Consumer-products maker Kimberly-Clark on July 23 is rolling out a line of Poise products that target 50 million American women who are or will soon go through menopause. Priced between $3.99 and $7.99, the line includes lubricant for vaginal dryness, panty freshener stickers and feminine wash for odor and cooling towelettes and roll-on gel to treat hot flashes.
It's a move by Poise to expand beyond its line of pads for incontinence. But introducing consumer products is tough since people tend to be loyal to brands for decades. Not to mention that some doctors say many of the products Kimberly-Clark is rolling out are not particularly useful to women going through menopause.
Feminine washes are usually not recommended by many doctors, says Dr. Lauren F. Streicher, a gynecologist and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. And products that mask vaginal odor could cause people to not treat what is causing that symptom in the first place, she added.
"The idea of covering it up with a freshener is an inappropriate approach," Dr. Streicher said. "I'm thrilled people are paying attention, but I don't want to see people taken advantage of."
This isn't the first time Kimberly-Clark, a Dallas-based company that also makes Kleenex tissue and Huggies diapers, has attempted to shake up the feminine-care sector. In 2010, the company launched U by Kotex, a line of brightly packaged tampons and pads, with tongue-and-cheek TV ads made fun of feminine care ad stereotypes such as a woman running on the beach and asked "Why are tampon ads so ridiculous?" The line was a hit and named one of SymphonyIRI's 2011 New Product Pacesetters.
For the Poise brand, the company created the term "light bladder leakage," or LBL, in 2009 to avoid the stigma associated with the word "incontinence." The company also hired actress Kirstie Alley to spread the word that 1 in 3 women had experienced "light bladder leakage" symptoms.
Now the company wants to build on that by expanding the Poise brand, which was first launched in 1992. Sales of Poise products have grown steadily over the past five years, with sales up 56 percent to $475.7 million in 2011, according to Euromonitor International.
Making a new product line wasn't easy, though. The process toward developing the line was grueling.
Beginning in 2009, about 30 people at Kimberly-Clark, two-thirds of them women themselves, began to research what types they could offer new products under the Poise brand, aimed at women 40-plus. They interviewed 8,000 women in the U.S. and 3,000 people outside the U.S. during the process, asking questions about their needs and testing products and advertising concepts. They found that women faced three main symptoms of menopause -- vaginal dryness, odor and hot flashes.
But the company had to figure out how to appeal to women about a subject that's not discussed often. The company rolled out the product in Chile last year. In the country, which is a more conservative than the U.S., Kimberly-Clark marketed the product with the made up word "maduritude," a combination of the Spanish words for mature and woman. In the U.S., the company decided to be more frank about menopause.
In the U.S., Kimberly-Clark created a TV, print and online marketing campaign focuses on "The Second Talk." In TV and print ads, which begin running on July 30, women describe the symptoms of menopause and the need to discuss it.
"There's the big talk about the period, there's no talk about menopause," said one woman in a TV ad. Copy from a print ad reads: "It's like someone put a hot frying pan on my face," in reference to hot flashes. The ad directs people to "see real women's stories at the2ndtalk.com," which will hold online forums on the subject.
Kimberly-Clark says that the products -- and the campaign -- are an attempt to open up a dialogue about menopause. That's something the company says women say they long for.
"There's not a lot of conversation happening about menopause," said Jay Gottlieb, vice president of Kimberly-Clark's North American adult & feminine care business. "Women very much want to have conversations but don't have the forums."