Di­a­pers. They’re not just for baby any­more

▶ Sales of adult gar­ments the U.S. could those of di­a­pers in a decade ▶ “Hey, I have blad­der leak­age, and it’s no big deal”

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Contents - - Carol Hymowitz and Lau­ren Cole­man-lochner

Thanks to the end­less de­ter­mi­na­tion of par­ents to keep baby bot­toms dry, Kim­berly- Clark’s Hug­gies di­a­pers brand has be­come a global pow­er­house, with bil­lions of dol­lars in an­nual sales. But the tar­get con­sumers for one of the com­pany’s lat­est di­a­per lines aren’t in­fants— or even their aged grand­par­ents. In­stead, ads for its De­pend Sil­hou­ette line of dis­pos­able in­con­ti­nence briefs fea­ture laugh­ing, long-legged mod­els who look barely over 40. The per­sonal- care gi­ant has been ag­gres­sively run­ning the fash­ion- style mar­ket­ing pitches in main­stream mag­a­zines and on tele­vi­sion, be­cause adult in­con­ti­nence is a mar­ket that’s re­cently be­come too big—and lu­cra­tive—to re­main in the shad­ows.

“We’re try­ing to make the prod­uct more nor­mal, and even fun, with real peo­ple in our ads say­ing, ‘Hey, I have blad­der leak­age, and it’s no big deal,’ ” says Jay Got­tleib, head of Kim­ber­lyClark’s adult and fem­i­nine- care busi­ness in North Amer­ica.

Growth in the adult-di­a­per mar­ket is out­pac­ing that of ev­ery other pa­per­based house­hold sta­ple in the U.S. Euromon­i­tor In­ter­na­tional fore­casts a 48 per­cent in­crease in sales in the cat­e­gory, to $2.7 bil­lion in 2020 from $1.8 bil­lion last year. That com­pares with ex­pected growth of 2.6 per­cent, to $6.3 bil­lion, dur­ing that pe­riod for baby di­a­pers. And in only a decade, sales of di­a­pers for adults could sur­pass those for ba­bies at Kim­ber­lyClark and ri­val Proc­ter & Gam­ble. As birthrates fall and life spans lengthen, the com­pa­nies fig­ure there’s plenty of room for ex­pan­sion, be­cause ba­bies grow out of di­a­pers, but in­con­ti­nent adults usu­ally don’t.

As many as 1 in 3 adults—more than 80 per­cent of them women—have blad­der con­trol is­sues, the Urol­ogy Care Foun­da­tion says. Causes in­clude preg­nancy and child­birth, health con­di­tions such as di­a­betes and obe­sity, and changes that ac­com­pany ag­ing, ac­cord­ing to the Mayo Clinic.

To tap that mar­ket, man­u­fac­tur­ers have rolled out mar­ket­ing cam­paigns to make a leaky blad­der seem if not fash­ion­able, then at least not hu­mil­i­at­ing. Kim­berly-clark spon­sored a free con­cert in New York fea­tur­ing the Grammy-nom­i­nated in­die pop band Cap­i­tal Cities to pro­mote its adult prod­ucts. It even pro­duced a rap video fea­tur­ing Kim­berly- Clark em­ploy­ees strut­ting their stuff around one of the com­pany’s fac­to­ries while wear­ing noth­ing below the waist ex­cept its adult briefs. The rap lyrics ex­plain that in­con­ti­nence hits peo­ple of all ages and en­cour­age lis­ten­ers to “drop their pants for un­der­ware­ness.” The com­pany also in­tro­duced a so­cial me­dia cam­paign to raise money for an

in­con­ti­nence-aware­ness char­ity.

“They’re driv­ing home the point that at­trac­tive peo­ple in their 40s and 50s or even younger, not just nurs­inghome res­i­dents, can be wear­ing this un­der their cloth­ing,” says Mar­lene Mor­ris Towns, a teach­ing pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity.

In­con­ti­nence briefs, avail­able in dif­fer­ent styles for men and women, look a lot like reg­u­lar un­der­wear and come in a range of col­ors. In­stead of be­ing stacked on shelves like baby di­a­pers, some of Kim­berly- Clark’s lat­est adult in­con­ti­nence gear comes in pack­ag­ing that hangs on hooks in store dis­plays and has trans­par­ent win­dows that show the ab­sorbent dis­pos­ables folded like cot­ton un­der­pants. A box of 10 De­pend Sil­hou­ette Ac­tive Fit briefs sells for $11.97, or about $1.20 each, at Wal­mart.com. A 44- count box of the com­pany’s Hug­gies Snug & Dry di­a­pers for in­fants costs $7.97, or about 18¢ each.

When cast­ing the ads for its ac­tive-fit Sil­hou­ette briefs, the com­pany hired mod­els and brand am­bas­sadors a gen­er­a­tion younger than its for­mer white-haired spokes­woman, the late ac­tress June Allyson. Among them: co­me­dian and tele­vi­sion star Sh­eryl Un­der­wood, 52, and slam poet “Mighty” Mike Mcgee, 40.

Svet­lana Udus­li­vaia, a head of tis­sue and hygiene re­search at Euromon­i­tor, says newer goods such as De­pend Sil­hou­ette and P&G’S Al­ways Dis­creet are thin­ner and less dis­cernible un­der cloth­ing, and in gen­eral are de­signed for more phys­i­cally ac­tive con­sumers. They “wouldn’t be very suit­able for those with more se­ri­ous forms of adult in­con­ti­nence usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with older se­niors,” she says. So the prod­ucts’ strong sales growth might sug­gest that younger peo­ple are drawn to them. A Kim­berly-clark spokesman says the com­pany doesn’t yet have num­bers to show its more youth­ful push is work­ing. It sug­gests many younger in­con­ti­nence suf­fer­ers still use prod­ucts not in­tended to han­dle the prob­lem (such as san­i­tary pads) be­cause of a re­luc­tance to buy goods de­signed for se­niors—a stigma that its me­dia cam­paign hopes to end.

Kim­berly-clark has more than half the U. S. in­con­ti­nence- gar­ment busi­ness, with 56 per­cent of sales last year, com­pared with 9 per­cent for P&G and 7 per­cent for Swe­den’s Sven­ska Cel­lu­losa, maker of the Tena brand of in­con­ti­nence goods, Euromon­i­tor es­ti­mates. Un­like Kim­berly- Clark, P&G tar­gets only women with one of its prod­uct lines— Al­ways Dis­creet, in­tro­duced in 2014. Women al­ready are fa­mil­iar with the com­pany’s Al­ways brand, which in­cludes such fe­male per­sonal- care prod­ucts as men­strual pads and lin­ers. “Al­ways Dis­creet has been very suc­cess­ful in bring­ing along a lot of the younger women, be­cause it’s a brand that they trust,” says Yuri Her­mida, vice pres­i­dent of North Amer­i­can baby and fem­i­nine care at P&G.

Hop­ing to grab an even big­ger slice of the in­con­ti­nence mar­ket, Kim­berly- Clark last year in­tro­duced Poise Im­pressa blad­der sup­ports for women, one of the first in­con­ti­nence prod­ucts to be worn in­ter­nally. It’s de­signed to help pre­vent uri­nary leaks rather than sim­ply ab­sorb them. In­serted into the vagina like a tam­pon, it lifts and gives sup­port to the nearby ure­thra, which in turn helps stop urine from leak­ing out. The tar­get au­di­ence in­cludes women who suf­fer so- called stress uri­nary in­con­ti­nence, of­ten trig­gered by cough­ing, sneez­ing, or even danc­ing. Ads for the prod­uct fea­ture a smil­ing middle-aged woman and a mar­ket­ing pitch that prom­ises to “let you laugh with­out leaks.” More than laugh­ter, for Kim­berly-Clark the prod­ucts may bring in se­ri­ous prof­its.

The bot­tom line Sales of adult in­con­ti­nence prod­ucts are fore­cast to rise 48 per­cent from 2015 to 2020. Baby di­a­per sales will grow 2.6 per­cent.

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