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How a Pandemic Reinvented Kleenex Marketing
Today, Kleenex is the go-to product for stopping a runny nose. The association is so strong that the brand has become shorthand for all tissue products. But Kleenex wasn’t always connected to the common cold. In fact, it took a pandemic to create the Kleenex we all know today.
From January 1918 to December 1920, the world looked a lot like it does right now. Travel was limited, and officials warned people to wash their hands and practice social distancing to prevent the spread of the Spanish flu. Citizens were urged to cover their faces when sneezing or coughing.
When Kimberly-Clark Corporation launched the Kleenex brand a few years later, it was conceived as a cosmetic product for applying or removing makeup and cold cream. Initial ads billed the tissues as “the new secret of keeping a pretty skin as used by famous movie stars.”
Customers See Another Use
But thanks to a newfound understanding of germs and personal hygiene from the recent flu outbreak, the public saw another use for the tissues. Customers used Kleenex as a disposable handkerchief.
The company’s head researcher pushed to start advertising that use. Like any good marketing pros, they decided to test it first.
Pre-email A/B Testing Delivers Insights
Kleenex ran two ads in an Illinois newspaper – one showcasing removing makeup, the other blowing your nose. Readers were asked to respond with how they were using the product. Six in 10 said they used it as a facial tissue. With the results of that early A/B test, Kleenex revamped its messaging.
Over the next year, sales doubled.
Kleenex adopted this new brand purpose and hasn’t looked back.
It’s not the first time or the last customers have come up with new uses for a product. It’s even more common in times of upheaval and crisis.
We’re seeing it today. Bandanas and hair-ties have become makeshift masks. Toothpicks are disposable button-pushers on elevators and ATMs.
A century ago, Kleenex needed newspaper ads and a letter campaign to figure out how its customers were using its product. Thanks to social media, brands have more ways to hear from customers than ever before. There’s opportunity in that intel.