Period Piece

Not so long ago, advertisers treated feminine hygiene products much as they had since the inception of the industry a century ago - as furtively, euphemistically, and evasively as possible. At the top of the 21st century, Kotex realized it needed to commit itself to marketing to a new millennial generation.

Don Klingseisen, media manager for Kimberly-Clark which markets Kotex, the leading feminine hygiene brand, recalls quickly realizing that communicating with today's young women meant bringing the industry's message into the 21st century. It meant breaking longtime taboos on deploying honesty, humor, and irreverence in the discussion of menstruation.

"For a long time," Klingseisen explains, "our brand focused very successfully on more traditional strategies for reaching a more mature women's market, with an average age in the late 20s and 30s. But we felt we were missing an opportunity in not trying more to connect with a younger age group, and frankly were falling behind some competitors in actively speaking to younger consumers."

The generational shift began slowly.

Red Dot Rising

"A few years ago we made a major first step to evolve the brand by launching the Red Dot icon," Klingseisen recounts. "There was a concern we'd alienate our traditional market but we knew that to really connect with the age group we wanted to, young women in their teens and 20s, it had to be made clear we weren't any longer your mother's feminine hygiene brand."

The Red Dot icon was first introduced in 2000 as a signature graphic representing a woman's period. Noticeable packaging and product changes were also introduced to make the brand more appealing to younger consumers. Kotex, for instance, became the first brand to offer products across all three major product forms, pads, panty liners, and tampons.

Original Red Dot advertising didn't break decisively with Kotex's tradition of focusing advertising on TV and print. Nonetheless, it pointed the way to more radical changes. Above all, the campaign introduced a frank, sassy tone for the first time in Kotex advertising showing, for example, a red dot entering and disrupting a prom or vacation.

Encouraged by the positive response to the first wave of Red Dot advertising, Kotex thought the time was right to take initiatives targeting the 18 to 24 age group to a new level.

In the fall of 2004, a "second wave" of Red Dot advertising saw Kotex determined to boldly reposition the brand using what it called a 360-degree communications strategy. This entailed going well beyond the traditional media mix to more direct communications across a wider variety of media platforms, in particular, extending media to include high-impact outdoor and online advertising.

"Introducing the Red Dot was an important transitional step in re-orienting our brand identity for a young market," Klingseisen says. "But [fall 2004] marked a tipping point in our strategic thinking about reaching younger women."

The latest Red Dot campaign was created by Kotex's agency of record Ogilvy, Chicago, with Mindshare heading up media buying and planning.

Eclectic Media Mix

"We spent a lot of time and energy working on the right ways of aligning our strategy with the way 18- to 24-year-old women actually use media," explains Susan Noble, senior partner and group planning director at Mindshare. "For starters, that meant it had to include a significantly broader and more eclectic mix than just broadcast TV and print, which has been the brand's legacy."

"A real challenge," Noble adds, "was to take the message focus away from just the product and to drive affinity. We wanted young women to identify with and develop a loyalty to our brand in the same sort of way they do with fashion brands," she says.

The advertising campaign, which debuted in October 2004, was illustration-based and initially included three TV spots, three print ads, and a national mall "sky mural" roll-out. Illustrator Yoko Ikeno created the images with the Kotex brand; Ogilvy, along with animation house Acme Filmworks brought the illustrations to video.

"Looking for media venues involved more than just finding media properties that reached the right demographic," Klingseisen recalls. "They also had to do so in the right setting. For instance, on paper, doing cinema ads seems like the perfect way to reach 18- to 24-year-old women and for many youth-oriented products, it is. The problem is that many women going to the movies are there with boyfriends and that's not a comfortable and favorable environment to see ads for feminine products. So we avoided cinema," he explains.

The 15- and 30-second TV spots aired from October through December on networks including ABC, Fox, NBC, UPN, and the WB. Much of the TV ad buy focused on cable networks including MTV, Fuse, E!, Comedy Central, USA, and VH1. The spots featured animated images of a woman standing in front of the mirror trying on a variety of outfits representing different "women's roles" ranging from girl next door to nerd, tomboy to glamorous model and artistic bohemian.

Three initial print ads ran in magazines including Entertainment Weekly, In Touch, People, TV Guide, Elle, Teen Vogue, Lucky, and Health. One ad, "Oh, the power of a flower," shows a woman with a flower in her hair. The ad copy discusses the natural fragrance of the product and how it provides a "botanical boost for body and soul."

Another ad touts the noise-free quality of Kotex's quiet pad wrappers, while another shows a woman trying on shoes while getting dressed in the morning with the copy: "Choices are a girl's best friend. That's why Kotex makes pads, liners, and tampons. Menstruationally speaking, no one gives you more options."

"With print, we sought out high circulation titles," Noble says, adding, "but in keeping with our strategy, we sought to concentrate on beauty and fashion titles."

Where Kotex eschewed cinema advertising, malls were an ideal venue for its market. "Women tend to go to malls in groups and all our research made it evident that they were a social atmosphere that was very conducive to our message," Noble says.

Kotex Goes to the Mall

The sky mural concept, developed by Mindshare's Wow Factory in New York and Mindshare, Chicago, was planned as a high impact alternative medium. The double-sided sky murals were 16 feet high by 12 feet wide and hung from the ceiling within key areas of shopping malls. Sky murals were used in the New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Detroit, Seattle, and Miami markets.

"The challenge in looking to alternatives," reflects Chris Schipke, group creative director at Ogilvy, Chicago, "was to communicate a relevant message in a relevant way to young women. So how do you effectively speak to young women about a private subject in a somewhat public venue whether it's cable television or mall banners? You try to tap into the private visual and verbal vocabulary of young women. Take the sky murals, for example. If a guy looks up and sees a banner hanging in a mall he will most likely just see a hip stylish fashion illustration, whereas a young woman sees something more, a strong stylish woman who has her period totally in control."

In November Kimberly-Clark launched the online component of the campaign, running an animated ad on,,,, and

"Online was extremely important to us," Klingseisen says. "Every study we did on media usage made it clear that not only do young women gravitate to the medium as an important way of getting information and entertainment, but it's also a social venue. We actively sought new ways of getting the Kotex brand into popular online environments. We considered sponsorship as pivotal to our online presence, perhaps more so, than banners," he explains.

In addition to downloading all of the animated videos used in the TV spots, visitors online could also participate in a quiz called "What role do you play?," select Kotex products, or opt in to receive regular e-mail promotions. Kotex also sponsored a game called "Poppit" on, a most embarrassing moments competition on, and an "I Love the 90s" section on VH1.

"We viewed our Web properties, especially, not as Kotex brand sites, but as community sites sponsored by us but meant for members to develop their own communication with each other," Klingseisen says. "We didn't advertise specifically to drive traffic to the Web. But one of the most pleasant surprises of the campaign was how much traffic we in fact saw." Klingseisen says he was surprised by the amount of online chat women engaged in.

"The philosophy of our approach to online also informed how we looked at event sponsorship," Noble says. "We used co-sponsorship with Health Magazine of a "Girls Night Out" in many cities to bring Kotex's message to a comfortable environment.

"Whatever the medium," Schipke explains, "the tone of the campaign really speaks to women in a fresh new way. We strove above all for a sense of honesty, along with a bit of humor and real style that helps young women feel connected to their bodies and to the brand."

Though the campaign remains too new to have yielded comprehensive quantitative results, Klingseisen says, early feedback from the campaign's first several weeks demonstrates that the 360-degree concept is helping to firmly re-position Kotex in the way the brand had hoped.

"Each of the areas we've been tracking," Klingseisen says, "brand recognition, awareness, and favorability among 18- to 24-year-old women is up well into double digits. We're also seeing that brand awareness begin to translate into increased sales."

Klingseisen says that while the campaign is still underway, "the bottom line is that we are establishing a strong position and gaining market share against our competition in reaching and gaining the loyalty of the new generation of women."

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