. To do so, K-C mails a 12-page "Pull-Ups Parent's Guide to Toilet Training" to parents of every 18 to- 24-month-old in its database. The guide recommends they wait until the child shows signs of readiness, then start toilet training and switch from diapers to Pull-Ups.
Ogilvy & Mather, New York, is K-C's diaper agency.