Killing or wounding your brand has never been as easy as it now is. As Kleenex personnel in the U.K. have learned. The company just announced that it was changing the name of its "Mansize" tissues there to "extra large." Consumers had been complaining on social media.
It's easy to shoot yourself in the foot the way Nike or L.L. Bean did. All it takes is one misstep. But Kleenex shows another way to trip. Old brands and practices from the past may carry something that many consumers will find objectionable.
The Mansize tissues were physically larger than the most common Kleenex types and first hit the market in 1956. The BBC dug up an old Kleenex ad from around that time. Here's the copy:
Kleenex for Men Tissues aren't only for men.
Kleenex for Men aren't only for colds. They're quite simply the best tissues you can buy ... big and strong and soft.
Another other tissues do, they can do better. So next time you need a tissue, be bold.
The company's ads may have changed, but the branding didn't. That particular product name has been around ever since. A U.K. marketing executive and mother tweeted this.
Hi @Kleenex_UK. My 4yo son asked me what was written here. Then he asked, why are they called mansize? Can girls, boys & mummies use them? I said: I don't know & yes of course. He suggests you should call them "very large tissues". It is 2018 pic.twitter.com/SeOg32RsDV-- Lisa Hancox (@LisaMHancox) October 10, 2018
What a novel idea to update product names for the present time. And that is what Kleenex has said it will do: replace Mansize with "extra large."
A bit plain, but it does the job. It also avoids a sexist distinction and, in the process, does something equally important. Kleenex has just invited people who don't happen to be men to also buy this product.
For years, Kleenex has been telling millions of women, subconsciously, not to purchase the larger and probably more expensive version. There's no way to know the total for certain from here, but that's 62 years of lost profits.
Take one of those extra large tissues, dry the tears of the sales department, and toss.
As with cases of racism and other types of ugliness that companies too frequently portray through marketing and advertising, this gaffe is probably in part due to not having enough of a mix in management.
According to Bureau of Labor statistics, there's an underrepresentation of women in the managerial roles of marketing. Look at "market research analysts and marketing specialists" and you'll see that women are 60.8 percent of those employed. (By the way, 84.2 percent are white, which explains some of the other mistakes.)
However, among the group of "marketing and sales managers," 45.3 percent are female (and 86.4 percent, white).
When it comes to sexism, many men don't see it as clearly as women, because they haven't been the targets and don't bear the same scars.
It may be that the people in charge of the branding at Kleenex in the U.K. are women. But chances are good that they could have been generations of men who didn't see.
I'll come back to the advice I've been giving companies for years. Have people different from the ones in your marketing group review ads and point out problems. It's not a hard step and it can save you a lot of problems. As an example, I can remember doing a marketing review of a website for an entrepreneur I knew. There weren't issues of sexism or racism, but in many ways the site fell short, offered confusing information, and probably lost some customers.
The cost is relatively small, the risk potentially high, and the upside enormous.