It's Pronounced Chookshaw

The semi-professional blog of Albert Ciuksza Jr.

Marketing to Women #1: U by Kotex

It looks like confetti!

It looks like confetti!

I threatened you that tampons would be my first women’s marketing post. Might as well go big or go home, right? Why not tackle one of the things us men are most challenged in discussing on the first go ’round?

So, I’ve been particularly fascinated by U by Kotex since encountering it in the health and beauty section of Target. It was featured on an endcap (I’m particularly obsessed with the endcaps at Target, which often feature some amazing clearance items). The black box with the big ‘U’ and color contrast was a particular draw, having no clue on first sight as to what it was. I saw the Kotex brand, tilted my head, furrowed by brow and said “Really?” out loud, drawing the attention of a couple of women in the section (awkward). Since then, I’ve seen these boxes everywhere where feminine hygiene products are sold, as they’re being displayed in very prominent store placements. At this point, the guy-freaked-out-by-the-monthly-cycle-that-shall-not-be-named was bested by my marketing mind.

Wow, that's boring, even for me.

Wow, that's boring, even for me.

The next natural progression was to take a stroll down the feminine hygiene aisle, where I found some fascinating packaging (see above). There’s really nothing to distinguish a brand — category leader Tampax is at the top (I noticed that the logo had been changed since the one on the box used by my mom to store batteries in the closet as a kid — Reduce, Re-use, Recycle!), positioned next to the store brand that has a very similar scheme (the usual tactic when a company wants to sell their higher-margin private label and have it be compared to the market leader), with a bunch of indistinguishable pink and baby blue boxes. Playtex Sport stood out because the women on the box were depicted as having an absolute blast while on their period, contradicting the behavior of every one of my ex-girlfriends while in a similar state. Perhaps the most interesting was Kotex — not only was it on the bottom shelf (retail products and Tequila have a similar rule when it comes to placement on the shelving hierarchy), but it had a generic box design with red flowers. Not sure exactly what subliminal message the flower was supposed to send, but, even in my open-mindedness, I don’t want to spend too much time thinking about it. Kotex obviously figured out that, well, its brand sucked.

Speaking with a friend of mine about the subject, she said that she goes to the aisle, grabs a box of the tampons to which she’s been brand loyal since her first period, and vacates the premises as quickly as possible. “I HATED it when they changed the box on me, because it made me stay there longer than I wanted to”, she complained. So, maybe that was exactly the point in the package design and positioning — keep it simple for women bothered by the experience and help them get the hell out of there.

Something in the company’s research said that there was a major branding gap, specifically in the younger Gen Y set. These young women don’t WANT to be bothered by the experience or afraid of a tampon falling out when they open their purses. I’m sure that Kotex realized that this cohort is not yet brand loyal and, based both on what was likely a combination of focus groups, survey research and generational strategy, the company decided to take the plunge on a totally different way to position a commodity product. The result is a stunning display of packaging (a deep black box [did you see any bold colors on the retail rack above?] with a peek at the contents, which feature bright colors) and, later, a social movement.

I decided to see if there was more to this strategy and came upon the U by Kotex website (http://www.ubykotex.com/) and was shocked by the design. This wasn’t pretty-in-pink, but rather a very contemporary look that you’d likely see at a high-end retailer’s site. A few features:

  • There is a black menu bar at the top, but the attention is drawn (once the flash-based site is loaded) to the four main links at the bottom, entitled: Challenge the Norm; School Yourself; Take Better Care; and Join the Cause. What? Wait, what cause? Challenge what norm? What a great way to get someone to stick to the site.
  • A slide show starts, highlighting statements by young women (my guess is a target of 14-to-22 years old) that express embarrassment (“My mom blabbed to everyone when I got my period. So embarrassing!!”) or contempt (“Cartwheels are the last thing I’d ever do on my period”) on a backdrop of images of various young women (none show their faces in their entirety). With these quotes appeared some data points about tampons, one of which reminded me of my aforementioned friend — 85% of women are afraid to be seen with a tampon. A few others struck me — if this is unbiased research, there was obviously a glaring opportunity that the other companies clearly missed.
  • There’s a Facebook Connect button at the top, along with a “sign in” link. That’s only the beginning of the social integration of the site. Each section takes its shots at the traditional thinking about tampons and periods, with spoof ads, the ability to tag bad ads, make comments and take polls and, boldly, “take back the conversation”.  There is an educational section (“get advice from a doctor, mom and peer”) that has videos that answer questions from whether tampons hurt to the history of these types of products. (Note: Facebook now knows I’m interested in U by Kotex. Maybe it’s time to revisit the privacy settings.)
  • Videos (www.youtube.com/ubykotex) that feature social experiments that challenge these norms! Pictures that make fun of traditional ads to which you can add your own captions (my personal favorite is a picture of a woman doing cartwheels in a field with the caption, “Forget blood, grass stains suck.”)! All in a fun, interactive format.
  • The the kicker of the campaign is “Join the cause”. This area of the site boldly calls women to action, declaring, “Let’s stand together in the mission to help girls everywhere feel better about their bodies and their periods.” The site also shows 5,874 girls have joined the cause. Sign the declaration (below) and Kotex will donate a dollar to support social change through Girls for a Change, a non-profit that “empowers girls to create social change”. Finally, throughout the site, there are statements telling women to Break the Cycle (almost 1,000,000 have committed to break said cycle as announced by the brand ambassador on Twitter, Twitter@JordanGetsReal, who, in an unrelated note, is cute), perhaps one of the most awesome applications of double entendre I’ve ever seen in branding.

I don't think John Hancock will be signing this anytime soon.

I don't think John Hancock will be signing this anytime soon.

Guess what? Gen Y loves social change. Gen Y loves being part of the conversation. Gen Y loves sharing its opinion. Gen Y has decided to change girl power, too. This isn’t about women, this is about YOUNG women. And these women can change the world, 28 days at a time. And, dammit, U by Kotex wants to let you know that Gen Y is going to take on this mission and change the way girls think about their periods, one profitable box of cotton-stuffed neon-colored cardboard tubing at a time.

I admire Kotex for this move. It’s obviously a departure from their red-flowered branding and it looks like a really great way to build brand loyalty with the largest generation. As with many things Gen Y, there’s a tendency for us to shed social norms and what better norm to shed than something that is totally natural and a part of nearly every woman’s life? Gen Y is also ridiculously brand aware and, based on my incredibly unscientific survey of my female friends, there’s never a deviation from the brand of tampon they’ve used all their lives. I can’t imagine that young women have anything but respect/interest in this branding campaign and I’ll love to see what happens to their sales as a result. And, maybe the branding is already working — they’ve gotten a guy to talk about it on his blog. Minus the “celebrate my body…” and “respect my vagina…” lines, maybe I should be signing the declaration too.

P.S. – The Australian version of the brand and site is totally different. I might take a look at that and do a compare/contrast in the future.

5 Comments

  1. The body/menstrual positivity angle is interesting. Laudable in that menstruation really does need to be destigmatized/reframed for many women, but also canny in a business sense,  given that so much of the current birth control marketing centers around period control (being able to skip periods and thus eliminate the need for tampons, etc.), which is a legitimate threat to firms in the feminine hygiene product industry.  The more women embrace menstruation, the less likely they are to see their period as a nuisance or something to be avoided and to keep companies such as Kotex out of the red (Sorry, had to go there. Powerless in the face of smirky humor).

  2. I never even thought about the threat that birth control poses. That reminds me of a story about a razor company in the 20s that convinced women that having underarm hair was disgusting, resulting in the shift of a social norm. It will be interesting to see how young women will respond — as a result, will they be more likely to embrace birth control or their period. That’s also why I thought “Break the Cycle” was an interesting choice — wouldn’t that be more appropriate for a birth control company than a tampon company?

  3. Thanks for the great post! We worked really hard to make this campaign something useful in addition to being pretty, and it’s so rewarding to see people appreciating our efforts.
    In response to the question about menstrual suppression: It’s been fascinating to me to hear this issue brought up since we launched the program. To be honest, it hadn’t factored into our strategy (women using products like Seasonique are a very small percentage of our market), but it’s definitely come up quite a bit in the conversation online. From my perspective, we want women to feel comfortable and educated enough to make their own choices. If a woman wants to use a pill to lessen or cease her periods it’s her decision and her right, but it would be so sad if women were doing this out of shame or disgust about their own bodies.
    Also, thank you for the compliment.

  4. Despite playing to the crowd a little, I was raised with parents who were very open about this stuff (i.e. I got the birds-and-the-bees conversation in first grade). As a result, I’ve always had a greater-than-average comfort level with these discussions. Regardless of the current social sensitivities, I am encouraged by the efforts by the brand to destigmatize the conversation, even if its from a position of self-interest.

    To your point — I actually LOVE that menstrual suppression hadn’t factored into the internal strategy conversation before launch, but that the community brought it up. I suppose that plays into a few of my favorite marketing themes: first, that customers truly do control the brand; second, sometimes the company ends up following the consumer (my post on the green M&M addresses that); and third that social media can bring to the attention some of the blind spots that marketers might have when pitching their product.

    In any case, I’d love to check in on the progress a couple of months from now (perhaps in summarizing the “women’s marketing” learning experience). Keep up the great work!

  5. Al – you are generating some interesting commentary in this threaded dialogue – I wonder how the marketplace is segmented, and how mother’s influence daughters.

    Maybe somebody in the know will share….

    Dan

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