See the Spot: Viva Paper Towels Give Secret Subway a Thorough Cleaning

Is the 'Scrubby Texture and Clothlike Durability' a Match for Subway Filth?

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Paper towels are already a $5 billion-plus category, but they could be a lot bigger if people would use them for more things, like, say cleaning the subway.

So in an effort to do what marketers love most -- expand usage occasions -- Kimberly-Clark Corp. and agency Tris3ct, Chicago are launching an "Unleash Clean" campaign that shows people using Viva paper towels to clean a subway station.

K-C isn't allowed to say which station, or even which subway as part of its agreement with said secret system, said Senior Brand Manager Sean Nobui. But it looks brighter and cheerier -- even before the Viva crew whips out their paper towels -- than the dark, foreboding places that are most New York, Boston and Philadelphia subway stations. Not even firehoses, much less paper towels with "stretchable scrubby texture," would make much headway there. That leaves San Francisco, Atlanta and Washington D.C. as likely sites.

Why the subway? "The category has been really stagnant for years and really focused on wiping up spills," Mr. Nobui said. "Communication has focused on things like absorbency and wiping up spills. People are turning to other products like sponges or rags for other tasks. So we believed people needed to start thinking differently about paper towels and what they should be used for."

Given the cringe factor involved in touching the well-used surfaces of the subway, the idea is: "If it works in a subway station, see what it does in a home," he said.

Paper towel sales actually declined 0.4% to $5 billion for the 52 weeks ended Feb. 20, per Nielsen data from Deutsche Bank that excludes some faster-growing club, dollar and online outlets. But Viva has been gaining share, helping K-C add 0.4 points to reach 11.2% of the category -- and that's without TV support the past year -- so Mr. Nobui is hoping to accelerate the trend.

As part of a broader campaign, Viva also will work next week with Boys and Girls Clubs of California for an event using Viva towels to transform "old, forgotten used items that need a good, thorough cleaning" into something usable again, then donate them to deserving families, Mr. Nobui said.

Digital and in-store marketing are also in the plan. Omnicom's Ketchum is pitching in on PR, with WPP's Mindshare working on media.

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