Product Managers Ponder How To Market An Unwanted Product

Adult diapers are not what anyone wants, but more and more people need them
Adult diapers are not what anyone wants, but more and more people need them

Image Credit: SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget

Sigh. As product managers we all would like to think of ourselves as being the person who is in charge of a cool product like Facebook or the iPhone. However, the world is filled with other products that need the help of product managers and so who’s to say what product we will eventually be put in charge of? One product that perhaps none of us would look forward to managing would be adult diapers. I mean, nobody really wants to buy this product, right? What’s the best way for a product manager to deal with a product that people need, but don’t want?

The Problem With Older Diaper Customers

You and I may not yet spend a lot of our day thinking about diapers; however, as we become older it may be something that we think about more often. It turns out that roughly one-third of American women have some sort of bladder problem. These problems can range from occasional leaks to a full case of incontinence. However, research shows that fewer than 16% of these women use any sort of product to help them manage their condition. Clearly there is a need here and this is why product managers at Procter & Gamble (P&G) decided to enter into the adult diaper market.

The adult diaper market is currently owned by Kimberly-Clark who makes the Depends brand of adult diapers. Depends was launched back in the 1980s and currently holds on to almost half of the sales of this product in the U.S. The reason that P&G was attracted to this market was because incontinence products are highly profitable. In this market, for obvious reasons, competitors are scarce. As Americans become older, the market for this type of product is growing. However, currently many potential customers who could make use of a product like this don’t.

Creating a product to sell into this market was not hard for P&G to do. P&G created a product called Always Discreet and they launched it back in 2014. The company has shown that is it not unwilling to spend money in order to close the gap between it and market leader Kimberly-Clark. The challenge that is currently facing the P&G product managers is that they believe that they have created the correct product, now all they have to do is to find a way to change their product development definition in order to get consumers into this category. The biggest problem that they are currently facing is that there is a level of embarrassment associated with buying a product like adult diapers.

How To Market An Unwanted Product

Pity the poor product manager who has been placed in charge of trying to market a product that potential customers find embarrassing to purchase. In this category we’ll find things like condoms, or drugs that treat conditions like flatulence or erectile dysfunction. Oh, and add to that list adult diapers. Product managers are finding that adult diapers are harder to sell because they are associated with something that customers don’t like: aging. Additionally, another problem with trying to sell diapers is that they are not prescribed by a physician.

When P&G first introduced their adult diaper product, things didn’t go so well. That was not going to look good on anyone’s product manager resume. They did a good job with creating a marketing blitz and they even got stores to cooperate and place their product in prominent positions. Despite all of these efforts, sales for the new product were slower than they had expected. Even worse, in talking with potential customers, P&G found out that many customers didn’t even know that P&G made an adult diaper product. In order to deal with low sales, P&G changed their marketing from showing women dancing to having just a single women talking directly into the camera.

P&G also sent their product managers into stores to watch how people shopped for adult diapers. What they discovered is that P&G’s decision to put “adult underwear” in small letters on the packaging instead of “diapers” in order to help customers avoid the embarrassment of buying the product had backfired on them. Shoppers were rushing though the incontinence aisle so that they wouldn’t be seen their by friends and family. Older shoppers who had poor eyesight were not able to read the label on the product and so they were not buying it. This problem was addressed by having P&G increase the font size. They also introduced a higher end of diapers called Always Discreet Boutique which looks like fancy lingerie. These products sell for 60% more than the basic product and now account for 20% of P&Gs sales in this category.

What All Of This Means For You

Every product manager would like to be in charge of a product that is both popular and highly desired by our target group of customers. However, the world does not always work this way. What we find is that sometimes we are put in charge of a product that the world may need; however, it is a product that they really would prefer to not buy. One very clear example of this is adult diapers. The product manager for adult diapers have a real challenge on their hands: they are going to have to take a look at their product manager job description and figure out how they can market a product that nobody wants?

There is a real need for adult diaper products. A lot of American women suffer from bladder leaking problems; however, very few of them currently purchase adult diaper products to deal with their problem. In The U.S. Kimberly-Clark currently owns the market for adult diapers. Procter & Gamble decided to enter this market because incontinence products are very profitable, there are few competitors, the customer base is growing, and few people currently purchase the product. P&G created and introduced a product called Always Discreet. Now their big problem is how to get people to buy their product. People don’t like to buy adult diapers because to do so requires them to admit that they are aging. Additionally diapers are not something that a physician would prescribe. When P&G introduced their adult diaper brand, sales were slow. It turns out that their attempt to make the product less embarrassing to buy by using small discreet fonts was a mistake. Sales went up when they changed their packaging.

The good news for adult diaper product managers is that there is a real need for the product that they are offering. The bad news is that many of their potential customers are too embarrassed to go to the store and buy their product. Product managers are going to have to find a way to make the product less embarrassing to buy while at the same time meeting the needs of their customers. If they can accomplish this, adult diapers might be something that eventually finds its way into everyone’s home.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: How could product managers make buying adult diapers less embarrassing for potential customers?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

There are exciting product manager jobs and then there are the product manager jobs at the really big food companies. Yes, yes – the good news is that you’ll probably be a relatively successful product manager no matter what you do simply because the big food companies provide us with the products that we all know and love. However, because of the sameness of the job, there is a good chance that this will not be the most exciting product manager job out there. However, lately things have been changing and this job is starting to become a lot more cutting edge…

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