Marketers take toilet paper to luxurious new levels

There are no ifs or ands about it, some marketers are preoccupied with butts.

Consumers spent more than $3.7 billion a year on toilet paper last year, according to Information Resources, and that does not include Wal-Mart Stores, wmt which does not report sales data.

And in a bid to boost their "bottom lines," name-brand TP makers are rolling out massive marketing campaigns that play up the benefits of their tissues.

Kimberly-Clark's kmb new promotions for Cottonelle began this week with TV, Web and print ads and a revamped website. The overall theme: "Be kind to your behind."

In March, Cottonelle will send a bus across North America. Consumers will be invited onboard to sample the toilet tissue, as well as to learn stretches that ease aches and pains in the behind.

In 2007, Procter & Gamble pg made its largest-ever marketing investment in its Charmin brand. It hyped revamped "Ultra Soft" and "Ultra Strong" lines with new ads, and in November set up a 20-stall public restroom in New York City's Times Square where consumers could try the papers.

The goal for marketers is to elevate their bath tissue above commodity status and make it a "personal care" purchase.

"Bottoms deserve to be treated with the same care that we treat the rest of our bodies," says Alan Loux, Kimberly-Clark vice president of brand development. "People have different needs, so we have different products."

The new campaigns come as consumers are more open to frank advertising about bodily functions. In the past, many people would shocked by more explicit ads, says Dave Praeger, author of Poop Culture: How America is Shaped by its Grossest National Product, but "These days, (companies) can discuss their functional benefits more directly, without worrying about grossing out their customer."

One marketing edge the TP makers have is that in most homes, their products are a necessity: 93% of households bought toilet tissue during 52 weeks ended June 30, 2007, according to Homescan Consumer Facts. (What about the other 7%? Don't ask.) Consumers use about 20,805 sheets per year, according to industry data provided by Kimberly-Clark. At an average 4.5 inches per sheet, that's 1.5 miles of toilet paper per person.

Ways marketers are trying to make their sheets stand out:

• Selling comfort beyond softness. There are now dozens of super-soft options in the aisles, including Georgia-Pacific's Quilted Northern Ultra and the Scott Extra Soft from Kimberly-Clark.

But the pampering now has gone beyond soft to functional benefits: Cottonelle has "Aloe & E" paper, with aloe and vitamin E, and there's Charmin Plus with lotion that promises to make "skin soft and smooth."

• Playing up strength. A TV ad introducing Charmin's Ultra Strong showed the hazards of choosing toilet paper that isn't tough: An animated bear ended up with bits of paper stuck to his rump. "No one likes bath tissue that leaves pieces behind," said a voice-over.

• Touting absorbency. Georgia-Pacific in March will offer a "new and improved," more absorbent version of Quilted Northern. "The product is already soft, but we've upgraded it and made it thicker than it was before," marketing director Raj Nair says.

• New products for extra cleaning. Brands are adding moist, flushable wipes to their lines to extend sales. Research company Mintel predicts this will be a growth area, with many companies promoting wipes in conjunction with regular TP. Cottonelle touts Moist Wipes for delivering "a cleaner, fresher feeling than dry toilet paper alone."

• Courting kids. Kimberly-Clark has a "Cottonelle for Kids" dry TP line with "where to-tear" graphics on the roll so kids don't waste paper. The line, aimed at 4- to 9-year-olds, also includes flushable moist wipes.