Quilted Northern 3-Ply Entry Gets the Soft Sell

Quilted Northern is giving its three-ply Ultra Plush toilet tissue the soft sell with a campaign that emphasizes the comfort provided by that extra ply.

TV spots for Ultra Plush breaking tonight via DDB, New York, closely examines the anatomy of the toilet tissue. “It has two layers for softness and an inner layer for a luxurious experience you can see and feel,” the voiceover says.  To emphasize the paper’s softness, the spot shows a woman donning a fluffier-than-normal pair of slippers and bathrobe. Another variation of the ad shows a puppy jumping onto a bed and getting lost in layers of bed sheets. Tagline: “Luxury you can see and feel.”

A mix of print, online and in-store ads support. The product’s key demographic is women 45 years and older.

“Our strategy is to break through the product category by providing [toilet tissue] that is actually different with an added ply for softness, absorbency and strength,” said Andrew Towle, general manager and vp of consumer tissue at Georgia-Pacific, the parent company of Quilted Northern.

The launch makes Quilted Northern one of a few manufacturers with 3-ply toilet paper on the market. P&G’s Charmin is currently available in 1- and 2-ply. President’s Choice, a private label brand owned by Canadian retailer Loblaws, sells a similar 3-ply product.

For rival Procter & Gamble, which dominates the category with its Charmin brand, Quilted Northern’s upping of the ante isn’t a major concern. “Right now, what we’ve found is that it’s not necessarily ‘ply’ that demonstrates or indicates softness or absorbency. It’s the fundamental technology behind the product,” said P&G rep Dewayne Guy.

Nevertheless, Quilted Northern will seek to make the link between ply count and softness in its ads with images of larger-than-life cotton swabs and extra layers of memory foam and batting. Towle said Ultra Plush evolved from company research showing that consumers view the bathroom as one of the most important areas of the house. “For women, it’s all about design, comfort and indulgences. For men, it’s about function, mechanics and ‘man rules.’ For guests, it’s about cleanliness, hospitality and the owner’s personality,” Towle said.

It’s an ad tactic that both manages to break away from and echo the brand’s traditional advertising. Up until Q4 2007, ads for Quilted Northern showed a group of animated old ladies stitching away at the toilet paper with their quilting needles. In company parlance, the ads became known as the “Quilters” campaign.

Towle said that while the “Quilters” ads were well received, Georgia-Pacific decided it was time to send another message to consumers. “Rather than use fanciful representations, we are talking with women as adult women by showing them in desirable environments that are achievable. Every woman wants to surround herself in her home with the little things that can make her day more pleasant,” he said.

Georgia-Pacific spent $24 million advertising its Quilted Northern products in 2007, and $12 million through June of this year, excluding online, per Nielsen-Monitor Plus.

Jim Wisner of the Wisner Marketing Group in Libertyville, Ill., said the Quilted Northern line extension is an effort to win more space on store shelves. “It’s a way to fight for real estate in a category where real estate really is at a premium,” he said. As toilet paper takes up significant display space, the new Ultra Plush product must endure a successful trial period, or retailers are likely to remove it.

“Does it provide any sort of superior performance? It’s like pixel wars in cameras or the number of blades in razors,” Wisner said. It all boils down to the product being different or better than what consumers are currently using, he added.