Can Even A Great Ad Campaign Make People Rethink 'Depend'?

The Depend brand, owned by Kimberly-Clark, recently launched a new set of television and print ads. Ad agency JWT NY made versions for men and women.

Take a look at the women's version.

Titled "Orchestra," the 30-second piece portrays a 50-something orchestra conductor preparing for a concert. First described by another midlife woman who praises her in a teasingly affectionate way ("she always forgets where she puts her magic wand, but when she finds it, she makes magic happen"), the ad then shifts to the conductor (Kim) herself, who says, "People know a lot of things about me, but no one needs to know about my condition."

It's hard to imagine how Kimberly-Clark could capture a better tone to describe a Boomer woman challenged by incontinence. She is depicted as a talented, fully dimensional, hard-working woman, one who people regard with a combined sense of affection and respect. She is talented but not perfect; the sense of humor women apply to each other is captured in a pitch-perfect way.

Better yet, we hear all of this before Kim herself tells her that she also has a secret, the "condition" that makes her rely on Depend.

I don't just like the way that Kim is depicted, I like the way she uses a matter-of-fact word ("condition") to describe exactly what it is. She doesn't beat around the bush or use a cutesy euphemism -- things that Boomer women abhor. She simply tells us that the accomplished, satisfying life she leads also contains a frustrating challenge -- and one that the advertised brand helps her solve.

I wonder, nevertheless, if the Depend brand faces an uphill battle that even a flawless ad campaign can't overcome. Can it make women (and men -- there is a male version you can check out on YouTube) feel comfortable about putting a package of Depend in their grocery or drugstore carts? Given that the ad subjects themselves say, "People don't need to know about my condition"), I'm not sure.

Depend announces at the end of each ad that its products come "in new prints and colors." And the packaging takes big steps to look more like a multi-pack of underwear.

Kimberly-Clark deserves praise for this campaign and for its work with the Poise brand (women-only pads for light bladder leaks). We know that women loved the Super Bowl ad featuring Whoopi Goldberg, which makes the issue of bladder control funny -- not just by making fun of it but by reminding women that humor itself is the best response to a medical condition that makes you pee when you laugh.

If flawless advertising can't help this category recreate itself in the minds (and shopping carts) of consumers, what can? Should it explore new brand names? What if a package of adult diapers was sold in small packages with a brand name like Hanes?

Maybe the brand should simply get away from the retail marketplace entirely. We know that Boomer women are shunning bricks-and-mortar as a place to buy clothes and cosmetics. Maybe products like Depend should promote itself via online sales (where consumers can buy in bulk) so that they never have to advertise to other shoppers that they are buying a product that undercuts the way they see themselves -- and, as this ad so well depicts, others see them.

Because I truly admire this creative work, and because I know that someone needs to serve the needs of women and all Boomers in this category better, I'm really curious to hear what others think.

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5 comments about "Can Even A Great Ad Campaign Make People Rethink 'Depend'? ".
  1. Mary Dean , May 3, 2010 at 12:24 p.m.

    Stephen, great post. But you're right, even with a good campaign, it's an uphill battle. What they really need to re-think are their sales channels. Boomers are on their laptops - why not make this a product you can order on-line and have shipped to your house?

  2. Wendy Mcgrath from JSH & A Public Relations , May 3, 2010 at 1:36 p.m.

    Wow Stephen, I was just coming here to make the very suggestion that Mary did. And I agree too that the ad was done very tasefully, but a lot of us boomers are still whirling from the new openness about everything from condoms in plain view or the content of R-Rated movies.

    Being a woman, I had to "get over" buying feminine products (and finally did about the time I didn't need them any longer) and now I'm faced with the possibility of needing another product that is mentally hard to put in a shopping cart. Online sales would be a boon to all of us boomers and a heck of a lot less expensive than Peapod!

  3. Janis Mccabe from jmod35 , May 3, 2010 at 4:56 p.m.

    Not everyone has a computer or is into buying "products" on it even if they do have one. Now that a whole lot of us know what the brand "Depends" is, they might want to keep that name. It does have value and I'm sure it works for those who still have the guts to walk through the supermarket with it in their basket. It is, after all, a part of life. But they might also want to come up with an additional different and less obvious, name also with less distinct packaging for those of us aging boomers and the younger set who may need to go in that direction at some point.

  4. Nina Lentini from MediaPost Communications , May 3, 2010 at 5:07 p.m.

    It's funny. I had to buy some for an older aunt a couple of years ago and I had no qualms although I am a card-carrying Boomer. I guess since *I* knew they weren't for me, I didn't care? Probably tossed them in with the tampons for my daughters! :)

  5. Arlene O'Reilly , May 5, 2010 at 10:23 a.m.

    I smiled reading these posts. Early in my career -- over 25 years ago, I work on the Depend account at a direct marketing agency. Depend was owned by P&G. The product manager believed whole heartedly that Depend had to be sold directly to consumers. Ideas were tested. But P&G never backed the concept of home delivery. So, why does the best solution just not take hold sometimes? Are we so reluctant to change?