Alternative feminine care Instead plans relaunch

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Despite the marketing miscues and bankruptcy of its original owner, a coterie of loyal consumers won't let feminine-protection brand Instead die. So the brand is hoping for a new lease on life with a $13 million relaunch late this year or early next.

Instead soft cups, an alternative to sanitary pads and tampons that can be worn internally for up to 12 hours, began in February a $1 million marketing test backed with an array of unusual tactics and quirky copy from Sullivan-Perkins, Dallas.

Among the vehicles Instead is using: A Volkswagen Beetle wrapped with brand advertising in Spokane, Wash.; posters in women's restrooms near the University of Texas; national direct-response ads in Conde Nast Publications' Glamour magazine; and sampling and demonstrations (using Lucite models of women's anatomy) at women's athletic events.

"We're not afraid to poke fun a little bit," said Mary Frost, president of Instead. "Traditional advertising in the category is so discreet you hardly know what they're talking about."

One recent print ad mocks the category's ad conventions, showing a woman prancing through a meadow behind the headline "Menstruation is fun!" The copy continues: "Actually, a period is never a walk in the park, no matter what the ads for tampons and pads try to tell us."

If all works as planned, Instead hopes to begin what Ms. Frost terms a "semi-national" relaunch by the first quarter of 2004, focusing heavily on six or seven more open-minded markets, such as Boston; Austin, Texas; Minneapolis; and the West Coast, for a campaign heavily laden with event marketing.

Instead first hit the market in 1996, backed mainly by media advertising from original owner Ultrafem, which filed for bankruptcy two years later. A private investor group bought the brand and took Instead as its corporate moniker in 2000.

The original campaign did a great job of creating awareness but didn't get many women to try the product, said Ms. Frost. Research shows 30% of women who do try Instead become loyal users.

still selling

Despite more than five years without significant marketing support, Instead has continued to sell about 10 million units annually to a loyal consumer base of under 1 million women. When retailer Target discontinued the brand in 2000, complaints led the chain to reverse the decision a few months later.

"[Ultrafem] obviously spent top dollar, had excellent agencies helping them [including Interpublic Group of Cos.' recently shuttered shop Bozell, New York] and they really followed what I would consider a traditional, consumer-branded launch," Ms. Frost said. "But this product requires a lot of education, and you can't get that [through media advertising], not even in a 90-second spot."

Ms. Frost said most women are shockingly ignorant about their own anatomy and that the product takes "a good five minutes" to explain. To that end, Instead has a starter kit with a video that it encourages women to get free via direct-response magazine ads and newspaper inserts.

marketing challenge

An engineer by background, Ms. Frost knows she has a big marketing challenge. "Sixty-five million women have their period every month and nobody talks about it."

But it's not an insurmountable challenge, she believes. She recalls sitting in on a recent sales pitch by a young male broker's rep to an older female buyer at Wal-Mart Stores and watching the woman's eyes "get bigger and bigger" as the graphic presentation continued. Ms. Frost stepped in to the talk, to the buyer's relief. The result: Wal-Mart will be giving Instead a trial in some stores later this year.

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