A remarkable one-third of all adult women suffer incontinence, whether temporarily or regularly, at some point in their lives. Considering the vast size of the consumer market, we might assume that the products available to address the problem would be varied, diverse, and easily accessible. But the unique situation created when marketers must sell products that people don’t want to need means that such an assumption is directly contradictory with reality. The gap is part of what has driven Procter & Gamble (P&G) to devote substantial resources to defining consumer demands, developing new products, and devising appropriate marketing schemes to get the products into shoppers’ carts. Its competitor Kimberly Clark already had a firm foothold, with its Depends undergarments, but research suggested that the market was even bigger than what purchases of Depends indicated.
Therefore, P&G leveraged its existing Always brand, which is well known in the women’s hygiene market, to introduce a new line of underwear. It chose to refer to the products as adult underwear, rather than diapers; developed packaging that featured the description in small font, to help minimize consumers’ embarrassment at putting the packages into their shopping carts; and aired commercials that referred to incontinence mostly obliquely, with videos of women dancing to the song, “Shake Your Groove Thing.” But in trying so hard to be discreet, P&G made it too difficult to consumers to find and understand the benefits that the products offered. In-store observational research revealed that shoppers tend to hurry through the aisles that stock personal items such as incontinence products. Many of these consumers also are older and may have some vision deficiencies, so they simply never saw the small font on the packages. The ads did not do much to inform them either, because it wasn’t evident that it was the underwear that was enabling these women to dance freely and without worrying about leaks.
In response, P&G quickly revised the font and design of its packaging. It also invested in further product development to create the Boutique line of underwear that looked more fashionable, like lingerie they might like to have, rather than a bulky product to treat a medical issue. In addition to the larger font, the new packages featured a somewhat sexy image of a woman wearing the underwear, as well as a bold color scheme. For the advertising campaigns, the focus shifted too. Rather than dancing, the women featured in the spots talked directly and straightforwardly to the camera about the limitations imposed on them by bladder leaks, such as keeping them from hobbies such as running and horseback riding, Then they explicitly outlined the ways that the Always product line helped resolve those problems.
The revised efforts have been a boon for the company; sales of its Boutique line now account for approximately 20 percent of the total in this sector, even though it is priced more than 60 percent higher than other options. Moreover, sales overall have increased by approximately one-third, across all products, indicating that more consumers are becoming aware of the potential benefits they offer. Yet the consumer goods companies still believe there is more room for growth. Thus they continue their research and development, including the introduction of an alternative option that functions more like a tampon. Early sales results have been poor, signaling that the companies still have more work to do to understand what women need and what will get them to make purchases to improve their lives, even if it feels embarrassing to do so.
- What other sorts of products likely face similar challenges, in that the people who need them are embarrassed or unhappy about having to use them?
- Are there any marketing tactics that might help reduce the sense of embarrassment associated with adult underwear?
Source: Sharon Terlep, “P&G’s Challenge: Selling a Product that Women Wish They Didn’t Need,” The Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2018