Kleenex’s social experiment

The Kimberly-Clark brand's new strategy is nothing to sneeze at. It wants to bring out the caregiver in everyone to turn around the category in decline.

Kleenex wants you to share tissues. Clean ones, that is.

The Kimberly-Clark brand is rolling out a new campaign in time for cold and flu season, to encourage consumers to share their (unused) Kleenex with strangers in need. Strategy was handled by Geometry Global Canada in partnership with Ogilvy, while Mindshare took care of the media buy.

The mass and social campaign, which launched this week and will run through Q2 (allergy season), comes on the heels of a “social experiment” put on by the brand and agencies (including U.K.-based “behavioural science” agency #Ogilvychange), says Therese Brisson, director, marketing and sales strategy at Kimberly-Clark.

Late last year, the brand took to a number of public places (think subways, hockey games and elevators), and handed out two-sided Kleenex samplers that could easily be snapped in two to share.

An actress (and hidden cameras), was set up to sneeze as consumers passed by. Many shared their shareable box with the sniffly actress, and the entire thing was captured on camera. The video banked on the idea that people are inherently good, Brisson says, and will share when it’s made simple. Beyond the minute-and-a-half online video, there will be teaser spots on TV, print, OOH and social media. Influencer outreach will encourage people to document their own sharing social experiments.

The facial tissue category has been in decline over the past 10 years, she says, going from 90% household penetration to about 78% today. “We think it’s mostly because the consumers have become pretty disengaged with the category,” Brisson says.

What’s more, she adds the world has become a more cold and indifferent place, with technology eliminating social interaction. And since Kleenex has always positioned itself as a gesture of care, she hopes this campaign and social experiment will bring out the “caregiver” in people. That is, Brisson hopes it will jolt people out of their routines and offer a helping hand (or tissue) to friends and stranger. The Canadian-led initiative has already gotten some pick-up in other nations, such as Russia.

This isn’t the first time a brand has tried a “social experiment.” Last August, Orville Redenbacher set up a cinema going experience for movie lovers, handing out popcorn to half the audience, documenting the result (the idea being popcorn makes movies more enjoyable).

If 2013 was the year of prank-vertising, and 2014 was the year of gift-vertising, will 2015 be the year of social engineer-vertising? Something to think about as you plan your next experiment.