Analysis of Kleenex Brand Messaging: Don't Blame Your Customers

I was flipping through an issue of Ad Age today when I saw this Kleenex ad. I had seen it in the past, and thought it was bad the first time. 

So when I saw it again today, I thought, How is it possible that this ad is still running?

According to Ad Age’s print rate card, this full-page ad probably cost $30,000. 

It’s a hefty bit of change that Kleenex paid to run an ad that insults its customers. The positioning and concept of the ad is way off.

Let’s break down the copy line-by-line to see why:

“You may not realize it, but….”:

Passive aggressive and belittling. Give your customers the benefit of the doubt, especially if you are advertising in a magazine for marketers. 

Marketers are familiar with the phenomenon of brands turning into generic terms. We know that society now says that they need to google a store where they can buy band-aids and xerox a document.

“…you risk erasing our coveted brand name…”:

The language blames customers and creates an antagonistic dynamic of the brand against customers. “‘YOU’ risk 'OUR’ coveted brand name.”

The term “risk” is uncomfortable for people to read and to think about. When people think of tissues, they want to feel safe and comforted. Let’s keep in mind that we’re talking about tissues here – not brain surgery in an emergency room. 

“…we’ve worked so hard for all these years.”

You worked hard to build a brand name. Now you want customers to thank you for getting them to pay twice as much for your tissues than for a similar generic brand?

“Kleenex is a registered trademark…”

Did someone call the lawyer? This is getting serious.

“and should always be followed by a "R” and the words 'Brand Tissue’.“

This line just makes the brand seem clueless. News flash: no one is going to start referring to Kleenex as "Kleenex® Brand Tissue." Not even if you italicize "always.”

“I’m having a bloody nose – quick, grab me a Kleenex Brand Tissue." Not happening.

"Just pretend it’s in permanent marker.”

Again, stop talking to your customers as if they are children. Okay, some of them might be children, but the ones who hold the purse strings are adults who don’t appreciate having to “pretend” that something is written in permanent marker to understand a concept.


So what is a better way, you ask?

The better way is to scrap this concept entirely. 

Having a message with a negative undertone isn’t compelling nor does it make people feel guilty enough to start referring to your product by a corporatized official name. 

An ad is not the place to feature the debated issue of brands as generic terms, because it does nothing to generate goodwill for your brand. In fact, customers might think that you should feel flattered that your brand has such market dominance that the general public uses your brand to represent a category.

If Kleenex really insisted on using this concept, here are my suggestions:

Improve the creative. 

The registered trademark “R” here looks like chicken-scratch with a No.2 pencil. It doesn’t look like something that the brand “worked so hard on all these years." Once this disconnect is identified, the Creative team can create an "R” that looks like it took years of time, effort, and sweat to create. 

Also, the ad is already belittling, so avoid the Pink Pearl eraser that is reminiscent of elementary school.

Change the tone of the ad to be positive instead of negative.

This isn’t just an issue of copy. Copy is derived from the positioning and concept of an ad, so the tone of the positioning needs to change completely. 

A more positive example of copy:

“We know you love Kleenex. You use it at home, in the office, in the car. You reach for us when you’re sick with the sniffles, when you need to wipe something off your desk, or when you watch your favorite sad movie on DVD. We’re proud that in your mind, a tissue might as well be called a Kleenex. The other tissue brands might get jealous if you call them by the wrong name – so just make sure you keep us on hand.”

I’m not an expert on Kleenex’s target market or customer, but the overall tone of the positioning is much more comfortable to read, it’s not as corporate, and it gives the brand a humanistic feel.

What do you think about this ad? Does it make you want to buy Kleenex? If you are a marketer seeing this in Ad Age, what are your first impressions?

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