Talk Dirty to Me

In a new Cottonelle commercial, people fall on their butts while rollerblading, perch on bike fenders and sit on scorching car hoods. “The world can be tough on bottoms,” intones a voiceover. “But you can do one kind thing for yours. Treat yourself to a little Cottonelle comfort. And be kind to your behind.”

The spot, by JWT, New York, is part of an estimated $100 million “Be kind to your behind” campaign by Cottonelle, the largest ever, according to the brand, a division of Kimberly-Clark. Along with TV and print, the campaign includes ads in subway stations and a Cottonelle bus touring several cities.

It’s a new crinkle in the toilet paper industry, whose yearly sales top $3.7 billion (not including Wal-Mart), according to Nielsen data. Tissue marketing traditionally has featured fluffy clouds and laughing toddlers, and has never dealt this directly with what consumers do — avert your eyes, Mr. Whipple! — after they tear along the perforated line.

“If you look back as recently as the ’90s, there would be a clearly different approach that would be less direct than today,” says Mark Worden, brand manager at Cottonelle. “But today consumers are telling us loud and clear that we have more permission to speak to them directly about the category, and more overtly about their behinds and cleaning and care for their bottoms.”

The euphemism, long a staple of advertising for products of a personal nature, is increasingly being swapped for candor — and not just among toilet-paper peddlers. Men’s grooming, cereal and feminine care are just some of the categories in which brands are franker than ever.

Industry observers say a number of factors contribute to the new candor. These include the ubiquity of Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drug ads, which prime consumers for more intimate characterizations of other products; ever-more-racy TV programming inuring viewers to more provocative commercial breaks; and an increasingly diverse populace that may be less puritanical about bodily functions.

Denise Fedewa, a vp at Leo Burnett in Chicago, which created the “Have a happy period” campaign for Always, says, “People have technology in their hands and can bring down a company — and that’s forcing marketers to be really transparent. We’re living in an era of authenticity.” Plus, she notes, “whenever there’s a big strong trend, there’s always a strong countertrend, and as life is more high-tech, we’re yearning for more high-touch, more frankness.”

The challenge for marketers, however, is what’s considered refreshing by some is oversharing to others.

“The bedroom doors of America have been unlocked since Alfred Kinsey, but they have flown wide open in recent years with the brazen candor of commercial advertising,” read an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal recently. “Must we open the bathroom doors, too?”

The answer, of course, depends on how a company chooses to address its consumers: whether it wants to be polite and buttoned-up, as if on a first date, or bold and cheeky like an old friend. With advertisers looking anew at cultural taboos, they’re weighing whether it’s their role to defer to such norms — or confront them.

Blushing and flushing

Dave Praeger, author of Poop Culture: How America Is Shaped by Its Grossest National Product and editor of, says stigmas around matters fecal are relaxing. “It’s a product of today’s media culture, with reality television and blogs making the line between public and private erode,” Praeger says. “It’s more and more acceptable to do things and say things that even five years ago would have been completely shocking.”

In his book, however, he notes that although “Noxzema demonstrates in its advertising how a few swipes sweep your pimples away, Charmin would never dare show a corresponding feat.”

Nor is Charmin — or any other bathroom tissue — likely to take that plunge anytime soon. But Cottonelle’s “Be kind to your behind” goes further than any major toilet paper brand has in pinpointing its function.

“We couldn’t have done [this campaign] 20 years ago because I don’t think the consumer was ready for a more direct conversation about being kind to their behinds,” says Cottonelle’s Worden.

The campaign, which includes a revamped Web site, also retains trappings of its old approach, most notably the puppy Cottonelle refers to as its “brand ambassador” — and for good reason. “Through the puppy we can help this discussion happen in a way that people can say this is fun and clever rather than really getting to a crude place,” Worden says.

As for the Cottonelle Comfort Haven bus, it hit the road March through May, with stops in cities including New York. On board, visitors could, among other things, lower their posteriors into massaging chairs and learn glutes-strengthening exercises.

Category leader Charmin, from Procter & Gamble, while sticking with its animated bears, is sometimes more graphic about what they do in the woods. A current TV spot for Charmin’s Ultra Strong brand from Publicis, New York, shows an animated bear vacuuming scraps of toilet paper off the hindquarters of another bear. The voiceover: “No one likes bath tissue that leaves pieces behind.”

Dewayne Guy, a Charmin representative, says the brand is not making a “concerted effort to be more overt about language,” but needed to telegraph the benefit of “strong” toilet paper: namely that hearty wipers need not worry about fragments being torn away.

Charmin’s experiential campaign has certainly made no secret of what toilet paper is used for. Over the last two winters, it has set up blocks of well-appointed public rest rooms (stocked with Charmin) in Times Square during the holiday season. Charmin estimates a total of about 1 million people used the facilities.

Kellogg’s All-Bran is getting attention for its current “10-day challenge” TV and print campaign, which heads into South Park territory. Featuring John McEnroe, who stays with a couple for 10 days while they test the benefits of All-Bran, it features lines such as, “Personally, I feel better when I let it all out.” In one print ad with McEnroe the line reads, “Who knew No. 2 could feel this good?”

The campaign, from Leo Burnett in Chicago, follows last year’s award-winning “Construction” spot. In it, a construction worker speaks while a number of visual metaphors unfold on the work site behind him, including a beam dropping through an opening in a wall and a truck dumping a load (get it?) of bricks.

Susanne Norwitz, director of brand relations at Kellogg’s, said past All-Bran ads adopted a somber, doctors-recommend-high-fiber-diets tone. “Traditionally All-Bran, like other high-fiber foods, has been advertised and often perceived as a medicinal remedy,” Norwitz says. “But as we came to better understand our consumers we realized the clinical tone was not helpful in helping them overcome a hesitancy to discuss — much less address — this issue.”

Less humorous, but no less direct, is the latest campaign for Dannon Activia yogurt by Young & Rubicam, in which Jamie Lee Curtis claims Activia can resolve “occasional irregularity.” Dannon declined to comment on the campaign, but a press release issued by the company quotes Curtis saying, “Whereas we routinely talk about other uncomfortable topics, such as erectile dysfunction, digestive health is not being addressed — and it’s time to change that. I am not afraid to talk about bowel issues — there, I said it.”

People are less afraid to talk about menstruation, too. Where copywriters previously churned out such euphemistic chestnuts as “that time of the month” and “that not-so-fresh feeling,” a campaign for P&G’s Always menstrual pads has been enthusing, “Have a happy period.”

Nic Fantl, global cd for P&G’s Always, says that “blue goo demos,” which “show the functionality of the pad,” were the norm for the brand as well as others by P&G, including Tampax and Alldays. But recent ethnographic studies done by P&G of women ages 14-30 suggest young women are candid about menstruation, Fantl says.

“The white horses and white dresses” of feminine care ads in the past “felt fabricated and not authentic to us, so we thought let’s skip that and go for the real deal,” he says.

The “Have a happy period” campaign broke in 2005 and remains active today. It includes the Web site for Tampax and Always, which describes itself as “for girls, by girls.” (The site’s offerings range from prom preparation tips to chatty information on puberty.)

Burnett’s Fedewa says it’s unusual to use the word “period” so prominently and so positively. “Our country was founded on Puritanism and pretty much the Anglo culture of the stiff upper lip, but a lot of other cultures are a lot more open about showing emotion,” she says. “Now that our country is becoming more diverse, those cultural constraints that are so Anglo based are falling away and everything is becoming much more open.”

Such openness is also reflected in pregnancy tests on television, particularly in ads for Clearblue Easy. A commercial by Amalgamated of New York shows the device and, as a stream of fluid hits it, a voiceover saying, “Introducing the most sophisticated piece of technology you will ever pee on.”

At First Response, another pregnancy test brand, ads stress that the device can provide a result “when you just can’t wait until your missed period.” Stacey Feldman, vp of marketing at parent company Church & Dwight, sees an attitudinal shift. “It was taboo 10 years ago to talk about trying to get pregnant, but the whole fertility thing is out in the open now,” Feldman says.

Although product placement was unheard of for First Response only a decade ago, the product (along with others) has appeared recently in the films Knocked Up and Juno and in the TV series Gossip Girl on The CW and HBO’s Tell Me You Love Me.

Patricia Ganguzza, president of AIM Productions, a 25-year-old product placement agency that handles First Response, says she sees pregnancy tests figuring into the scripts she reviews pre-production more than ever. She attributes it both to the culture being obsessed with fertility and pregnancy, and writers being uninhibited about putting the product in scripts. “It’s almost like the pregnancy stick is a great prop,” Ganguzza says.

From ‘Lucy’ to loosey

Such content would have been anathema in the 1950s, when network censors told Lucille Ball, whose real-life pregnancy was incorporated into the plotline of I Love Lucy , to avoid saying “pregnant” and use “expecting” instead.

Ben Grossman, editor of Broadcasting & Cable, says the popularity of uncensored premium-cable shows like HBO’s The Sopranos and Showtime’s Dexter have had influence across the spectrum. “Because of creative freedom at premium cable, cable has definitely upped the bar and there’s pressure for networks to follow suit and not seem like staid old television,” Grossman says. “The networks and cable channels are constantly proving how far they can go without stepping over the line.”

A study by the Parents Television Council of five broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and My Network TV) found that compared to 2001 the first hour of prime-time programs in 2007 were 22 percent more likely to contain sexual content and 52 percent more likely to contain violence.

“There seems to be a constant effort to test the limits and see what [the networks] can get away with,” says Melissa Henson, director of communications at the Parents Television Council. “As television shows have paved the way, the commercials have followed suit.”

Henson’s group tends to focus on the content of shows over ads, but she says they are considering a study that evaluates commercials. The group has recently been urging Pfizer to run Viagra ads later at night, when children are less likely to view them.

One way to steer clear of network standards police and the Federal Communications Commission: bypass TV altogether.

In 2006, Philips launched Bodygroom, a men’s shaver targeting 18- to 35-year-olds for tidying below the neck , including the groin, with a Web site,, and a campaign, “Bodygroom.” The site, by Tribal DDB, New York, features a bathrobe-clad actor — dubbed “innuendo man” by the creative team — espousing the benefits of manscaping, including “the optical inch.” The optical inch, explains Steve Nesle, the ecd at Tribal DDB who spearheaded the campaign, is when “trimming the hedges makes the house look bigger.” Although the profanity is bleeped for comic effect, the man’s monologue is rife with double entendres and raunchy humor.

Philips also used out-of-home ads, including motion-sensor posters in men’s rooms that began talking when men stepped up to urinals, and a PR push by Manning Selvage & Lee that landed Bodygroom on The Howard Stern Show the day the site launched. (Frequent guest Lester “BeetleJuice” Green, a dwarf, trimmed his nether regions live.)

In its first week, drew more than 200,000 unique visitors, within a month had hosted 1 million and, to date, has attracted more than 7 million, according to Shannon Jenest, a Philips representative.

A campaign created to go viral like “Bodygroom,” says Jenest, not only reaches masses, but also serves to filter out those who would take offense: friends share links to risqu