But Kimberly-Clark found itself faced with a challenge: how to market a new Kleenex with Lotion that will cost consumers more. The answer? Sampling. And lots of it.
"When people actually felt the tissue, their reaction was: 'Why didn't you tell me it felt like this?'" said Angela Fisher, Kleenex senior brand manager. "We had. But we found that words just didn't do it. When they could touch the product, they really got it."
As a result, Naked, New York -- in the communication-planning agency's first work for Kimberly-Clark since joining the roster last year -- suggested a radically different approach: making sampling a centerpiece of every media and promotional vehicle possible.
That's resulting in 60 million samples in places facial tissues have never been sampled before.
Four-page magazine spreads next month will include sample tissues that can be pulled out of the ads. Starting Oct. 5, oversize pages in newspaper coupon inserts will appear in two flights of 10 million each. Targeted at households with kids and others prone to buying lotion products, the inserts feature tissues that can be pulled out of the page, in addition to the usual coupons.
All of Kleenex's store displays for the improved tissue also will include sampling dispensers. And the brand will have in-store sampling events, including at Target, which has never had a sampling of a nonfood product before, said Kleenex Brand Manager Amy Popp.
While Kleenex can't pop tissues out of a screen, TV ads are still in the plan at what Ms. Fisher called typical "launch levels" throughout the fourth quarter of 2008 and first quarter of 2009.
Kleenex's old campaign, "Let It Out," which featured folks sharing tear-jerker tales on a trademark blue couch, was about a different kind of feeling. But with more in the way of product news in hand, WPP Group's JWT, New York, has adopted a somewhat more conventional package-goods approach and a new tagline: "It feels good to feel." The ads show a woman going through a blur of daily activities until everything stops around her as she feels the new Kleenex.
Ms. Fisher said a new creping process accomplishes the heretofore-impossible task of making a tissue both stronger and softer than its predecessors. "Before," she said, "you always had to do one at the expense of the other."
In tests, K-C found that a majority of consumers preferred the enhanced Kleenex product over rival Procter & Gamble Co.'s Puffs Plus, she said.
While Kleenex outsells Puffs nearly 2-to-1 overall, according to Information Resources Inc., Puffs Plus has become a major thorn in K-C's side, accounting for all of Puffs' 1.5-point share gain and more in the 52 weeks ended Aug. 10, according to IRI.
That was enough to push Kleenex below the 50% share threshold for the first time in years, though IRI data don't include Wal-Mart, club or dollar stores, where generally lower-priced Kleenex likely fares better.
Puffs Plus sales were up 14.7% for the year despite a category decline of about 2.7% in the IRI data, even though they cost 17% more on average than what is typical for the category. K-C, citing ACNielsen data, says the lotion segment has been the category's fastest-growing, rising an average of 7% in the past three years.
While K-C and IRI didn't provide segment breakouts, Ms. Fisher said the lotion segment makes up about 20% of category sales. But Puffs Plus alone has a 13.4% share in the IRI data, giving P&G a roughly 2-to-1 edge in the segment.
Economy won't hurt sales
Speaking even as the stock market was tanking last week, Ms. Fisher said K-C doesn't believe the economy will hurt the superpremium launch. K-C recently increased prices 6% to 8% across all Kleenex products. Three-ply Kleenex with Lotion products are already priced two to three times higher per tissue than base Kleenex products. (The new Kleenex with Lotion is priced comparably to its old Kleenex with Lotion but higher than the base-brand Kleenex.)
"It's unfortunate that we have to have price increases from time to time, but at least we're offering more than what consumers got before," she said.
Kimberly-Clark has seen signs of an "hourglass economy" playing out in facial tissues, where "the middle group is going away" and consumers are gravitating into private label or superpremium. While lotion products have grown at the high end, private label has gained about a half point of market share at the other during the past 52 weeks, according to IRI.
"Superpremium is still growing, and the economy doesn't appear to be affecting it," Ms. Fisher said. "When people get colds, they still want that lotion add-on, because it's more soothing."