A rather unfortunate incident takes place many times in pharmacies and drugstores where the customer tries to secretly purchase a potentially embarrassing item, may be condoms perhaps, or adult diapers for that matter but through no fault of theirs this individual ends up being outed with the taboo product put out on display for the world to see.
Would you drop your pants for incontinence ?, it Depends. Through clever marketing, cars can be made to seem either sexier or more practical, and food can move from virtuous to fun and back. Some products though, are inescapably embarrassing or disgusting and create special challenges for marketers.
In the past, key techniques for luring consumers of products like digestive aids, condoms and lice treatments have included humor and couching afflictions in creative euphemisms, but today marketers are adapting to the changing cultural landscape by developing new strategies to make embarrassing problems look ordinary and the act of buying their elixirs nothing to feel embarrassed about.
The number of distinct markets for consumers of various potentially embarrassing products is vast and growing. Condom sales, fueled by concern over infectious diseases are expected to rise to $5.4 billion by 2018. Lice infests between six and twelve million U.S. children per year. Bed bugs, after nearly dropping from public consciousness in the middle of the 20th century, are now experiencing an “alarming resurgence,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Between 25% and 45% of U.S. women suffer from urinary incontinence, defined as at least one leakage in the previous year. The problem increases with age, which means that aging U.S. baby boomers constitute a rich and growing market for makers of adult diapers — $1.4 billion in 2013. With global sales of adult diapers currently $7 billion per year and forecast to grow at more than 8% annually, Procter & Gamble announced in July that it would re-enter that market after an absence of more than a decade.
Boomers are aging and living longer and yet see themselves as forever young, so it’s no accident that one major campaign took a multifaceted approach that speaks to many of their interests.
A commercial for Depend adult diapers / underwear opens with a bearded, plaid-shirted hipster walking down the street, catching the eyes of young women but it’s not his good looks that is turning their heads because as the camera pulls wider you see that he is fully dressed except for his pants and is leading an entourage of similarly bottomless young adults bearing their underwear. “It’s time to bring it out in the open,” intones the narrator. “It’s time to drop your pants for ‘Underwearness,’ a cause to support the over 65 million people who may need to wear Depend underwear.” In other words, it’s not a sales pitch, but rather a plea to help some very attractive younger people who are out and proud about the need to use something which, it turns out, looks more like underwear than adult diaper.
“There’s a lot of shame and stigma attached to heavy bladder leakage, and basically it’s synonymous with adult diapers — there is no way of getting around that,” says Calle Sjoenell, chief creative officer for Ogilvy & Mather. “When we took a look at what the new version of Depend was, they actually looked very similar to regular underwear, and usually one of the best ways to make anything which has a taboo, no longer have a taboo is to let it out in the open for everyone to see, plain and simple.” The commercial itself, though, was just the start of changing how people perceive adult incontinence and the tool for dealing with it.
To raise awareness of what the brand calls a “social movement and a charitable cause,” a kick-off dance party was held at Pier 97 in New York. Customers are directed through social media to a website which offers free samples and coupons, and the company rewards users sharing photos and videos with a pledge that Depend maker Kimberly-Clark will donate $1 for each Tweet or Instagram post (up to $3 million) to the United Way and a foundation advancing public awareness of Incontinence and bladder problems.
It’s the existence of social media, Sjoenell notes, which has really allowed the campaign to alleviate the embarrassment factor by showing people safety in numbers. “Humans are inherently social creatures, and the need to see and be seen has always been there,” he says. “But now there is a very democratic tool, and 20 years ago, before Facebook and Twitter, it would have been hard to have this scale of a campaign. There was no way for people to participate, which we have now.”
“It’s everyone’s nightmare to have a store clerk announce to the whole store that they need a price check on adult diapers for the guy in line three.” – Jonah Berger
Wind says that the Depend campaign happens to hit on a number of critical characteristics of effective advertising — his “RAVES” model. It is “relevant, in that it speaks to an increasing problem. It is “actionable” — it gives customers a website to deepen engagement. It brings “value” through its coupons and free samples and further projects the values of social good through its donation program. The “exciting and experiential” comes through the relief viewers may feel in knowing that there are many others like them. And it “surprises” people with the fresh message that incontinence afflicts a younger population than they might think. Of particular value, Wind adds, is the credibility the company can gain by acting as a clearinghouse for customers to share anecdotal experiences.
“In general, consumers don’t trust companies,” he says. “But customers do trust other customers.” Sjoenell sees the “Underwearness” campaign as a possible template for changing the image of adult diapers and incontinence products to a more humanistic image, other conditions and illnesses that still carry a stigma are mental illness, depression and Attention Deficit Disorder among others. “Through the help of modern mass communications, especially interactive ones, we have a bigger understanding of ourselves as human beings, basically, and the diversity which comes with it,” he noted that On the web, everyone can share and sharing has done a lot to take the stigma away because the issue is no longer in the closet.