What's Behind Diapers' Dirty Truth Tack? Smell of Success

Luvs, Huggies Dump Blue-Water Euphemisms and Address the Real Business of Doing Dooty

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BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- The era of ads with blue fluid and earnest moms diapering adorable babies may not be entirely over, but its end may be near -- an end coming not with a bang or a whimper but more like the sound of a whoopee cushion.

Like or dislike it, campy commercials that make no pretense about the purpose of diapers are selling product. Consider the new animated ad from Procter & Gamble Co.'s Luvs by Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, that shows animated tots filling their diapers to the tune of "Poop, there it is" as an "American Idol"-style panel rates them on their form.

Luvs' spot rates diaper ability to hold a heavy load.
Luvs' spot rates diaper ability to hold a heavy load.
The ad has only been on air four weeks, but seems to be well received, said Luvs Brand Manager Dominic Iacono. And the "Heavy Dooty Blowout Protection" Luvs promises in it did help Luvs become the only branded diaper to gain sales and share last quarter, according to executives of rival Kimberly-Clark Corp. and P&G on earnings conference calls last week.

At Kimberly-Clark Corp., an ad last summer showing a tot in blue-jeans-style diapers from WPP's JWT, New York, with the tagline "The Coolest You'll Look While Pooping Your Pants" delivered a major sales pop for Huggies that helped end months of share gains by P&G's rival Pampers. It also landed Huggies in the top five among brands whose ads were most remembered last year by females in their 20s (current diaper buyers) and teens (future diaper buyers), according WPP's TRU (formerly known as Teen Research Unlimited).

That follows a 2008 ad from JWT, titled "Geyser," showing an infant boy spraying the ceiling and much of the room with a powerful golden stream as his dad changes his diaper. Perhaps that ad's dose of reality took its cue from ads from JWT and Omnicom's Organic, New York, for K-C sibling brand U by Kotex that mocked decades of cheerful women and blue fluid in feminine protection ads.

Both helped their brands gain share, the latter helping end roughly a quarter century of decline for Kotex.

Increasingly, humor and frankness about the bodily functions addressed by diapers and other personal-care products appear to be working wonders for marketers, said Michael Wood, VP- research at TRU.

"We do a lot or research, and one thing we find for moms generally, but particularly Gen Y moms, is that humor is very appealing to them," said Luvs brand manager Mr. Iacono, so they're responding well to the new ad.

While it represents a new level of frankness in diaper ads, Luvs has always been a little edgier than diaper brands generally, as it appeals more to value-conscious and grounded moms. "Our mom has always been a down-to-earth mom, who's more about the real side of parenting," Mr. Iacona said. "She's not so much into the June Cleaver style of perfect parenting."

That doesn't mean blue fluid has entirely disappeared from diaper ads. It's made its way recently into everything from comparative demos for P&G's Pampers Dry Max vs. Huggies products to those for Pampers in Russia, where the category is still relatively new and small.

But newer moms are more open to funny, frank diaper ads now, said Stu Schneider, senior brand director of K-C's Huggies. He credits "Geyser" for helping change the nature of the dialogue in the category in the U.S. The ad, which supports the Huggies brand generally, still runs periodically.

"We really wanted to engage our millennial mom target in the reality of her day," he said. "Within her day there are good and bad moments."

He doubts that "humor for humor's sake" will always work or work in all categories. But it seems to work in diapers, where there's a sort of natural tension that can be released through humor, thanks to what the product does.

In other words, poop happens to sell.

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