June 4, 2013

I Don’t Want to See Your Toilet Paper in Action

I Don’t Want to See Your Toilet Paper in Action

…nor do I want to know the finer details of how feminine hygiene products work their magic.

The world is filled with products that handle biological unpleasantness (thank heavens). However, it is a bit delicate to make known the effectiveness of such products without explicit details and illustrations of those products at work. Granted, we’re all pretty familiar with how toilet paper works (hopefully), but how is the pore strip market, the bikini wax market and the laxative markets able to convey the what, why and how of their product without grossing out an entire nation? We’ve touched on labeling techniques in previous articles, now we’ll discuss subtle labeling techniques.

Marketing Sleight of Hand

When it comes to feminine hygiene products, manufacturers tend to rely upon distinctly girly imagery and copy in order to delineate the use and demographic of their products. They’ve learned to speak a language of “woman-ese,” effectively telling the desired consumer base what the products do while keeping those who should remain none-the-wiser (i.e., men) in almost complete ignorance. This is necessary for more reasons than we even care to describe.

The same is done for unisex products (ostensibly unisex products) like pore strips. Who really wants to see a picture of what a pore strip is supposed to accomplish? (Well, admittedly, there are some truly horrifying and hypnotic YouTube videos showing manual pore extraction processes, but most marketing companies wisely choose not to exploit this rather grisly phenomenon.) Packaging for such products is generally done using soothing colors (sage green is popular) and a font that communicates seriousness and, at the same time, compassion for an annoying and sometimes embarrassing problem. There may be a picture of the product itself, but never, never a used product. By making the packaging and labeling appropriately vague but stating what the product is capable of achieving in clinical yet encouraging terms, companies like Pond’s succeed in letting the customer know: “Yes, this is a disgusting process, but allow us to help prevent your face from looking like an open tub of cottage cheese.”

Showing the product’s successful results is another useful trick; particularly if they are sexy results. We might not want to see the “before” shots of a bikini wax success story, but we’re sure chomping at the bit to see the “after,” provided the “after” shots are of USDA Certified bikini models and not of speedo-sporting, husky, middle-aged men.


Humor isn’t often used for products that handle the underbelly of human health and hygiene requirements, but when it is, it’s downright memorable. The Mucinex advertising campaigns showing animated globules of mucus wreaking havoc on the human respiratory system are so disgusting it can scarcely be believed, but they’ve made their brand really, really stand out. There was also an anti-foot fungus medication that aired commercials featuring a hideous computer-animated fungus spore lifting up a human toenail and burying itself underneath. Yup, we needed nearly 10 years of crisis counselling just to remove that image from our brains, but we’re finally able to laugh about it. Sort of.


Disposable diaper marketing relies on the inherent cuteness of babies to make the consumer ignore what the purpose of diapers actually is. New parents (particularly, first-time parents) are more likely to find waste management of a chubby faced, bright-eyed baby endurable if there is plenty of footage of grinning, crawling tots; even if there are rather evocative demonstrations of diaper absorbance using blue fluid and [shudder] little toy boats.

So what have we learned today? We’ve learned that you can market a product successfully without even saying what that product does. We’ve learned that the purpose of feminine hygiene products isn’t a secret, but we’d prefer to pretend it is. We’ve learned that laughing at something unspeakably hideous is an excellent way of keeping that image burned on our brains forever while only causing minimal psychological damage. However, we still must ask the question: what’s worse, a hairy, pot-bellied, speedo-wearing beach comber or a glistening, sleek and supple pot-bellied beach comber? You’re welcome for those contrasting images, by the way.


by Kevin Smith
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

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