Craig Wanous, Bob Thibault and Deb Bauer, Huggies

Imagine walking into the office one day and finding out that (good news!) nearly everybody on the focus group you assembled was familiar with your brand. Now for the bad news: They also all thought it was best not to use it.

That branding nightmare is pretty much what Craig Wanous, senior brand manager for Huggies, faced two years ago. Wanous, 39, had convened a mommy focus group in the hopes of finding out how to improve Kimberly-Clark’s bestselling diaper. Instead, the mothers essentially told him that, sorry, their babies were happiest when they weren’t wearing diapers at all.

Rejection is never easy, except that Wanous did not see the findings as a rejection. In fact, where other marketers might have thought about burying the data, Wanous saw it as buried treasure. “When mothers took the diapers off,” he recalled, “the babies got up and ran around. They were so happy. That was our core insight: Could we make a diaper that was close to being literally naked while still offering protection?”

Such aspirations may not be akin to, say, putting a man on the moon, but that didn’t make R&D’s task easy. In the world of diaper engineering, protection means padding—and padding, in this case, ran contrary to the “naked” objective. Or, as Kimberly-Clark’s North American president for personal care Bob Thibault, 50, described it: The challenge was to come up with something that was lightweight and prevented the escape of what he referred to as “stuff.”

“If we fail in leakage protection, it doesn’t matter how comfortable the diaper is,” Wanous said. “Moms will drop it.”

The result was Huggies Supreme Natural Fit, a diaper that solved both the weight and “stuff” problems with its signature “shape” technology, which included a die-cut inner absorbing padding that contours to the baby. (The “internal surge layer,” in company parlance, is not new, but Kimberly-Clark perfected a way to make it thinner without sacrificing absorbancy.)

With that came a second problem, one that more directly confronted Wanous and his branding team: Educating mothers about what shape technology was. That, in turn, called for a marketing campaign. And what object did Kimberly-Clark’s marketers use to convey the gentle, sinuous, cradling effects of shape technology? A brick, of course.

The Real Bottom Line
“Brick Baby,” as the campaign came to be known, was based on a simple premise: Not all diapers are created equal. Or, in the case of Huggies Supreme Natural Fit, the expression might be better summed up as: Not all diapers are shaped (but ours are.)

What’s that got to do with a chunk of masonry? Well, think of what a regular diaper looks like clad to the bottom of a sitting baby. It’s heavy. It’s clunky. It’s not shaped. A 30-second ad created with the help of JWT, New York, showed two mothers out with their little ones in a playground. Baby No. 1, whose Huggies Supreme Natural Fit diaper features contours running along both leg openings and a special absorbent padding that’s 10% thinner compared to Huggies Supreme diapers, is light as a tissue. Baby No. 2, meanwhile, is not really a baby. Mom, you see, has brought a red brick to the playground.

The gag is clear when a hand model places the brick into the crotch of a traditional diaper, which, of course, fits it perfectly. (Voiceover: “If your baby happens to be a [sound of brick], other diapers are the perfect shape. New Huggies Natural Fit are shaped for babies of the human variety.”) Implied, but still fearfully present, was the brick’s suggestion of how a regular diaper would behave with a fresh load of “stuff.” Point taken.