Revamped products by James River Corp. and Scott Paper Co. follow successful line extensions in the past year by Procter & Gamble Co.'s category-leading Charmin and Kimberly-Clark Corp.'s Kleenex.
James River and Scott in particular are turning up the ad volume in a $3 billion category that had focused more on price and promotion than advertising and innovation in recent years.
James River last week broke a $14 million campaign on the West Coast to support new Quilted Northern Ultra; the effort will go national early next year. The marketer will spend another $6 million on its base Quilted Northern brand. The ad efforts by DDB Needham Worldwide, New York, are James River's largest in several years, said Tony Morakis, marketing director-toilet tissue.
By comparison, P&G spent less than $18 million on Charmin advertising last year.
James River's advertising follows Scott's Sept. 18 launch of an $8 million network TV campaign from Bozell, New York, for Cottonelle, the brand's first national advertising in more than a decade. It will be supplemented by $5 million in promotion.
Quilted Northern Ultra ads use conventional side-by-side comparisons with an unnamed competitor to focus on softness and thickness, mainstays of toilet paper marketing for decades.
But in launching its revamped Cottonelle brand, Scott believes it's using the first ads that address what toilet paper actually does.
Cottonelle's new lineup, dubbed the Advanced Personal Hygiene system, includes a hypoallergenic bath tissue, bath tissue with baking soda and moist personal wipes with aloe.
The ads show mothers and children talking about cleanness and freshness. Moms use the products to clean finger paint and pickle juice off their kids' arms.
Some competitors and analysts, however, doubt whether the average consumer really wants better-cleaning bath tissue, more complex products or franker ads.
"We've tested frank types of concepts with consumers .*.*. and consumers tell us they're not interested in having a frank discussion on toilet tissue," said a spokesman for P&G, whose share of the category tops 30%.
Charmin Ultra Double Roll ads earlier this year, via D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, featured cats unrolling two rolls of toilet tissue to demonstrate the new product's higher sheet count per roll.
James River late last year introduced its own improved-cleansing toilet tissue, Quilted Northern Wet or Dry, which can be moistened with water. But Mr. Morakis sees Wet or Dry as no more than a niche product with a potential 1.5% market share.
By contrast, he said, Quilted Northern Ultra, a softer, thicker superpremium line extension, should gain at least a 4% share.
Category-leading Charmin faces little threat from any of the new products, said William Steele, consumer products analyst with Dean Witter Reynolds, San Francisco. "There are some good products out there, but they don't seem to be able to compete from a product quality standpoint."
Even if consumers aren't sold yet, the trade appears to be. Cottonelle's new line has gotten the brand into supermarkets in the 25% of the nation where it had no distribution. And for the first time, Cottonelle is getting shelf space in Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target stores, and in drug chains representing 90% of that channel, said Maria Smith, senior brand manager for Cottonelle at Scott.
Any resulting gains can't come soon enough for Scott, whose overall category share has slipped from 20.9% to 19% so far this year.
James River faces the biggest threat from Cottonelle, because the brand is for the first time entering Northern's key West Coast market, said Evadna Lynn, paper analyst for Dean Witter Reynolds in New York.