Manufacturers try designer diapers to boost sales

— -- Baby bottoms may never look the same.

A new Huggies diaper, designed with the look of camouflaged military apparel, is rolling out at Walmart stores nationwide. This real life diaper war is part of a wider industry move to designer diapers that comes months after a jean-like diaper design was a hit with consumers and even as one diaper maker is adding pink, girlie ruffles.

Oh, baby. Have America's diaper-buying moms and dads lost their senses? Designer diapers can cost up to 20% more than conventional diapers, with most placing fewer diapers in a pack.

But after a four-year decline in births during the economic downturn, most players in the $5 billion diaper industry are seeking novel ways to boost sales and gain market share.

"It's all about moms getting compliments from other moms," says advertising psychologist Renee Fraser. "Babies don't compliment each other on their diapers. Moms do."

Most parents thrive on having their kids praised, Fraser says. Now, even if your kid isn't yet walking or talking and is simply sitting there in nothing but her diaper, Fraser notes, "she still can get praised for her diaper."

Some recent designs in the fashion diaper line-up:

•Camouflage. The Huggies Camo diaper is a limited edition, blue diaper to be sold at Walmart stores for the next three months. For every package of Camo diapers sold, Huggies will donate one diaper to a military service family in need.

Wal-Mart asked Huggies maker Kimberly-Clark to design the Camo diaper because camouflage was huge in other kids categories from clothing to car seats, says Eric Seidel, vice president for the Huggies brand.

•Jeans. Huggies launched diapers that looked like jeans a year ago and relaunched them this spring when it sold 60 million. "That opened our eyes to the fact that beyond function, diapers can have style and fashion," says Seidel.

For fashion-conscious parents, he says, it's actually cheaper to buy fashionable diapers than a series of new outfits that the baby will quickly outgrow. "This is an affordable luxury," he says.

What's more, while manufacturers initially limited sales of designer diapers to the summer months — when the warmer weather results in more babies crawling around in diapers — Huggies is planning to expand sales of fashion diapers beyond summer, he says.

•Floral prints. Pampers rolled out floral prints for girls this spring. Last year, it tried pastel diapers sold at Target by fashion designer Cynthia Rowley. "You have a group of moms focused on fashion who think of the diaper as an extension of clothing," says John Brase, head of North American baby care marketing at Procter & Gamble.

•Argyle print. Limited edition diapers for boys in argyle print were introduced this spring by Pampers.

•Ruffles. Eco-diapers with ruffles for girls and plaids for boys were launched this year by gDiapers. It has skateboarder diapers coming this fall. "We're green to the core," says co-founder Kim Graham-Nye, "but design is at the center of who we are."

The next big diaper design trend, predicts ad psychologist Fraser, might reflect what's hot in adult fashion design: leopard.