Kimberly-Clark Corp. would like to start a conversation about vaginas.
On Jan. 7 its U by Kotex brand is launching a "Generation Know" campaign featuring 30- and 15-second TV spots. While the spots dance around the "V" word for the sake of getting past network standards, they support a much franker series of online videos and a GenerationKnow.com website styled as a sort of social network for discussing vaginal health.
Work from WPP's Ogilvy & Mather, New York, leads the effort for the nearly three-year-old offshoot of the venerable Kotex brand. U by Kotex reversed a decades-long decline for the franchise by using offbeat, colorful designs, new packaging and a campaign that broke the conventions of feminine-care marketing.
Now, the brand is taking a step further by talking more directly about the anatomy it serves. The Generation Know effort addresses such "vaginal health myths" as the idea that using tampons means girls lose their virginity, or that the products can get lost in their bodies.
"One might view this work as provocative," said Melissa Sexton, integrated marketing planning director at K-C. "But it's provocative not for the sake of being provocative, but because that 's the way the honest conversation needs to happen."
The TV ad uses testimonials from women young and old to address such myths as the virginity issue or the notion that "everyone will know" when a woman has her period. The online videos delve deeper, including a mini-documentary (below) where video blogger Kat Lazo confronts women on the street with diagrams and questions about vaginas.
In another video (below) tackling misconceptions, a woman who had her first period in 1952 recounts being told by her mother that bears in the forest might attack her if they "smelled the blood" during menstruation.
GenerationKnow.com, a restage of the UbyKotex.com website, last week began offering bracelets to girls and women who sign up for the site. In moderated forums, they can ask or answer questions about vaginal health and periods. Answers come from moms and health experts in addition to peers.
The web effort in some ways resembles the more than decade-old BeingGirl.com backing Procter & Gamble Co.'s category-leading Always and Tampax brands. But Jay Gottleib, VP-adult and feminine care at K-C, said: "We're not trying to be the tell-all expert, but to create that platform where you can find information and empower you as a woman or young girl entering the category to have a conversation."
Mr. Gottleib said he thinks U by Kotex is doing a good job of "walking a fine line" between being funny and sounding overly preachy or educational.
But how does Generation Know sell feminine products?
The goal is to forge a closer emotional bond with consumers, the target being girls and women ages 14 to 22 , said Lauren Kren, brand manager for U by Kotex.
"We talked to girls and found over half of them have trouble separating myths from facts when it comes to vaginal health," Ms. Kren said. But the myths can now be addressed, she said, because "this is the first generation of girls comfortable in the space and comfortable asking questions and having a real understanding of their bodies."
Mr. Gottleib said U by Kotex will use Generation Know in early 2013 to further build equity as the brand that "created a conversation" about feminine care, but also will keep giving women product-based reasons to buy, like an improved "Sleek" tampon launched last year.
Overall, U by Kotex has claimed a 7% share of the $2.6 billion feminine-protection business in the U.S. in three years, Mr. Gottleib said -- a strong accomplishment in a highly brand-loyal business.
Since its spring 2010 launch, the brand has added nearly nine percentage points to K-C's 19.5% share of the $1 billion tampon category, and more than a point to its 17.9% share of the $1.6 billion sanitary-pad market, according to SymphonyIRI data from Deutsche Bank.
For that latest 12 weeks ended Dec. 22 , Deutsche Bank data from Nielsen show K-C up 0.7 points in tampons but down 0.5 points in pads.