It's a dirty business, but someone's got to do it. Babies' bottoms are big bucks for Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark. Between them, the two companies control around 80% of the global market for diapers (or nappies as the British call them). Pampers is the brand which introduced the world to the concept of the disposable diaper 55 years ago, and it remains the #1 brand worldwide. It is also Procter & Gamble's single biggest global brand, with sales exceeding $10bn for the first time in 2012. But beneath the happy families appearance of the baby products market lies a rivalry more intense even than that between Coke and Pepsi. Relentless competition from Kimberly-Clark's Huggies brand stole P&G's leadership of the US and several other markets, and has eaten into Pampers' lead in Europe. P&G has fought back since 2002 with a constantly updated product range and a savage price war, which eventually prompted Huggies to pull out of the infant diaper sector in Europe altogether.
Selected Pampers & Huggies advertising
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Adbrands Weekly Update 9th Jul 2015: Ads of the Week: "Pooface". Saatchi & Saatchi London dropped an instant classic with this splendid spot for Pampers, which celebrates those amazing faces babies make when they're... well, you know... lightening the load. "Pampers pooface" says it all really. However, the ad has become mired in some minor controversy. Critics have been quick to point out the echoes of BMF's similar ad for Aldi Australia from three years ago. Perhaps more serious are the questions over whether this ad was truly eligible for the couple of Cannes Lions it collected last month, since it was only officially released last week. And here's another puzzler: it still doesn't seem to have been formally acknowledged by P&G with a post on their own Pampers' online sites.
Adbrands Weekly Update 9th Apr 2015: Ads Of The Week "Naptime". Saatchi & Saatchi New York delivers another set of likeable, well-observed spots for P&G's second-string nappy brand Luvs, contrasting the different attitudes of nervous first-time parents from well-experienced seconders. It's a clever concept, one every twice-plus parent will recognise. Some of the set-ups are funnier than others, but all are warm and true.
Adbrands Weekly Update 5th Feb 2015: Ads of the Week: "A Newborn Journey of Firsts". This viral for P&G's Pampers is hard to fault, despite its sentimentality. It'll certainly provide a trip down memory lane for any parent-already, and some excited trepidation in the hearts of any parents soon-to-be. Released quietly a couple of weeks ago, it's become a huge viral hit, having racked up over 1.5m views to-date. Agency? Saatchi & Saatchi we believe but there are no credits attached.
Adbrands Weekly Update 11th Dec 2014: Moving in a very different direction from high-tech products like its Kindle e-reader, Amazon is jumping into the fiercely competitive US babycare market with its own private label brand, Elements Soft & Cozy. The first products will be a line of diapers and wipes priced below market leaders Pampers and Huggies but above P&G's value brand Luvs and private label products. Other products will follow if the launch goes well. For now, the products will offered exclusively to Amazon Prime members.
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Free for all users | see full profile for current activities: The first disposable nappy was in fact invented by a British company, Robinsons of Chesterfield, who launched Paddipads throwaways in 1949. But the product failed to sell, with mothers spurning the new invention in favour of traditional terry-towel. It was generally felt that the unpleasant and arduous task of laundering these used cloths was considered an inherent part of motherhood, and only a bad mother would choose to take the cheap and easy path. As a result few mothers, especially in the US, had ever heard of such a device when the first mass-produced disposable diaper was introduced in 1961 by the research department of Charmin Paper Mills, a paper products manufacturer acquired by Procter & Gamble four years earlier. Despite its obvious advantages and the country's growing obsession with labour-saving devices, the Pampers diaper was initially regarded with some degree of scepticism in the US as well. Not only did retailers have difficulty knowing where to stock the product on the shelves, but mothers tended to keep the disposable diapers only for special or difficult situations, such as travelling or for use by untrained babysitters.
To some extent, the perception was correct. The disposable nappy of the 1960s and 1970s was not the same product we use today. It was extremely bulky and comparatively inflexible, made primarily out of paper pulp. While the pulp was certainly absorbent, it did leak, especially when squeezed or sat on. However, the convenience factor was significant, and disposable nappies gradually caught on, with rival companies Kimberly-Clark, Johnson & Johnson and Colgate-Palmolive all subsequently entering the market. Yet P&G's competitors were slow to catch up. Kimberly-Clark's first diapers - Kimbies - were launched in 1968, but were withdrawn after consumers complained of excessive leaking. As a result P&G was left with a commanding dominance of the market.
The group was comparatively slow to roll its new invention out worldwide, but did introduce Pampers to several important territories. The most significant of these turned out to be Japan. Introduced there in 1977 as the country's first disposable nappy, Pampers were a big success, dominating the market within a couple of years. However P&G had not counted on two important factors. The first was the high quality demanded by Japanese consumers. Disposable diapers were certainly better than old-fashioned cloths, but Japanese consumers soon grew frustrated by their bulkiness and leakiness, often returning packs to the retailer because they were so messy. As a result some retailers began destocking the product. Meanwhile, P&G's competitors displayed another typically Japanese skill, improving upon the original design to make these bulky and leaky products more efficient. Eventually Kao Corporation developed a super-absorbent plastic to replace the paper pulp stuffing. Sodium polyacrylate powder was not only much less bulky than pulp, but absorbed liquid and turned it into a gel, which was retained within the nappy.
These new nappies, introduced in 1982 under the Merries and Moonies brandnames were half the size of Pampers, and far more absorbent, considerably reducing the likelihood of both leakage and nappy rash. They revolutionised the sector. In just a few months, Pampers had been virtually driven out of the Japanese market. Procter & Gamble's scientists hurried back to the laboratory to develop their own version of these super-absorbent nappies. But so did those American rivals who had watched with astonishment at P&G's reversal of fortune in Japan. P&G introduced the new design of Pampers in 1985 in the US (and Japan, where it regained a good deal of its former market). Just a few months later Kimberly-Clark introduced its own version - P&G later issued a lawsuit accusing them of copying the patent. Rivals Johnson & Johnson and Colgate-Palmolive began quietly withdrawing from the market, content to let the two big boys slug it out between them.
But while P&G then focused on rolling its brand out worldwide, Kimberly-Clark concentrated on innovation, while also keeping prices low. In 1978, Kimberly-Clark introduced an improved design of Kimbies under the new name Huggies, and this brand gradually began eating into Pampers' share. Following the introduction of super-absorbent nappies in 1985, K-C then introduced Ultra Trims, an even thinner version in 1986. These proved a huge success and two years later Huggies overtook Pampers as the US's best-selling diaper, a position it has arguably maintained ever since. By then, Pampers had been introduced in 20 world markets, and led the sector in virtually all. Kimberly-Clark chose a strategic route of launching into markets where P&G had not yet arrived, or by buying local operations already on the ground. Australia was a typical case. K-C acquired Colgate's local Snugglers and Snugfit brands in 1985, before introducing super-absorbent Huggies in 1988. By 1989, when Pampers were finally introduced, the company had built up a solid 65% share of the market. P&G managed to build its own share up to 20% in their first year, largely as a result of Johnson & Johnson's decision to discontinue their own line, but then found this market slipping away from them, falling to less than 10% share by 1993.
In 1994 Huggies set its sights on continental Europe, launching in France in 1994, Belgium and the Netherlands in 1995. In all three markets its set its sights on leader P&G, and steadily undercut Pampers' market share, at least in part by acquiring struggling French manufacturer Peaudouce, previously the #2, in 1996. Latin America became the battleground in the mid-1990s, followed by Asia. In several of these territories, P&G faced a more worrying threat when Kimberly-Clark agreed a strategic alliance with another of its global rivals, Unilever, on the basis that any enemy of Procter & Gamble was a friend of Kimberly-Clark. Unilever's Indian subsidiary, that country's biggest manufacturer, became the distribution partner for the launch of Huggies in India. A similar agreement was reached in Brazil, where K-C also acquired local manufacturer Kenko, who already produced a diaper marketed under best-selling local cartoon character Monica, the Brazilian equivalent to Charles Schultz's Peanuts. As a result, the group reversed P&G's original lead, taking 35% of the market by 1997.
There is no question that, for the time being at least, Pampers holds control of the world market. Currently Huggies sits a few notches below Pampers in worldwide sales, with revenues of around $7bn. But the market remains huge, and there is everything to play for. See full profile for current activities
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