Have they been led by the vocal minority or are they responding to an important social trend?
We were delighted to be approached by the BBC to give an expert brand opinion on Kleenex's decision to rebrand their Mansize Tissues to Kleenex Extra Large, as a direct result of consumer pressure. On this occasion we passed on the opportunity given that we were focused on our own branding work and had yet to pick up the story. We are not in the market of providing inappropriate soundbites by being unprepared, so we kept out of the media spotlight.
Now that the dust has started to settle it seemed like a good time to pen a few thoughts on the issue. The most fascinating aspect of Kleenex's decision, from a brand perspective, is to see a major consumer brand giving up almost one hundred years of brand heritage (as the brand was launched in the 1920's) to show their sensitivity to claims of sexism being thrown at them. Amongst this consumer voice were tweets asking Kleenex why its products still use the term Mansize when "the world is changing?" Long gone are the days of brands shouting loudly through mass advertising to hammer home their messages and influence our purchasing decisions (he who shouts loudest.) In the digital age of relationship marketing consumers have a voice and are more than willing to fight for what they believe to be right. Major brands are not immune to this demand for action, especially when it encapsulates an emotive social issue like sexism.
For the purpose of balance I went to the pub and spoke to friends, middle aged from Middle England, and the general consensus was that this is stuff and nonsense and where does it all stop? Clearly not a scientific sample and therefore not at all factual but an indication, if needed, that there are two side to every argument. There will certainly be people who see this as proof of the vocal minority gaining a victory over the silent majority. As you might expect, The Sun joined in the debate by ridiculing the issue with examples including: Manchester City rebranding to Humanchester City and Fisherman's Friend becoming Fisherperson's Friend.
What we acknowledge is a major brand that clearly feels the need to be seen to respond to genuine social criticism. The Kleenex brand management obviously believe that there is a case to answer and a change was needed to keep step with modern society. One of their people is quoted as saying:
“We are always grateful to customers who take time to tell us how our products can be improved, and we carefully consider all suggestions. Thanks to recent feedback we are now rebranding our Mansize tissues to Kleenex Extra Large.”
We wait to see whether they stand with the few willing to rebrand due to social pressure in order to stay relevant or at the vanguard of an era where the consumer drives brand action. When the Kleenex Mansize story fades into yesterday's chip papers we will be watching with interest to see how this one plays out.