Adult Incontinence Category Is Booming

Personal care brands Depend, Tena and Poise are on a mission to remove the social stigma of adult incontinence, with a flurry of new campaigns and product launches targeting boomers.

A new spot for Kimberly-Clark’s Poise, a brand that provides “protection for frequent, unexpected wetness,” shows actress and comedian Whoopi Goldberg candidly talking about the frequent uncontrolled “squirt.” Poise also ran a spot during Sunday’s Oscars pre-show that featured Goldberg, its newest spokesperson, talking about the condition through the lens of different, historical female personalities. “I went [loud sneeze] and my God, such a puddle,” says Goldberg (dressed as the Statue of Liberty) in the spot. MindShare Entertainment handles. Goldberg also appears in a series of K-C webisodes, which highlight the growing problem of light bladder leakage.

Separately, K-C this month begins shipping Depend Variety packs, gender-specific adult incontinence underwear. The products, which are sold in a six-pack, are meant to resemble “real underwear,” said K-C brand manager Blake Boulden.

Meanwhile, K-C rival Tena, the No. 3 player in the $1.3 billion U.S adult incontinence category, this month will launch new Tena Ultra Thins, a female incontinence pad. The improved and less bulky padding isn’t common in the moderate-to-heavy-leakage segment, and yet, it provides more discretion to the female incontinence product user, said Spence Deane, personal care products marketing vp at SCA Personal Care North America, Tena’s parent company. (Tena formerly marketed its products as Serenity in the U.S.)

The adult incontinence category is changing, and it’s not just due to the estimated 25 million Americans experiencing the symptoms. Companies like K-C and Tena—and even food manufacturers like ConAgra Foods and PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay—have recognized the growing influence and power of the nation’s more than 70 million baby boomers. Ad spending in the category, too, has jumped 17.6 percent from $34 million in 2008 to $40 million in 2009, excluding online, per the Nielsen co.

Baby boomers are significantly different from the previous generation, and that realization is driving marketers efforts, according to industry experts. “Quite frankly, baby boomers today are saying, ‘Hey, I’m not going to give up my active lifestyle.’ And they’re a very hedonistic generation,” said Nancy Muller, executive director of the National Association For Continence, a national nonprofit organization that provides information and assistance for individuals suffering from urinary and bladder leakage. It’s a condition that’s been improperly stigmatized. “It affects a wide variety of individuals, both genders, all ages and for a wide variety of reasons,” Muller said.

Phil Lempert, a consumer goods industry expert, said efforts like these are no doubt aimed at baby boomers. “The big difference is that before now, these products were ‘unmentionables’—typically sold in drug chains (versus supermarkets) and just for the ‘elderly.’ It’s changing rapidly now as boomers come into this stage of life. [Marketers are saying this is] nothing to be ashamed of, and [going forward] the products will be repositioned to be more comfortable and stylish,” Lempert added.

K-C and Tena aim to reduce some of the embarrassment experienced by consumers by approaching it from a “normal” light. Depend, which rolled out gender-specific underwear last year, said the latest improvement to its line is intended to take away the “clinical” look behind the product, which, historically, resembled a “white diaper,” K-C’s Boulden said.

“When we launched the gender-specific [underwear] last year, that was a huge improvement, but there was still the undeniable fact that this category carries a lot of stigma for the condition,” Boulden said. “Just putting [the product] in the shopping cart tells the incontinence story.”

New TV, print and in-store ads for Depend will break in April, under an umbrella campaign called “People Know.” WPP, Ogilvy, Organic, Mindshare and Taylor handle in-store, digital, media buying and public relations duties, respectively.