Breaking Through “Below the Belt” Taboos for Women
As the head of the Health & Well-Being practice at an agency that specializes in marketing to women, I work on a lot of health topics that fall “below the belt”: vaginal dryness, menstruation, bladder leakage and more. You’d think these topics would be a PR person’s worst nightmare. But our work on these issues is actually some of the agency’s best!
It’s not often immediately apparent how to entice media to cover these subjects – much less mention the name of your brand – or to drive consumers to engage in conversations. But in the last several years we’ve found women are more receptive to these topics.
We have many to thank for this increased openness, including Oprah, who covered a range of controversial health and sex issues on her talk show, Katie Couric, who televised the intimate details of her colonoscopy, and recently, Kris Jenner confessing to experiencing bladder leakage. Companies that make products to remedy these conditions also have actively lobbied media, influencers and consumers to publicly address them. So the low-key, education focused approach of campaigns in years past is no longer the prescription for success. Big, unexpected ideas, an in-your-face message and a sizable dollop of pop culture savvy have yielded far better results.
Take the Depend brand’s The Great American Try-On Challenge, which we recently launched. It doesn’t get more below the belt than urinary incontinence and adult diapers. Yet Kimberly-Clark’s new high-performance, innovative and discreet briefs for men and women that look and feel like real underwear were a significant advance for the 56 million Americans living with bladder control issues. And we felt the brand deserved more than being made fun of on Saturday Night Live.
Our strategy was to infuse the story into pop culture conversations to drive awareness and encourage consumers to try the new briefs. Depend turned some heads by persuading actress Lisa Rinna and pro football stars Clay Matthews, DeMarcus Ware and Wes Welker to try on Depend to show consumers they can be as confident and active as they want to be while wearing them.
None of these people actually have bladder disorders. And Depend made donations to their favorite charities to get them to participate. But in the end, they did it to empower men and women with incontinence to feel better about themselves. And they got media and consumers to pay attention.
Since the launch in April we’ve already netted over a billion media impressions with coverage in mainstream media like The New York Times, Today Show, CNN and more. Website traffic has doubled. And nearly 200,000 men and women have requested a product sample.
So how’d we do it? While no one formula works for every brand challenge, there are some principles we follow to ensure success:
- Get inside the head of your target: This may sound a little obvious, but we’re not asking people to buy a new cereal; we’re asking them to get beyond denial and fear about a shameful condition. There is a delicate balance between what people respond to and what makes them run in the other direction – or worse, ridicule you. So listen carefully.
- Engage spokespeople whose passion drives their credibility: The Depend spokespeople agreed to participate because they were genuinely passionate about helping people deal with the shame of incontinence, even though they don’t personally have it. Their passion was enhanced by the opportunity to support charities they are close to.
- Be surprising: The Depend campaign was successful because everything about it was unexpected. Lisa Rinna showing off her sexy figure and famous pout in a skin-tight Herve Leger dress. For a Depend ad. Everyone wanted to know why. And that gave us the opening to deliver our message.
- Use humor appropriately: By humor, we mean the kind that brings levity to topics that are sometimes addressed too seriously. Something we can laugh with, not at. The kind of humor that gives a story “talk value” without making fun of anyone.
- Explain why it matters: Bladder leakage and incontinence are lifestyle destroying conditions and affect millions of people. We needed to prove that to get media to cover the story and to make women more likely to talk and seek solutions.
A campaign like this would have been unthinkable five or 10 years ago. Its success is based on others who have paved the way. So we’re sending out our thanks to the pioneers we mentioned earlier and others like Naomi Judd (hepatitis), Magic Johnson (HIV/AIDS) and Bob Dole (erectile dysfunction) who have made it okay to openly discuss matters that used to be whispered about when only those closest to us could hear.