Marketers' Potty Mouths Pay Off

After Years of Emphasizing Softness, Companies Such as P&G Bring the Rear Out Front in Bath-Tissue Ads -- and Sales Are Up 10%

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BATAVIA, Ohio ( -- In the days when Mr. Whipple charmingly squeezed the Charmin, the scatological details of the product he endorsed were only obliquely addressed in marketing. But today the marketers that once used cute puppies, puffy clouds and quilting ladies as proxies for softness in toilet-tissue ads have become a lot more direct -- and are selling more product as a result.

Category sales rose nearly 10% for the most recent four-week period tracked by Information Resources Inc. And while price increases were responsible for much of that gain, the marketing at least let marketers pass along those increases without losing share to private label.

The category is also being helped along by edgier ads such as Procter & Gamble's animated Charmin bears. The duo that began work innocently enough eight years ago is now doing shocking things in the woods. In one spot, one chases the other with a vacuum to clean scraps of toilet paper off its rear end.

The vacuum ad, from Publicis Worldwide, New York, is about demonstrating the benefit of the new, stronger, red-packaged Charmin Ultra Strong: It "leaves fewer pieces" behind, relieving need for the vacuum.

Sore consumers
P&G President-Global Business Units Susan Arnold summed it up at a September investor conference. Consumer research taught P&G that a substantial segment of consumers were dissatisfied with Charmin because of the paper residue, so it restaged the brand, adding a two-ply Ultra Strong version in contrast to the Ultra Soft.

A recent direct-mail piece from Charmin is even more explicit, showing sparkly pieces, apparently tissue scraps, on a bear's behind and promising "a new kind of clean."

"We all get it, and none of us want to talk about it," says the brochure, which goes on to do just that. The thing we don't want to talk about, it notes, is "that feeling when our bath tissue leaves pieces behind."

Charmin Ultra Strong does claim to leave fewer pieces. An asterisk notes that this is in comparison to an unnamed "ultra-rippled brand."

That would be Kimberly-Clark Corp.'s Cottonelle, which in its own right is focused on people's bottoms like never before.

What dogs do best
Cottonelle's puppy is still around, but as part of the "Be Kind to Your Behind" campaign launched earlier this year, he's spending a lot of time looking at people's rear ends. He's leading what K-C calls one of its largest nontraditional campaigns ever, anchored by plenty of ads prominently featuring people's behinds.

K-C has been equally direct with two consecutive years of Super Bowl promotions around the theme of the halftime flush, featuring pitchman Mike Ditka.

"We found ... that if you communicate the benefits of your product in a lighthearted and tasteful manner, you can talk a little more directly about what the product does," said Stu Schneider, marketing director for Cottonelle and Scott bath tissue.

Cottonelle's Labrador, however, still comes in handy. "People still don't feel too comfortable [talking about toilet-paper benefits] even in today's environment," he said. "But coming from the puppy ... we're able to talk about kindness to behinds."

Happy behinds
It's all good, apparently, but especially for Charmin, which has seen its market share rise consistently since the vacuum ads began running last fall, more recently gaining four share points in the four weeks ended March 23, according to IRI data reported by Morgan Stanley.

But the data don't cover about half the toilet-paper market, including sales at Wal-Mart, club and dollar stores. And Cottonelle and Scott sales are up too, Mr. Schneider said.

"It certainly seems to be working," he said. "Not only are people enjoying the potty humor, but they're internalizing the benefits we're portraying."

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