The Kleenex brand: 83 years young and moving faster every day!

To get some more insight into what is happening with the Kleenex brand, Perini Journal recently met with the Kleenex Brand Team at Kimberly-Clark in Neenah, Wisconsin. There we talked to Steve Erb, Associate Marketing Director; Jean Maurice Boyer, Brand Manager; and Christine Mau, Senior Packaging Graphics Manager.

Hugh O’Brian

Even though it is more than 80 years old, the Kleenex brand continues to evolve at an accelerating pace with new innovations in the base sheet, functionality, packaging design and marketing efforts. All of these developments are aimed at giving more comfort and enjoyment to consumers, while at the same time bringing more category dollars to the retailers and, of course, Kimberly-Clark.

“As the market leader, there is no question that it’s our job and responsibility to grow the category and bring more dollars in,” says Kleenex Associate Marketing Director, Steve Erb. “With over 50% share of the US market for facial tissue, the only way to keep the Kleenex brand growing is to open up the category. We do this, in very close partnership with the retailers, by investing in innovation, whether it is in the base sheet, the functionality or the packaging.”

INNOVATION IS CERTAINLY NOT SOMETHING NEW FOR THE KLEENEX BRAND. In fact Kimberly-Clark invented the facial tissue category in 1924, when Kleenex tissue was first introduced as a ‘cold cream remover’ for women, intended to replace cloth towels traditionally used for this purpose.

Within a couple of years K-C’s research showed that there was far more potential to position the Kleenex brand as a disposable handkerchief. Thus in 1927 the product was repositioned as “Absorbent Kerchiefs”, and then in the 1930s as “The Handkerchiefs You Can Throw Away”.

MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR BRAND. In the years since that time, numerous innovations in the product, the packaging and the positioning of the Kleenex brand have resulted in it dominating the facial tissue category in the USA as well as in many other countries around the world. With more than half of the estimated $1.7 billion US facial tissue market, sales of Kleenex facial tissue amounts to over $900 million in the US alone. With Kleenex products available in 150 countries around the globe, total sales around the world of products using the Kleenex brand name must be on the order of $3-4 billion.

Looking to leverage more value out of this famous brand, K-C is working hard to build the brand awareness and sales even further. A recent example is the cooperation with the US and Canadian Olympic Committees as the official facial tissue supplier. It is also looking to make the Kleenex brand into an even more global brand. From a global perspective, total annual marketing expenditures in advertising and promotion are over $100 million, says Erb. K-C North America collaborates with other K-C groups throughout the world on market research, product development, common product positioning, shared graphics like the global licensee arrangement with Disney, and joint development of advertising campaigns.

SURFACE TREATMENT FOR ADDED COMFORT. Some of the more recent developments and innovations show how K-C is using its considerable resources to grow the facial tissue category. A world leader in tissue making and converting expertise, its technological advances have allowed Kleenex to add functionality that makes it stand out from the pack.

In 1990, K-C launched Kleenex Ultra facial tissue, which is a surface treated three-ply product which Jean Maurice Boyer, Kleenex brand manager, says is the softest facial tissue you can buy. Later, in 1996, the Kleenex Cold Care lineup was introduced, specifically aimed at offering a little extra comfort to cold and flu sufferers. The Cold Care lineup included the Ultra product as well as the Lotion and Menthol versions, each designed to reduce the discomfort due to colds and flu.

The Lotion product is treated with an ultra thin layer of lotion that can actually transfer to the skin when used, thereby helping to reduce irritation and chafing in the affected area, quite often the nose. Menthol uses a fragrance which is activated under pressure, releasing a soothing aromatic scent. While the Cold Care line was very successful, it was just a warm-up for that was coming next.

ANTI-VIRAL IS A BIG HIT. It’s no secret that today’s active, and often stressful, lifestyle just doesn’t allow for people to fall ill. Parents worry about their kids getting sick and are especially afraid of getting sick themselves, which can throw the household routines into chaos.

Recognizing this trend and worry, as well as the fact that facial tissue is most often associated with common sicknesses such as colds and flu, K-C started a research project several years ago to study an anti-viral facial tissue. Boyer explains the thinking.

“Our market research showed very clearly that the need for, and awareness of, anti-germ products was increasing. Our data indicated that 82% of women and 67% of men are somewhat to very conscious of germs in their daily lives and that consumers are willing to pay perhaps 5-15% more for new products with antibacterial protection. Therefore we clearly saw an opportunity in the market as there was no anti-viral offering in facial tissue.”

Thus in 2004 K-C came up with the Kleenex Brand Anti-Viral tissue using a super premium, three-ply tissue. The outer plies are super soft tissue based on a special softness additive, while the middle layer contains an anti-viral formula or virucide that is moisture-activated. Both the product and the manufacturing process are patented.

Kleenex Anti-Viral tissue was tested and proven to be effective against viruses such as Rhinoviruses Type 1A and 2 (rhinoviruses are the leading cause of the common cold); Influenza A and Influenza B (causes of the flu); and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV, the leading cause of lower respiratory infection in children). Clinical tests showed at least 90% of the viruses tested were killed in the tissue within 30 seconds and 99.9% within 15 minutes, helping meet the regulatory requirements allowing K-C to claim effectiveness against viruses.

Pre-launch testing showed a very high level of interest from target groups. “All our studies,” says Boyer, “showed that consumers loved it. After in-home use, prior to launch, consumers said that 90% were interested in purchasing the anti-viral tissue. This was the highest score we have ever seen for a facial tissue concept. And the product was rated 9+ out of a possible 10, with high marks for softness and low lint. A further 85% of consumers said the perceived effectiveness was one of the reasons they like this product and 91% stated they would be likely to recommend product to others.”

GLOBAL REACH. The results in the marketplace have been extremely positive, with sales following the launch in August 2004 even better than the very positive pre-launch consumer testing had predicted. While K-C expected that the Anti-Viral product line would take 2 to 3% of the market in the USA, by mid-2006 it was up to 4% dollar share of the category. While some of this share was sourced from other Kleenex tissue items, a significant portion came from competitors and new category users. Underlining this success, it was ranked by the influential IRI New Product Pacesetter Report as the 12th ranked Non-Food New Product in 2005 in the US.

Based on the enormous success in the US, the Kleenex Anti-Viral tissue product was launched in Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Israel during 2004 and 2005. This was followed in 2006 by a further 19 countries including Canada, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Hong Kong/South China, and Korea. With 150 countries already selling Kleenex tissue, there are certainly more markets to bring Kleenex Anti-Viral tissue to next!

GREAT PACKAGING GRAPHICS. Boyer points out that Anti-Viral tissue used what he calls “great package graphics” which K-C has seen can significantly improve acceptance in the market. “We chose a unique carton graphic design that is clearly differentiated from other facial tissues. We offer four colors in the assortment, giving broad appeal among all user groups and all locations in the house meaning it is not room specific.”

Great graphics, and an appealing new shape, are clearly major components in Kimberly-Clark’s most recent innovation in the Kleenex brand, the Oval carton. Called Kleenex Expressions Oval, the new oval shaped carton is the first major change in the shape of the Kleenex box since the 1960’s.

It’s all part of K-C’s effort aimed at increasing the aesthetic or artistic appeal of its products to consumers. Christine Mau is K-C’s Senior Packaging Graphics Manager and one of the key people leading the work to come up with designs that people want. It is clear that she loves both aesthetics and great packaging and works to put them together for the benefit of Kimberly-Clark’s products.

THE CONSUMER IS QUEEN! “Our research shows most of the purchasers of facial tissue are women”, says Mau. “And for most of the items they buy on the weekly shopping trip they have no real design choices to make. They must buy this specific breakfast cereal and that kind of milk. But when it comes to facial tissue, they have more freedom of choice. This is where they can express themselves and it becomes a bit of a treat for them in the often mundane exercise of shopping.”

Mau says studies show that when consumers choose a facial tissue, the aesthetic qualities can be nearly as important as the brand image or the tissue properties, with 28% of consumers citing aesthetics as the most important reason for their choice of one item over another. “In a product performance playing field,” she says, “aesthetics are now used to provide differentiation, uniqueness and variety.”

Not that this is new or earthshaking, by itself. K-C has known for a long time that for facial tissue the packaging can play a very important role in driving sales.

A good example is the Upright box which was introduced in 1967 and now accounts for nearly 35% of all Kleenex sales. This complemented the flat-box which was first used in 1928 and had been the standard for nearly 40 years before the Upright design came along.

LOOKING FOR THE NEXT BIG WOW! Continuing along these lines, K-C has in recent years upped the pace of development in packaging design and also worked hard on the aesthetic appeal of its packages. In 1995 Kleenex developed a line of facial tissue with fashionable carton designs called Kleenex Expressions. The idea was to allow consumers to express their personal taste and style by offering a premium facial tissue product that comes in a variety of exciting packaging designs.

Following the success of the first Expressions line, the Kleenex tissue Holiday Collection was introduced in the late-1990’s with a diverse selection of stylish year-end holiday designs for seasonal decorating. Later, in 2000, Kleenex once again raised the bar of innovation with a seasonal high-end Holiday line, in several colors and printed on an eye-catching multi-lens foil. While not cheap to produce, these unique boxes were very successful in the marketplace, giving a further boost to Kleenex sales. “With the higher-end materials,” explains Mau, “sometimes the cost of the carton is more than the cost of the tissue contained in it. But that is all part of the aesthetics appeal.

People want to feel good about their purchase and want to make their homes look nice, even if the price is slightly higher.”

OVAL – THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX. The commercial success of these packaging innovations led K-C and Mau to search for what they call the next big WOW. “We are constantly tracking trends in décor, colors, home furnishing, design and aesthetics. This is not just on a national basis but truly worldwide to see what is happening with décor and how we might be at the tip of the spear for the next development. We wanted to shake up the facial tissue market a bit.”

Thus K-C decided to look at new carton designs and see what the market reaction might be. Since the Flat box had been around since the 1920’s and the Upright box since the 1960’s, it was perhaps time to try a different shape.

Mau says that the possibility of launching a new shape was like having a new canvas to paint on. “We were starting from scratch, with no preconceived ideas about where we would end up.”

Following enormous background work and trials, the Oval shape was eventually slated to launch as a permanent addition to the Kleenex line. Testing showed a preference of an incredible 9 to 1 for the Oval over the Upright.

OVERWHELMING DEMAND. The tipping point came in October 2005 when a trial run of the new Oval shape was launched in the USA in combination with the Holiday themes for Christmas 2005. The response to the new shape, combined with the very popular holiday themes, was overwhelming: K-C sold everything it could make. The premium priced product disappeared from the retailers at an astonishing rate, showing that K-C had another winner on its hands.

This set the stage for the big rollout of Kleenex Expressions Oval Collection, which was taking place in North America during late 2006. If all goes according to plan, the Oval based on a set of nine unique designs will become a keystone of the Kleenex Expressions line, attracting new shoppers and users to the Kleenex brand, while minimizing the cannibalization of existing products.

Says Associate Marketing Director Steve Erb: “This is the power of the Kleenex brand, to meet unmet needs of consumers and go way beyond the function of the product. We have been innovating throughout the history of the Kleenex brand and the pace is accelerating. I think the recent Kleenex Anti-Viral tissue and Kleenex Expressions Oval launches, both very successful in the marketplace, are good examples of our leadership. It is all about driving growth through innovation and opening up the category.” •

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