Founded in 1872, Neenah, Wis.-based Kimberly-Clark Corp. has had a long history of dealing with sensitive subjects and breaking new ground in advertising. Despite the company's history, much of the credit for Kimberly-Clark's position in the 21st-century marketplace goes to Darwin E. Smith, the company's CEO from 1971 to 1991. During his tenure, Mr. Smith restructured the company and entered new consumer businesses. He also pushed the idea of spending extensively on advertising.
Kotex: Breaking taboos
Kimberly-Clark accidentally invented the category of feminine-hygiene protection; sanitary napkins were a by-product of World War I. A cotton shortage during the war forced Kimberly-Clark to produce bandages for soldiers from a wood fiber called "cellucotton." Nurses in France began using them as sanitary napkins. In 1920, Kimberly-Clark began selling the product, called Kotex, but marketed it under a subsidiary?Cellucotton Products Co.?because of the subject matter.
The first ad for Kotex showed a nurse attending wounded soldiers who faced the viewer, but it was pulled before its first publication because of concerns that men should not be featured in a feminine hygiene discussion. In the altered ad, three women surrounded a soldier sitting in a wheelchair, with his back to the viewer; ad copy was simple, saying that Kotex "complete(s) the toilet essentials of the modern woman." Another ad featured a drawing of a sophisticated woman, with the headline "In the wardrobe of her royal daintiness."
To counter any embarrassment a woman might have about asking for Kotex at her local drugstore, the company began wrapping Kotex packages in plain wrappers. It also advised merchants to stack Kotex on a counter along with a box for the money.
Debate continues about who actually created these first early ads for Kotex. Both the Charles F.W. Nichols Agency and Lord & Thomas took credit for the campaign.
By 1932, with the account at Lord & Thomas, Kimberly-Clark and its marketing had grown more daring, showing pictures of women in tight-fitting gowns to demonstrate that Kotex was invisible under clothing. Other ads over the years showed mothers and daughters sharing knowledge about the product and descriptions of new-product innovations. By 1965, Kotex controlled 62% of the U.S. feminine hygiene market and was spending $4 million annually on advertising.
That same year, Kotex tampons reached national distribution, and in 1966, Kimberly-Clark launched its biggest marketing push for a feminine hygiene product, Soft Impressions, with color spreads from Foote, Cone & Belding in 45 magazines. By the mid-1970s, Kotex was losing market share to newer entrants from competitors. In June 1974, it hired Kelly, Nason, New York, to handle its account, severing its 50-year relationship with FCB.
By the turn of the century Kotex, still viewed as an older brand, was changing its advertising to attract younger consumers. "If a period is supposed to come at the end of a sentence, how come Mother Nature puts it wherever she wants, like, say, right in the middle of your beach vacation?" asked a fall 2000 commercial by Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago. Seen on the screen was black type dancing on a white background, and then punctuated by a bright red period. The tagline: "Kotex fits. Period!"
Kleenex: "Swell hankies"
Following up on its successful introduction of Kotex, Kimberly-Clark gave the world its first facial tissue, Kleenex, in 1924. It was introduced as a disposable, sanitary cold cream towel for women. After receiving letters saying that "Kleenex makes swell hankies," the company in 1930 began marketing Kleenex as a throwaway substitute for handkerchiefs; the pop-up tissue dispenser also made its debut. Ad copy from Lord & Thomas read, "Colds make handkerchiefs a menace but there's safety in Kleenex" and "World's worst job ended by Kleenex. No more handkerchief washing." Sales soared.
Other marketing campaigns included contests for ways to use Kleenex. The first TV spot aired in 1956, with a cartoon character crooning, "Soft, strong, pops up, too." That same year, Kleenex became a co-sponsor of TV's "Perry Como Show" on Saturday nights. A 1960s spot demonstrated Kleenex's durability, showing trumpeter Harry James' inability to blow through a Kleenex.
By the mid-1960s, the biggest proportion of Kimberly-Clark's advertising budget, between $4 million and $5 million, was devoted to Kleenex. Product extensions included man-size tissues, juniors, purse packs and tortoiseshell foil boxes. Kimberly-Clark went after the fast-growing, super-premium facial tissue segment with the introduction in 1993 of Kleenex Ultra, an oil-free, three-layer tissue.
In March 1999, J. Walter Thompson Co. won the estimated $100 million global ad account for Kleenex facial tissue and Cottonelle toilet tissue. FCB and its predecessor, Lord & Thomas, had been the agency for Kleenex for two long periods?since its introduction in 1924 until 1974 and again from 1983. JWT's first campaign for Kleenex used the tagline, "Thank goodness for Kleenex," replacing the long-running "Share the love, not the germs" effort from FCB.
In the 1960s, all mothers were talking about the disposable diaper, and P&G, which introduced its Pampers brand in 1961, had a seven-year lead over its competition. Kimberly-Clark was undeterred, however, and despite some stumbles vowed to capture significant market share. Kimbies made its debut in 1968, and with every new city in which the brand was introduced, the marketing campaign included daytime and prime-time TV spots on all three broadcast networks, coupons in newspaper ads and extensive sampling to consumers, hospitals and clinics. Within a year, Kimbies had gained 20% of the market in areas where it was available.
Then Kimberly-Clark shifted its focus away from Kimbies and by the mid-1970s, sales of Kimbies were sliding. However, 1978, the company introduced Huggies, a diaper with a new shape, better absorbency and strong marketing support, and sales took off.
An improved Huggies Ultratrim was launched in 1992, months before P&G introduced "ultra" versions of its Pampers and Luvs brands. The redesigned diaper was more absorbent, but the design was 50% thinner than regular Huggies, a product attribute touted in ads by Ogilvy.
Product extensions soon began to appear. Pull-Ups toilet-training pants for toddlers were launched in 1989, followed by Huggies, Huggies Overnites, Pull-Ups Goodnights and Little Swimmers swim diapers. Baby wipes under the Huggies brand were introduced in 1990. By 1998, the successful marketing of product extensions tied to the Huggies brand enabled Kimberly-Clark to take the lead in the diaper stakes, with market share topping 40%.
Another groundbreaker: Depends
Incontinence products for adults also broke new ground. Depend undergarments entered the market in 1980, and a few years later, ads featuring actress June Allyson told viewers to "get back into life." The ad campaign was the first national advertising for adult incontinence products, and it was almost seven years before two of the three TV networks accepted spots for such products during prime time.
A product specifically for women, called Poise, followed, and in 1998 the line was extended to include Depends "protective underwear," disposable adult underpants that looked like regular underwear, right down to the elastic waistband. Ads from Campbell Mithun Esty touting the similarity to underwear were effective; Kimberly-Clark was unable to keep up with demand for the product.
As the century ended, Kimberly-Clark was making moves to meet competitive challenges in various sectors, most notably the diaper and training pants market. Its relaunch of Huggies Supreme, starting in June 2002 and with a planned fall TV and print effort from Ogilvy & Mather, New York, ended a multiyear lull in new-product activity in that segment.
For 2002, Kimberly-Clark was the No. 86 U.S. advertiser with ad spending of $352.5 million, a 6.3% increase from 2001, and U.S. sales of $8.7 million.