Research conducted a few years ago found that younger, design-conscious consumers in the facial-tissue aisle were turning up their noses at boxes not tony enough to go atop their commodes, and were blowing those same noses on toilet paper instead.
Thus, Kleenex Oval Expressions were born last holiday season and recently expanded to a year-round collection in one of the most ambitious efforts yet to turn a low-involvement category into a new front in marketers' growing crusade to bring better design to everyday things.
"If we just designed something geared toward this [consumer] segment, we'd get their attention," said Christine Mau, associate director of packaging graphics for Kimberly-Clark. "And, sure enough, they respond very positively to seeing all these bright colors and new patterns, things you'd never seen before in facial tissue."
Until the ovals launched, the category had plenty of traditional, country-casual and eclectic boxes but little for urban-contemporary decors, Mr. Mau said.
Oval boxes were just the round peg to fill the square, slow-growing and low-involvement hole of facial-tissue marketing, said Steve Erb, senior brand manager for Kleenex. "When consumers approach the facial-tissue [aisle], they have a shape in mind," Mr. Erb said. "They want a flat rectangular box or upright tube. ...We realized adding a new shape had the best potential for category growth."
K-C research shows the average number of open tissue boxes in U.S. homes rose from 2.7 in 1981 to 4.3 in 2002, in part because homes have gotten bigger. But Kimberly-Clark, which has a roughly 50% market share in the category, still sees room to add more boxes to more rooms.
The three-ply holiday ovals and the everyday, two-ply Oval Expressions product fit physically or decoratively in more places, he said. Dining rooms, a last frontier for Kleenex, are one target, particularly for the holidays.
Another goal-to tap impulse holiday purchases-was something last year's holiday collection achieved so well that it was the top-selling item in the category during the period, despite what Mr. Erb describes as "limited distribution." It was helped along by print and online advertising headed by WPP Group's JWT, New York, that focused heavily on the shape and entirely on what he describes as "fashion-forward" books and sites. "We expect it to visually sell itself," he said.
The brand needs the boost. The holiday effort last November helped produce one of only four four-week periods in the 52 weeks ended Nov. 5 in which Kleenex gained dollar share, according to Information Resources Inc. data from Morgan Stanley. Two of the other months came most recently, during or since the periods when the everyday oval collection began shipping in October.
Perhaps best for the brand, the ovals appeal primarily to younger consumers without firm brand preferences, Mr. Erb said. And the oval box is patent-protected, providing perhaps some cover from duplication, though Ms. Mau concedes "it will only be the latest and greatest thing for so long, and we'll continue to challenge ourselves."