Yours for a thong

So what's the story?...

So what’s the story?

In September, Johnson & Johnson introduced its Carefree Thong pantyliners. Shaped like an exclamation mark, the product has tiny wings, which wrap around the narrowest part of the panties, as well as the usual end-to-end adhesive tape to help keep the pad in place.

Sounds bizarre. Is there a market for thong pantyliners?

According to the company, 10% to 15% of women wear thongs, which are currently experiencing the greatest growth in the undergarments category. For example, Victoria’s Secret sold US$20 million worth of the teeny skivvies in 1999, constituting 40% of all panty sales, compared to just 10% five years earlier.

‘Here’s an underwear trend that was booming, yet there were no pantyliners that were suitable for it,’ says Nadine Morris, product manager for Carefree at Johnson & Johnson. ‘So it was a dynamic market opportunity for us.’ The thong pantyliners are sold in supermarkets and drugstores across the board. (Incidentally, Procter & Gamble introduced Alldays Thong Pantyliners this fall, albeit without wings.)

Aren’t thongs reserved for the supermodel lot? Who is the target market here?

Traditionally, tiny panties have attracted women under the age of 25. But that’s beginning to change, according to Morris. ‘Thong sales at Wal-Mart are doing unbelievably well, and that’s typically an older market,’ she says. ‘Now it’s your 45-year-old, full-figured woman who is also wearing a thong.’

Apparently women have gone gaga over the almost-nonexistent underwear because they want to avoid unsightly panty lines, which are more of a problem now that body-conscious Lycra has become a fashion staple. The result has been that many women have traded in their granny briefs for an ‘all-thong, all-the-time’ approach to dressing, according to Johnson & Johnson.

OK, so thongs are all the rage. But do women really want a pantyliner stuck to their butt floss?

Apparently. According to Johnson & Johnson’s research, 95% of women surveyed indicated they would purchase the product. Furthermore, studies indicated that many women resorted to their traditional undies only during that time of the month, while others took matters into their own hands by cutting and shaping regular pantyliners to fit their thongs.

‘It’s simply an extension of everyday pantyliner use, where many women wear one every day to feel fresh and clean,’ says Morris. ‘But the pantyliners that were on the market couldn’t be used with this type of underwear. It has to have a specific shape.’

Fair enough, but they seem sort of small to be effective. Aren’t women worried about the lack of protection? Isn’t there a chance it can slide off such a small surface?

Johnson & Johnson has positioned the Carefree Thong as a tampon back-up for light days at the beginning and end of monthly periods, as well as a means to attain everyday freshness and ward off perspiration. (Read: to avoid embarrassing situations, think twice before wearing one with a tampon during heavy-flow days.)

The biggest question, therefore, isn’t with respect to absorption because many women wear pantyliners between their periods, according to Morris. What is hard for women to believe, she says, is that a minute pantyliner can fit on such a small undergarment. ‘They think, ‘Wow, can that possibly be comfortable?” she says. ‘That’s why we developed them with very thin, tiny wings that will wrap around that bit of material. It will keep in place and become an extension of your own undergarment – you won’t feel it because it moves with you.’

Well, that certainly sounds like it could fill a void in the market. How is Johnson & Johnson communicating the virtues of the Carefree Thong pantyliner to consumers?

A commercial debuted in January, featuring a sexy young thing in clingy, beige pants, showing off her perfect little butt in front of a mirror. The spot, which opens with a voice-over that brightly announces ‘Look good and feel fresh,’ shows how the product’s wings wrap around to ensure it will still be there the next time you visit the loo.

According to Dorit Tepperman, account director at Ammirati Puris, the agency behind Carefree’s creative, the wings are a strong selling point: ‘We developed this new product with wings and it’s the only thong pantyliner [on the market] with them. That’s the big feature.’

The company has also invested in limited print advertising in teen magazine Me First, the Canadian Living publication Health for Life, and La Senza’s catalogue. Like the TV spot, the print ads include a product shot to illustrate the advantage of wings.

Recently, Carefree debuted a promotion in collaboration with La Senza, whereby the retailer’s patrons receive two free samples of the pantyliner when they purchase a thong. ‘It’s a way to get people to try it,’ says Morris. ‘Once you use this product, you’re like, ‘Wow, it’s really amazing.”