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Toilet Paper Is Having A Moment But Which Brand Will Win The War?

March 23, 2020 Sarah Cavill

Shutterstock_1666793398  Gold Coast, Australia - March 8, 2020: Coles supermarket empty toilet paper shelves amid coronavirus fears, shoppers panic buying and stockpiling toilet paper as Australia prepares for a pandemic.

On Google Trends, toilet paper spiked in the “interest over time” category from one out of 100 in February to 100 out of 100 by March 17th. Coronavirus has impacted many industries for a number of reasons, but none seems to have caused more chatter and raised more eyebrows than the public’s run on toilet paper after the virus became a serious concern. Amazon, Costco and major supermarket chains were all emptied of toilet paper, leading many stores to limit how many rolls of toilet paper customers could buy. “There is comfort in knowing that it’s there,” said psychologist Mary Alvord, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the George Washington University School of Medicine. “We all eat and we all sleep and we all poop. It’s a basic need to take care of ourselves.” In a crisis, people want their comforts, and fresh rolls of TP are a comfort.

Even when not a hot item, toilet paper is a $31 billion per year industry, which is pretty impressive considering the pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog were the go-to item before Joseph Gayetty invented toilet paper in 1857. (Inventor Seth Wheeler patented the perforated toilet paper roll in 1891.) The toilet paper wars may have heated up, but TP brands have long been known for their marketing campaigns, including Charmin’s “overshare bears” and Cottonelle’s self-care campaign.

From Mr. Whipple To Their Ubiquitous Bears, Charmin Has Strong Brand Messaging

Charmin Ultra is the most popular name-brand toilet paper, with more than 76 million Americans choosing the brand for their bathroom needs. Charmin, a 92-year old company, was bought by Procter & Gamble (P&G) in 1957, and they introduced the Mr. Whipple character, and his “squeezable softness” campaign, in 1964. Mr. Whipple, a grumpy grocer, would stay a part of Charmin’s branding efforts for more than 20 years, urgently telling shoppers, “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin.” 

With the introduction of their new better Charmin Ultra product, Charmin launched its animated “Call of Nature” campaign in 2000, featuring a bear strangely fixated on toilet paper. The bear family has grown to include cubs, and the bears are often used to launch new products like Charmin Ultra Strong.

Although traditional advertising has been successful for Charmin, the brand has ventured into digital and social media advertising, even being named one of the sassiest brands on Twitter for their celebrity clapbacks and #tweetfromtheseat campaign.

Cottonelle Encouraged Invigorating “Down There Care” With Saucy Campaign

Cottonelle, favored by more than 29 million Americans, and known for commercials featuring very cute puppies more likely to destroy a roll of toilet paper than use it, tapped into the self-care trend with its “Down There Care” campaign. The humorous, innuendo-filled commercials featured a couple on a romantic getaway and a gay man meeting his boyfriend’s parents for the first time. 

By aligning with the self-care movement and positioning Cottonelle toilet paper as another step in health and wellness, the brand was able to reach consumers concerned about full-body routines. “While consumers ask a lot of their beauty and grooming products, we found they were overlooking toilet paper or flushable wipes as part of personal care conversations,” said Ken Champa, Senior Brand Manager for Cottonelle brand. "The downtherecare program urges people to rethink that – by opening an honest dialogue and highlighting the importance of a superior clean that leaves you feeling clean, fresh and confident.” By keeping the commercials funny and light, Cottonelle manages not to take itself too seriously, while still supporting the brand message. 

DTC Disrupts The Toilet Paper Industry With Artisanal Options

The internet, and hipster economics, have introduced the world to countless unexpected treats -- among them very fancy toilet paper. With names like Peach and Who Gives A Crap, these brands bear the usual artisanal hallmarks like sustainability, direct-to-consumer (DTC) subscription options and corporate social responsibility. In the case of Who Gives A Crap, the 100% recycled toilet paper brand was started when the founders discovered 40% of the global population doesn’t have access to proper toilets. Once the company was off the ground, Who Gives A Crap’s brand mission included committing 50% of its profits ($1,900,000 donated so far) to help build toilets and improve sanitation in the developing world. The features of these smaller, DTC toilet paper brands are likely to appeal to younger consumers who actively seek out companies with earth-friendly and charitable brand missions. And, in the mad toilet paper rush of the last month, Who Gives A Crap was one of many brands sold out.

Few people anticipated the run on toilet paper these last few weeks, but brands that stay agile and aware of changes in buying habits can offer future reliability to consumers. Toilet paper is a product everyone needs, so keeping up with demand may be the best thing a brand can do during these uncertain times.

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About the Author

Sarah Cavill

With more than 20 years of writing, editing and reporting experience, Sarah Cavill brings to Digital Media Solutions (DMS) a fine-tuned and diverse set of skills. Her work has been featured in notable publications including The Daily Muse, CBS Local, Techlicious and Glamour magazine. Sarah has a passion for current events and the deep-dive research that goes into the content development and brand identity of DMS Insights. In her role as Senior Marketing Communications Writer, Sarah contributes to the pitching, researching and writing of multiple stories published each week surrounding digital and performance marketing innovations in pop culture, news, social media, branding and advertising.

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