As I was ping-ponging my way around the supermarket this morning, I had one of my prototypically hyper-thoughtful insights about brands. In my cart sat keg-sized blocks of Bounty towels, Charmin toilet paper and Vanity Fair napkins, each of which I specifically sought out at the start of my quixotic journey around the store (“quixotic” is not employed for dramatic effect; a GPS rendering of my route would suggest a degree of directional impairment usually associated with the sleepwalking community). Yet when it comes to the fourth enshrinee on the Mount Rushmore of disposable paper goods - your friend and mine, the tissue - I have no such brand allegiance. Why is that?
I don’t think it’s because tissue makers have failed to emphasize and reemphasize a single defining brand attribute (as Bounty has over the years with strength/absorbability), or to successfully self-identify with a brand mascot/ambassador (the whimsically docile Charmin bear, which makes Winnie the Pooh look like Dennis Rodman), or to distinguish themselves via textural fortitude (like Vanity Fair, whose premium-priced wipethings are virtually disintegration-proof).
No, I think it’s because there’s a single thing most of us want from our tissues - for them to be within reach when a sneeze announces itself to the universe or a shaving cut fails to immediately clot - and that thing cannot be built into the product itself.
Whenever I feel compelled to expel detritus from the deepest, darkest realm of my nasal galaxy, I don’t say, “No minimally lotioned unscented Puffs? Dammit! Okay, I’ll hold it in for later.” No, I say something along the lines of “I would like to avail myself of the nearest item that will absorb and/or contain the torrent of yuck I am about to liberate.” Anything meeting that description will suffice - a tissue, a napkin, a paper towel, a linen towel, an orphaned sock, etc.
In short, I want ubiquity from my tissues. This is not something that tissues are equipped to deliver. I have made my peace with this. With heavy heart and soiled sleeve, I manage to carry on.
So whenever I come across some hoTTT tissue-marketing action, which happens more often than you’d think, I tend to dismiss it before I give it a chance. And so it is with a series of inspirational videos released during the last month or so by Kleenex, the most recent of which arrived on YouTube today.
The elevator pitch for the series, unified under the “#ShareKleenexCare” banner, is “nice people being nice to people who have been nice to them.” In the most buzzed-about of the clips to date, “A Caring Chorus,” a group of students reunite to honor their former chorus teacher. In “Spread a Little Care,” a community acknowledges the sisters who started a program that distributes PB&J sandwiches adorned with “you matter” stickers to the homeless. In “A Time For Change,” a veteran of the civil rights movement teams with a local Congresswoman to inspire a seventh-grader fighting racism at her school. And finally, in “Hoops and Hearts,” basketball players return home to celebrate the coach who invested so much time and effort in their personal development.
How impressive is it that I was able to provide quickie descriptions of these four clips without using the word “mentor” a single time? Which is to say: It doesn’t take a cultural anthropologist to identify a common thread running through the videos. Kleenex wants to be associated with strength. This is a noble goal, and totally on-point for a product designed to staunch volcanic flows of snot.
But something feels a little off. The motives of everyone involved here seem pure - for an endeavor of this nature, anyway - and yet each of the clips comes off as overly staged. Maybe it’s the taped-over brand logos on the “Hoops and Hearts” basketballs, or maybe it’s the barely visible (to the point of near translucence) acknowledgement that “some individuals [were] compensated for sharing their stories” in “A Caring Chorus.” But the Kleenex clips play like exactly what they are: Content in which a brand tries really really really hard to forge an emotional connection that, in an ideal world, will bolster brand loyalty. Insert accepting shrug here.
And once again: Kleenex has not yet found a way to make tissues materialize out of thin air at the precise moment that my kid’s nose erupts. Until it (or a competitor) does, well, a tissue is a tissue is a tissue. I don’t know how Kleenex, Puffs or any other tissue brand gets past that, teary mentor/mentee reunions or no.
But I hope they all keep trying. It’s unfair, really. Half-wits like me, who have participated in as many brand-strategy sessions as we have lunar expeditions, sit around and yelp, “Everybody needs to produce more brand content!” Hell, some of us cast this task as a moral imperative. But then, when the content isn’t to our specific liking, we make a little frowny face and say, “Nah, not that,” before clicking over to the latest John Oliver evisceration.
The proper response by the creators of “#ShareKleenexCare” and other campaigns that similarly fight an uphill battle from the outset, then, might be something along the lines of: “You don’t like it? Okay, Tissue Boy. What else you got?” My answer, for tissue brands at least, is, “Er, well, you know, the way that Nike once did the ad with that one sneaker and Michael Jordan could be, like… OH NO LOOK OUT THERE’S A PIRANHA RACCOON BEHIND YOU!” [runs away]
I have no answer. I don’t think anybody does. Anyway.