USA Today: Cottonelle TP dares you to 'Go Commando'

By Bruce Horovitz

New ads for big toilet paper brand Cottonelle tout this odd advice: Stop wearing underwear.

No, nothing is askew.

In an effort to seriously shake-in the $9.7 billion toilet paper market, Kimberly-Clark's Cottonelle brand -- a third place laggard in the cut-throat industry -- is rolling out two new TV spots that dare consumers to "Go Commando" after using its specially-textured "CleanRipple" toilet paper.

That's right. Drop the drawers. Nix the knickers. Bag the boxers. Punt on panties. And if Kimberly-Clark's message goes viral online, it may emerge as one of the first truly memorable toilet paper campaigns since Mr. Whipple squeezed the Charmin.

The ads feature real people -- not actors -- interviewed at the beach in Santa Monica, Calif., after they used the specially-formulated Cottonelle that has tiny "peaks and valleys" in the ripples. A perky British narrator then asks them if they feel "confident" enough to "Go Commando." Two folks actually take her up on the dare -- and emerge sans underwear from the loos. Each shows a wee bit of skin to demonstrate that they have, indeed, removed their undergarments.

"We're setting a new standard in what you should expect in toilet paper," says Amanda O'Connor, senior brand manger for Cottonelle. "This is how we highlight our proprietary technology that gives consumers new confidence."

Until now, she says, toilet paper brands have only bragged about being soft -- or having pretty patterns. "But how you get clean with the toilet paper is never covered," she says.

For Cottonelle, it's all about trying to break through the clutter. The brand is trying to the toilet paper market share stranglehold that Procter & Gamble's Charmin brand has held for decades.

Above all, Cottonelle executives hope the campaign goes viral -- and it will ask folks to post online tasteful images of how they show their "confidence."

There's some celebrity relevance to this campaign, too. In recent months, celebrities from Justin Bieber to Katy Perry to Kim Kardashian have been spotted in viral photos apparently going "commando". While none of them are promoting Cottonelle, the brand did sign New Kids on the Block, the 1980s star band that is performing again, and will promote its upcoming concert tour.

Will the campaign move the needle? "I don't think it will start a going commando trend," says Allison Cohen, president of PeopleTalk Qualitative Research. But she says, "this loony approach should attract viewers to watch it and remember it -- and maybe talk about it."

Executives at Cottonelle realize some folks will be grossed-out by the ads, but not many, says O'Connor. The brand tested it with more than 100 consumers for their reactions and "the percentage who felt it was gross was just 2% to 3%," she says.

Sure, there will be plenty of social media parodies. Cottonelle officials are expecting -- even hoping -- that.

And the campaign could have one amusing -- but unpredictable-- result, says Cohen. Going commando could emerge on social media's as the "torture test" for cleanliness.

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Posted on February 18, 2015 .