Friday, July 15, 2011

A pantyliner just for you. And you. And you.

Before I get into my latest incrankulous marketing moment, let’s get a brief refresher on 21st century western civilization. Specifically, we have the following television programs assaulting us on a regular basis, in the name of entertainment:

Keeping Up with the Kardashians

Real Housewives of Everywhere You Can Think Of

Holly’s World

My Super Sweet Sixteen

Teen Mom

16 and Pregnant

Jersey Shore


Bad Girls Club

The Girls Next Door

If I wanted to label these very generously, I could put them all in the “isn’t giving everyone a chance to express themselves a wonderful thing?” bucket. I could put them in the enlightened and forgiving “no barriers, no rules, no judgments” bucket. Or I could add them to the “Lighten up, Francis” bucket.

On the other hand, I could use my fallback, overused phrase that too often captures my feelings: we’re doomed.

If you aren’t familiar with most of these shows, congratulations and hope you’re enjoying C-SPAN, Rick Steves and the Nat Geo channel. I’ll admit I’ve never watched a single episode of any of these programs but I know enough about them to know they’re base and juvenile. They’re mindless distractions full of caricatures masquerading as real people.

But that’s not really what this post is about. I’ve listed some of cable’s most offensive, lurid, unprincipled (and most popular!!) shows to put some context around a recent marketing program from Kotex. It's built around something called U by Kotex Tween line, products that are no doubt an attempt to encourage proper spelling among adolescent girls. Kidding. The pads and liners are designed to fit a young girl’s smaller shape comfortably. Got it. As a woman who remembers the “belt” required in the old days (How hideous and dark-ages were they?), I applaud the good sense that resulted in these products. Unfortunately, the good sense may end there.

The pads also include “tween-inspired” designs and the package has glitter on it. I don’t know what tween inspired designs are. Perhaps they’ve added a silhouette of Justin Bieber to the pad itself. Or a shimmering Edward Cullen. Turns out they’re colorful hearts and flowers and swirls. I’ve always believed that getting your period isn’t exactly a designer moment and not one bit of glitter will make it more festive. But I’m not in marketing at Kotex and maybe this initiative will add more fun to the entire experience, at least for tweens.

Brief aside 1: I want Kotex to introduce “woman-of-a-certain-age” inspired designs on pantyliners. (They can skip the package glitter.) I’m thinking a Colin Firth / Hugh Jackman / Josh Holloway / Hugh Grant / Brad Pitt combo pack would do it.

Brief aside 2: And as long as they’re adding a design, they can add a little microchip, similar to the kind that get embedded in greeting cards these days. You can imagine this, right? Believe me, there were times in my life where I would have celebrated the arrival of my period by opening up a pad that played “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Right? You would have, too, admit it.

Back to Kotex and their tween products. Here’s the part of the marketing story that really startled me. Keeping in mind the list of programs that introduced this post, programs that reach everyone who has basic cable or a satellite dish, you may be surprised to learn the following statistics, courtesy of the Kotex research:

One in three young girls has no idea what’s happening when she gets her first period. One in three. Has NO IDEA. Disturbing.

Four out of five Moms feel “only somewhat or not at all” prepared to talk to their daughter about her changing body. Four out of five. That’s 80%. “Only somewhat.” Or “NOT AT ALL.”

What? How is this possible? I can’t figure out what’s so complex or confounding about being “prepared” to talk with your daughter. How could it be that when we had exactly twelve channels on our television sets and no Google, no “Real World” and no daycare centers in the local high schools, our mothers found a way to inform themselves – and us - about our changing bodies? They handed over that belt, that enormous pad, designed very specifically to fit every woman on the planet, and then explained that we were growing up. I don’t think my mother felt over-prepared or under-prepared to discuss this rite of passage with her three daughters. As I remember it, she was calm, pragmatic and factual. Very little drama, with just the right amount of “you’re growing up!!” emotion on her part.

I can only assume that about 30% of the tween girls who watch “16 and Pregnant” don’t learn one thing about menstruation and conception and pregnancy. Isn’t there at least one moment in every episode where the young mother explains the failure of her birth control, the absence of her period and the confirmation of her pregnancy? Certainly this chain of events would prompt a question or two from the audience. Then again, maybe that explains “16 and Pregnant.” Maybe no one is asking, nor answering, questions.

In typical 21st century fashion, Kotex has turned to the web to refresh their message and help inform and yes, empower, mom to “pick her day to talk to her daughter about her first period.” God forbid moms didn’t feel empowered to do so. The press release I read included this nugget: “…Kimberly Clark believes informing moms and tweens on the topic is the right thing to do because so many are unprepared for menstruation and reaching tweens at this age can mean building strong relationships for life.”

Translation: “We want young girls to use Kotex products from day one so they use them for the next forty years.” Fair enough. Product loyalty is key and every marketer wants a customer for life. But the part about “so many” being unprepared is confusing. Then again, their research and statistics seem to indicate everyone is confused: the girls, one third of whom are uninformed at best and terrified at worst when they get their first period; and their moms, 80% of whom are “somewhat” or “not at all” prepared to discuss menstruation with their daughters.

The only good news I found in this story was that no experts or advisors used the phrase “teachable moment.”

I can only wonder if Trojan has been watching this product launch with interest. What’s next? Condoms with "ink" on them? Condoms covered with team logos? I can’t wait to read about that campaign.

Oh, and P.S. Kotex just wrapped up a “design your own pad” contest. More on this in another post. Honestly, it’s just too nonsensical to add this discussion.

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