Kotex Enlists Comics to Pitch Natural Balance Line

Marketer Proves Feminine Care Can Be Laughing Matter

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Conventional wisdom long held that you don't joke in feminine-care ads. But Kimberly-Clark has been laughing all the way to the bank with successful spots for U by Kotex in recent years and is now enlisting female standup comics for a new round of ads behind the base Kotex brand.

Credit: Tony Pettinato
U by Kotex, launched two years ago with ads that mocked feminine-care ads of yore, helped Kotex reverse a generation of share decline in the U.S. and top $1 billion in global sales for the first time last year.

During the past two years, the approach, begun by WPP's JWT and extended by sibling Ogilvy & Mather, New York, has added 5.5 points to Kotex's 16.3% share in tampons and 1.4 points to its 18.9% share in sanitary pads, according to SymphonyIRI data that exclude Walmart Stores, club and dollar stores. Kotex remains a distant No. 2 to Procter & Gamble Co.'s Tampax and Always, but has been gaining ground.

So now, K-C is extending the approach to its base Kotex business in the U.S., backing the launch of a Kotex Natural Balance line with ads mocking the blue fluid, cheerleaders and women in white leotards that were staples of category advertising for decades. In one ad, a comedian mocks the idea of "sport tampons," asking: "Why don't they make a tampon for when I'm buying a cantaloupe or eating brownies?"

In another, the comedian sarcastically says, "These maxipad wizards really get me," as a room full of white men in suits mull a pie chart noting the percentage of girls who love kittens, unicorns and butterflies.

With its black boxes and colored wrappers aimed at girls and young women new to the category, U by Kotex has played a big role --along with similarly styled products under different names in Mexico, Asia and Israel -- in Kotex's reaching the billion-dollar mark and becoming one of the fastest-growing packaged-goods brands globally, said Michelle Froah, global feminine-care marketing director for K-C. A combination of design and innovative marketing has been the key, she said.

The "Natural Balance" repositioning of the base Kotex brand aims to appeal to the same sort of consumer skepticism about feminine-care advertising that U by Kotex ads did, said Claire Miller, marketing director for Kotex North America.

"We are continuing to address a category that 's out of sync," Ms. Miller said, adding that "consumers have been spoken to in a fake way and seen many things that may look ridiculous, from ridiculous poses to scientific formulations that don't look very real."

The mainline Natural Balance product aims to "look very appealing to a consumer who doesn't want a lot of overengineered stuff," she said. The proposition is "great protection made from real materials" including cotton and aloe, though Ms. Miller acknowledged that Kotex, like all other products in the category, includes some non-natural materials.

Humor in feminine-care ads hasn't proved risky, she said, because women are actually "emotionally connected" to the products, and so speaking to them "in a way that 's fun totally makes sense, making the feminine-care category more approachable and letting [consumers] have a voice and talk about it without being embarrassed."

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