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Brand Health Check: Kleenex

LONDON - Challenged on several fronts, the tissue brand has caught a chill.

Brand Health Check: Kleenex

For an everyday brand, Kleenex has an interesting history. Its origins lie at the end of World War I, when US manufacturer Kimberly-Clark found itself left with surplus supplies of creped wadding called Cellucotton, which it had used to create filters for gas masks.

The company used the stocks to create the sanitary product Kotex, but marketing a product for the menstrual cycle was difficult at the time. It was decided to repurpose the material, and, after various experiments, Kleenex was created. Now the company just had to work out a use for it.

Given its heritage, the women's market seemed an obvious target and this, coinciding with the more widespread use of cosmetics by women, led to it being positioned as a make-up remover. Thus, in 1924, the facial-tissue category was invented.

Kimberly-Clark continued to innovate and expand Kleenex beyond its original purpose, with the addition of anti-viral and male-oriented variants. Although still the market leader, it has found itself challenged on several fronts.

Sales of the category that Kleenex created have stalled, with competition coming from higher-end make-up removal wipes, as well as, it seems, the lower-end kitchen towel.

To ensure Kimberly-Clark isn't left where it started, with piles of Kleenex in search of a new use, we asked Michael Sugden, managing partner at integrated agency VCCP, and Giles Poyner, business director at design agency Boxer, to come up with ideas.

Diagnosis   Two industry experts on how Kimberly-Clark can turn the brand around

Giles Poyner business director, Boxer

Most brands need to remain front-of-mind, and an easy way to do this is to use advertising at seasonal times. This was the old-fashioned model and there was a lot of sense in it.

Having experienced a substantial dip in volume sales and market share, however, the brand needed a more sophisticated message and a platform that allows opportunity for regrowth.

 I don't believe that Kleenex is struggling - in fact, I think that Kimberly-Clark addressed the decline effectively by using a similar model to many of the cosmetics brands. Make a connection with the female customer by positioning it in emotional terms.

In the same way that Dove undertook the search for 'real beauty' and Olay 'loves the skin you're in', Kleenex communications demonstrated how a tissue can be the facilitator of time spent together. Whether it be crying with laughter or sadness, the idea of letting it all out has not only connected with consumers but also now gives a seasonal product a year-round relevance.

Remedy

  • Build strategy around convenience. Put Kleenex for Men into a compact box, for example.
  • Further new product development will ensure Kleenex remains the natural choice, for both women and men.
  • Give something of added benefit - the anti-viral tissues launched in 2005 gave real reasons why using toilet tissue or other alternatives simply isn't the same as a Kleenex.
  • Brand partnerships, such as a link-up with Vicks, would be interesting, and not only make a case for Kleenex in the disposal of germs but also as an aid to breathing more easily.

Michael Sugden managing partner, VCCP

In theory, Kleenex has attained marketing utopia. The brand is the de facto descriptor of its category, similar to Hoover and Sellotape. The reality is, nowadays, that Kleenex is just a product descriptive, rather than a brand preference. With no real point of difference, price becomes the default selector - exacerbated by the proliferation of own-label products.

The problem is that the category domination the brand has enjoyed breeds stiff competition, and Kleenex's emotional and product differentiators have been steadily eroded over time, meaning the consumer's desire for it, or any other brand, has diminished.

There's no need to panic, though. The market is a solid one. So long as a cure for the common cold remains elusive, there is always going to be a substantial call for tissues. Therefore, it is the encroachment of competitors and alternatives that is most likely to be eating into market share. In addition, Kleenex's previous market domination puts it in a good position for a significant brand revival. If it can find even a modest point of difference, it can cash in on the latent goodwill that all once-popular brands have.

Remedy

  • Don't live off former glories. Find a real meaning for brand Kleenex. What is its emotional point of difference?
  • Experiment. The new product development department needs to be given some Red Bull and to come up with fresh formats and innovations.
  • Develop the relationship. The brand must re-engage with the consumer in a more absorbing manner.
  • Drop the price point until the brand has established a new point of difference.