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.

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