Adult diapers using the sanitary napkin narrative

I recall seeing ads for adult diapers/dry pants in US-based magazines that do not have the ‘look’ that the category usually gets in India. In India, for some reason, the ads tend to use a fuddy-duddy outlook.

But one Indian adult diaper brand seems to have consistently moved away from that outlook and bring some spunk into this category – Friends, from Nobel Hygiene.

It helps that the company is focused almost exclusively in the diaper category. So, they are able to market their bread and butter product in disruptive ways, away from the usual ways they have been relegated to.

Urinary incontinence, the medical term used to denote loss of bladder control, is a normal biological issue that may arise due to older age. But, while we accept the loss of bladder control in babies and children, as they grow, we make it a taboo (bed-wetting in older children is seen as a shameful act). And if a person, after having gone through the adult period of independence, returns to the state of loss of bladder control, then that is seen as some kind of weakness, even though it is simply nature’s way of informing us that our faculties are getting frail with age.

Would it be right to say that ‘adult diaper’, for some odd reason, is associated with the same kind of a pointless shame that the Indian society accords to condoms? I don’t know, but there does seem to some shame/stigma associated with the category. They are the kind of products that are presumed to be bought with some reluctance, as if, ‘what would people think of me buying this?’. Thankfully, buying online doesn’t invoke any stigma or shame.

For context, there was a time, during Doordarshan-only days, when parents used to be visibly uncomfortable when sanitary napkin ads played during prime time/Chitrahaar when the whole family was watching TV together. Now, sanitary napkin ads don’t even pass muster – they are considered to be normal.

Friends has been using the same narrative used for sanitary napkins to market their adult diaper range! The conventional sanitary napkin advertising narrative focuses less on the discomfort (which has been presumed to have been communicated adequately over the years) and more on what can happen when that discomfort is removed (thanks to the brand of sanitary napkin, of course).

To be sure, Friends did start in the discomfort zone too, as this 2005 ad demonstrates.

But, from that zone, Friends’ ads have started focusing on the end result of not worrying about loss of bladder control, like a grandpa going fishing, playing marbles or doing velapanti with friends (all in their 2017 campaign).

The brand also had a well-timed tie-up with the film ‘102 Not Out’!

Their latest campaign, conceived by the agency The Womb, is also timed so very well – the narrative remains the same: what can you do if the incontinence problem is taken care of? You get the freedom to do indulge in whatever you want! And what does ‘freedom’ remind you of, in August, in India? Of course, Independence Day!

The simple narrative is very reminiscent of the numerous sanitary napkins ads. Don’t let ‘discomfort’ limit your freedom. Use product X and be free (to do what you want, which in this case is a bike trip). But the small nuances are nicely done, like how the friend makes the bike sound and ‘drives’ inside the home. He also proudly and confidently shows a peekaboo of the product!

The bike trip reminded me of the heartwarming Tamil film, Pa Paandi (originally called Power Paandi), about a retired cinema stunt choreographer finding his love again after 60+.

I found two interesting anomalies in Friends’ campaigns.

1- There doesn’t seem to be a consistent name used to denote the category.

The older ads use ‘adult diapers’ (the most common phrase used for this category).

Their own website has the new product with the package showing a distinctly non-Indian (white) couple and called “Diaper pants”.

The new ‘Aazadi Mubaarak’ campaign uses the term ‘dry pants’ in the product packaging even as that is not used anywhere in their own website!

One consistent product name would be useful in building the category, as a market leader.

2- All of Friends’ ads focus exclusively on the older man’s freedom – to go to a movie, to go out and play with friends, to go on a bike trip and so on. The wives/women are generally shown to be behind the men, or simply being happy inside the home!

Is there a biological reason that I’m missing for the ads focusing so much only on the older men? The product packs clearly indicate that they are unisex and depict both (an older man and an older woman). So, the campaigns offering an expression of freedom only to the men seems like an odd choice, that too for so long.

According to Bonafide Research’s report, titled India Diapers Market 2021, the Indian adult diaper market stands at Rs. 350 crores! So its no wonder Friends is confident enough to advertise to a relatively less-addressed target segment (which is becoming more and prominent).

Interestingly, even as Friends uses the sanitary napkin advertising narrative for adult diapers, they use a less-utilized narrative for their newly launched sanitary napkin brand, Rio! The ads, featuring Radhika Apte (again, made by The Womb), completely avoid talking about the freedom aspect used by most other brands and focuses, with excruciating detail, on the amount of blood, and pitches the product as specially meant for heavy-flow.

Related, older posts:
1- Silver generation as leads in Indian advertising
2- Rise of the silver generation
3- Tops corn flakes and the choice of models in their advertisement



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