Kimberly-Clark Tries Out a Feel-good Sampling Campaign for its Kleenex Pocket Tissues

An innovative sampling campaign for Kleenex pocket tissues has proved a hit with consumers in North America.

An online offer, which began late in 2010 at the start of North America’s cold and flu season, allowed visitors to the website, or those who signed up in 900 participating shops, to send free mini packets of pocket tissues to friends and family.

Softness that is worth sharing

Now that the cold and flu season is coming to an end, Kimberly-Clark has labelled the initiative, which has the tagline ‘Softness worth sharing’, a success. According to the company, more than one million packets, which can be personalised with a unique label designed online, have been sent out to date, and on the busiest day of the campaign 45,304 packets were shipped.

An additional feature of the campaign meant that, by entering their email address, people could track the sending of their tissues via the website, and see if their actions inspired others to follow suit. One ‘chain of sharing’, as dubbed by Kimberly-Clark, saw 34 people send and receive tissues one after the other. Visitors to the site could also see how many tissues were sent out in each US state. More importantly, Kimberly-Clark says that the campaign has lifted Kleenex’s US value share of tissue by two percentage points since October 2010.

A connection private label cannot hope for

While Kimberly-Clark leads the US tissue market with a 49% value share, private label products are growing stronger year-on-year in the US. Both of the major manufacturers in the category – Procter & Gamble holds second position with a 23.5% value share ¬– lost share in 2010 due to the continuing growth of private label. Private label tissues saw strong gains, with a retail value share of 17% in 2010, up from 12% in 2004.

Given the commodity nature of tissues, and the ever narrowing gap in quality between branded and private label products, with any innovations in branded tissues quickly copied by private label manufacturers, consumers are seeing fewer reasons to purchase more expensive, branded tissues. Since there is little difference in product performance, establishing a connection with consumers remains one of the few weapons in branded products’ armoury that can be used in the battle for market share. The Kleenex campaign is a novel, and it would seem successful, way of getting consumers to engage with a brand in a category that traditionally has little emotive appeal.

A gift rather than a commodity

Of all the branded tissue products, Kleenex is so far perhaps the most proactive in developing an emotive connection with consumers – an earlier campaign in 2008 advised consumers to ‘Let it All Out’, and asked them to share stories online that made them cry with laughter or sadness. This most recent campaign takes this bid to make an emotive connection one step further in a unique and creative way.

To date, free samples have usually been one-way, requested offers from marketers, and online sampling has largely seen consumers sign themselves up for free products. In the Kleenex campaign, however, when consumers make a gift of the product to friends or family members it could well foster a stronger relationship between the consumer and the brand simply because of the feel-good nature of the promotion.

The nature of the initiative serves to turn the tissue product into a gift worth sharing, raising the product above commodity status, and adding emotion to the promotion that could never be achieved if people were simply ordering samples for themselves. The givers feel generous and that they have done a good deed, while the receivers are happy to get a gift and pleased that a friend has thought of them. In addition, while the brand is making connections with consumers, it is also connecting consumers together, and this sort of consumer connection is expected to become ever-more important as social networking marketing develops.

Recommended by a friend

Aside from the feel-good factor, on a more practical level, the campaign has also created exceptional opportunities in terms of pushing the brand. When sending tissues to a friend, intentionally or not, the sender is not only endorsing the product, but also placing it directly into the friend’s home, creating a powerful combination of recommendation and product placement. In a category where the basic, functional nature of the product means opportunities for innovative marketing are limited, there is no doubt that this is an inspired way to both engage consumers and push the brand.

The challenge of maintaining momentum

The manufacturer has stated that it hopes that the campaign will have made enough of an impression that the next time a consumer is buying tissues for a poorly loved one they will remember the campaign and opt for Kleenex.

While it is possible that the campaign will sway the future purchasing decisions of some – and many Facebook users have been moved enough to write how happy they were with their gift on the product’s page – there will also be a significant proportion of consumers who, although happy with their free gift, opt for cheaper private label products when cost comes into it. While there is no doubt that the novel campaign has struck a chord with consumers, the bigger challenge to Kleenex now is to keep up the momentum.

Despite the lasting impact of the campaign being questionable, it has no doubt been a worthwhile initiative and short-term success. Compared to television and print advertising, online and social network marketing in particular is in its infancy, and manufacturers are still finding their feet with regards to the best way of making the internet work for them ¬– Kimberly Clark’s most recent effort is not to be sneezed at.