I have argued in “Aaker on Branding” and elsewhere, that especially in this digital age, communication that focuses on the attributes and benefits of your offering or brand is rarely noticed or processed, let alone makes a change to consumer perception or behavior. But what does work? Being an active and empathetic partner in what your audience is passionate about and showing, with substantive actions and programs, that your brand shares the same passions as your consumers. This passion can help create a bond of commonality and shared interest to life.
Huggies’ Campaigns: Repositioning Towards a Niche Subcategory
In 2015, Huggies in Canada was losing market share to Pampers. Huggies was trying to win the fight for relevance and share of wallet with messaging around attributes like diaper design, materials, sizing, etc., but it was not working. They were being outspent 3 to 1 with a rival using similar arguments.
The “No Baby Unhugged” Program
As a result, as described in the 2017 WARC paper “Huggies: No Baby Unhugged” by Michelle Lee, Huggies in Canada changed course. They became the brand that focused on hugging new babies—reflecting on a special moment in a mother’s life and, as it turns out, this was extremely important to the health of newborns as well. The program was introduced a year later in the United States.
The “No Baby Unhugged” program was supported by solid research and Huggies’ heritage. Research has demonstrated that hugs help a newborn physiologically by aiding in faster weight gain, increasing oxygen levels, improving sleep quality, and strengthening the immune system, while also promoting more stabilized heart rate, less anxiety, and better pain tolerance. Huggies distributed a white paper, written for healthcare professionals, that summarizes some 600 scientific studies on the impact of hugging on newborns.
Its heritage and, in fact, its name itself are about the role of hugs in the mom-infant relationship. The brand is not called “Soft and Dry.” In fact, the personalities of the two leading players are informative—Huggies is a mom and Pampers a doctor.
The program was designed to educate moms about how hugs help the newborn, encourage the practice, and link Huggies, emotionally, to the act and role of hugging. An emotional two-and-a-half-minute video, showing the power of hugging and its experience from the view of the infant, a mom, and a medical team, was released on Mother’s Day.
The No Baby Unhugged website helps moms create a “hug plan”, which details how first hugs happen, and which other partners will share the experience. The website also allows moms to upload pictures of these first, special moments.
The Huggies’ Hospital Hugger Programs
A cornerstone of the program is support for “Huggies’ Hospital Hugger” programs, where volunteers provide hugs for newborns whose parents cannot be there on a consistent basis. In addition to encouraging the use of volunteer huggers, when a new mom signs up to become a Huggies member, in addition to other benefits, $5 is donated to the Hospital Hugger program. In the first two years, 18 Hospital Hugger programs were funded.
This program is particularly important to the 10% of births that are premature and result in extended hospital stays. To support the micro-preemie segment of the preemie population, special Huggies diapers have been designed and hand-packed.
Tangible Results of Huggies’ Repositioning
The program has already achieved great results. Huggies’ newborn market share in Canada grew 4 share points in 2016 and sales went up 27%, after previously experiencing a 4-year decline. Furthermore, the perceptions that Huggies is “better for newborns than other brands”, enjoyed a 10-point increase, while Pampers decreased by 9 points. The social media advertising measures such as likes, comments, and re-tweets, scored well above industry benchmarks.
The “No Baby Unhugged” program changed how the newborn diaper subcategory was perceived and positioned. Features and benefits now shared the stage with the vision of hugs as well as their impact. The story illustrates how a subcategory can be repositioned, and how a deep, emotional relationship can be nurtured by focusing on the passions of your audience rather than functional aspects of an offering.
How Does This Parallel Pampers’ Repositioning?
The Huggies repositioning of a diaper subcategory is reminiscent of P&G’s Pampers, who, in 2007, struggled to compete in the Chinese market with a “Cloth-Like & Dry” product. Research revealed that moms were not interested in diaper attributes, but were very interested in the quality of a baby’s sleep because of its perceived impact on the baby’s future health.
A previous study had revealed that Pampers actually improved the quality of a baby’s sleep. As a result, Pampers launched the “Golden Sleep” campaign, which included advertising, mass carnivals, and in-store campaigns in urban areas.
The cornerstone of the campaign was getting women to post a picture of their baby sleeping on the Pampers website—adding their image to a massive photomontage. Can you imagine the appeal of a sleeping baby? They got over 200,000 responses, and used over 100,000 of them to break the Guinness World Record with a 7,000 square foot photomontage that was hung in a retail store in Shanghai.
Pampers sales went up 55%, and the category exploded. From very small market share in 2006, disposable diapers grew to nearly $3 billion in 2011, and Pampers continues to be the market leader. This is another powerful example of repositioning a subcategory.
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