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Aug 11, 2010
How To

Tackling 'Taboo' Subjects: 5 Tactics from Kotex's New Marketing Strategy

SUMMARY: Fostering social change is not a common goal for brands. But if your audience is ready to discuss taboo subjects, your marketing can be a rallying point that dispels myths while boosting reputation and sales.

See how Kotex determined that its customers were ready for frank messages about women's bodies and health. The team radically repositioned its marketing and has boosted Kotex's market share. Includes tips on conducting customer research and creating content that encourages discussion.
by Adam T. Sutton, Reporter

Public discussion of menstruation is a taboo so profound that Aida Flick, Marketing Director, North American Feminine Care, Kimberly-Clark, and her team realized that little had changed in tampon and maxi-pad marketing since the 1950s.

"When you look at other personal care categories that women interact with, [such as] skin care, body soaps, body lotions and hair care, those categories had catapulted into the 21st century," Flick says. "Honestly, feminine care felt like it was stuck. Not much had changed."

But in 2010, Flick and her team challenged the taboo and completely revamped the marketing approach for Kotex, the team's feminine care brand. They created:
o Online videos and a website that frankly discussed feminine care topics
o New, sleek package designs
o Ads poking fun at the industry's past marketing messages (including the company's own).

The new strategy is working: Two months after launching the campaign, Kotex's market share was up 4% for the month of May, and up about 1% total since the beginning of the year.

"The results have been phenomenal and are exceeding our expectations," Flick says. "There is a tremendous amount of interest in what we're doing. And when you look at the comments, the majority are very, very positive."

Using marketing to break a taboo, however, is not without risks. The team could have alienated its audience and upset the public by misjudging its timing or messaging.

Below are five tactics Flick says were key to Kotex's success:

Tactic #1. Find an opportunity within the taboo

A taboo topic is not automatically a marketing opportunity. Aside from stale marketing tactics and package designs across the category, here are three other factors that influenced the team to push forward:

- Education opportunity

Too often, Flick says, people do not discuss feminine care issues until there is a problem. Limited discussion inhibits education, which fosters myths and creates health issues.

The team researched vaginal health issues via data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other organizations and felt that promoting discussion and education could help dispel myths and help women live healthier lives. This education could, in turn, build trust in the Kotex brand.

- Existing brand trust

Kotex created the feminine care category in the 1920s, Flick says, and the brand already had earned a tremendous amount of trust in the market.

The team felt this trust would make consumers feel comfortable with Kotex when it adopted a more modern marketing approach. Without trust, consumers would be suspicious, Flick says.

- Opportunity to grow market share

Kotex is not a market share leader in the feminine care category. Flick felt the team's position made it possible to take on more risk, rather than pursue a "play it safe" strategy.

Tactic #2. Research the audience's opinion

The team saw a potential opportunity but had not answered a vital question -- is the audience ready for such a campaign?

Launching a campaign without knowing the audience's opinion would have created significant risk. So the team set out to discover how women felt about the category.

They commissioned an online survey through a national polling agency, which queried 1,600 women across America, aged 13 to 34.

"Some of the statistics we got were that 7 out of 10 women felt like it was time for society to change how it views vaginal care, yet less than half of them felt empowered to do anything," Flick says.

Armed with this research, the team felt confident that its audience was ready for a frank approach to feminine health marketing. The research also became a key part of the team's new online campaign (more on this below).

Tactic #3. Design and thoroughly test materials

The team worked with agency partners to design a new messaging strategy that women would find appealing, Flick says.

The team wanted its campaign messages to convey honesty, openness and a down-to-earth approach to discussing feminine care.

For example, the team created a YouTube channel and uploaded about a dozen videos. One 45-second spot was a tongue-in-cheek jab at the industry's marketing. A woman describes how her period makes her want to "run on the beach" and "twirl, maybe in slow motion" while wearing "white spandex."

During her description, the video cuts to clips from older Kotex commercials of women doing these things. The video acknowledges that Kotex played a part in the industry's dated perceptions, Flick says, and has since received more than 1 million views.

Another video features a woman with a bicycle outside a store. She stops strangers, explains she does not have a bike lock and asks if they would go in the store and buy tampons for her. After showing several people's uncomfortable refusals, the video asks "why are 40% of people uncomfortable buying tampons?"

The team made sure its new marketing messages and product packaging were on target through rigorous analysis, including:
o Customer focus groups
o Competitive and market research
o Packaging testing

"Focus groups are where you want to start, but not where you want to end," Flick says. "Everything had to be thoroughly tested to make sure that this not only will resonate with target consumers, but also with the broader audience as well."

Tactic #4. Never alienate the customer

Flick and the team wanted to use humor to eliminate taboos, but avoided poking fun at women. Such an approach would risk alienating and fostering resentment in Kotex's customers.

"The problem is not women today, the problem is everything around them that can potentially make them feel uncomfortable," Flick says. "If we're going to poke fun and use humor and sarcasm, we're not making fun of her. We're making fun of the category, they way the manufacturers speak."

The team included its own past marketing efforts as targets for this critique (as described earlier). Doing so contributed to the effort's overall theme of openness. If you've been part of the problem, and if you're going to be open and honest, then you have to admit it, Flick says.

Tactic #5. Educate and foster discussion to eliminate taboos

One of the team's key goals was to supply straightforward information about vaginal health, and to get people talking openly about the issue. Through research, the team identified the Web as the top place girls go to learn about feminine care.

"That told us, 'Wow, the one place we better go to have a forum for them to ask questions and get answers was the Web.'"

In response, the team created a microsite where visitors could read educational information, send questions and have discussions in comment areas. The site, called "U by Kotex," had four main sections:

1. "Challenge the norm"

This section presented visitors with videos, polls and other information that "challenged the norm" of past tampon marketing and allowed them to discuss the feminine care taboo. The section also let visitors create their own humorous videos spoofing tampon marketing.

2. "School yourself"

The section presented vaginal health information from the perspective of a doctor, a mother or a peer. Visitors could submit questions or discuss related topics.

3. "Take better care"

The section let visitors learn about Kotex products and request free samples.

4. "Join the cause"

This section asked women to support Kotex's efforts to have frank, open discussions about vaginal health and feminine care products. The team included statistics from its focus-group research to explain the inspiration for the new campaign, and visitors could sign a declaration and have Kotex donate $1 to a related nonprofit.

The team also published its own website statistics to illustrate how visitors were "getting involved." For example, recent metrics included:
o 3,072 questions asked
o 195,060 polls taken
o 9,031 declarations signed
o 827,000 sample requests

(See creative samples for additional website stats).

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples from Kotex's marketing strategy

Members Library -- Gather Competitive Intelligence: 5 Tactics to Research Your Marketplace

Members Library -- Analyzing Customer Motivation to Create Campaign Incentives that Resonate

Kotex's YouTube Channel

Nielsen BASES: Helped the team test product and concept

Harris Interactive: Ran the team's online poll/survey

U by Kotex: Campaign site


See Also:

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