Advertising for taboo products such as feminine care and incontinence pads has long been indirect, hushed and heavily laden with metaphor and blue fluid. Kimberly-Clark Corp., however, has been having none of that lately.
U by Kotex, a premium feminine-care brand launched last year, has mocked "pleasant romp through the meadow ads" and other category chestnuts -- including some of Kotex's own -- and used digital advertising showing girls in graphic detail how to insert tampons. The Kotex core brand enlisted comedian Kathy Griffin to star in webisodes extolling the virtues of clean panties. And Poise got Whoopi Goldberg to star in a series of webisodes, later adapted for TV ads, portraying women throughout history experiencing "light bladder leakage" for its "One in Three Like Me" campaign on the prevalence of the problem.
Working on all those campaigns has been Melissa Sexton, 44, director of integrated-marketing planning for adult and feminine care at K-C. She has helped K-C's brands and agencies embrace the unconventional, even if she doesn't think it should be thought of as such.
"It almost makes me a little sad to hear people say the work is unconventional," Ms. Sexton said. "It makes me really question us as marketers and whether we've fallen asleep and are so removed from the needs of our consumers. ... Our strategy isn't about being unconventional. I know it's not luck. Our commercial programs are going to continue to be successful because, at the heart of them, it's about creating meaningful experiences for consumers."
Unconventional or not, Ms. Sexton must be doing something right. K-C's market share was up two points in both sanitary pads and adult-incontinence products and nearly six points in tampons in the first quarter vs. a year ago, according to SymphonyIRI data from Deutsche Bank.
Her winning streak extends before her career at K-C, when she was a windsurfer who landed a place on the U.S. Olympic sailing team. She came to K-C after hearing former Chairman-CEO Wayne Sanders talk about the parallels between strong marketing and a strong company.
"Great planners have this notion of intellectual curiosity, which is trying to find a way to do something better but also to understand why something is working," said Ms. Sexton's boss, Joe Malvezzi, senior director-global integrated marketing planning. "It's a trait few people have, and her ability to manifest that in both creativity and operations is what sets her apart. That's why you see her driving so much success."