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ON A ROLL...

HOW THE RIGHT MESSAGE TURNS FUNCTION INTO FEELING

I don’t think I have ever in my life thought so much about loo roll as I have over the last couple of weeks. And while those thoughts have mostly been about where on earth to find any, they’ve led me into separate ponderings about how this — in essence — most basic of household products morphed over the years into hundreds of different identities.

I mean, you’ve got your basic roll of little white squares, the unassuming ‘essentials’ ranges that (usually) nobody bothers much about. Then you’ve got your supermarket own brands, usually aping something the major manufacturers have just come up with.

Softness. Thickness. Sheets on a roll. Ply. Quilting. Even added ingredients to keep our bottoms super smooth. And the major brands usually add something else. Something to engage our attention and create a weird sense of affection for our product of choice.

It might be a puppy, or a koala, or a whole family of bears doing whatever it is bears do in the woods. What in the world they have to do with anything is anyone’s guess, but they work. That Andrex puppy is 48 years old. That’s more than 300 in dog years. But it’s still lolloping about, causing total havoc in fictional bathrooms around the world — and becoming instafamous in the process.

So where did it begin? How did we switch from the purely functional bathroom product to the luxury brand? Sources (Google) suggest that TP first gained popularity (in the west, at least) in the late 19th century, when people began to wake up to the idea that there might be something better than old newspapers or pamphlets for use on posteriors.

But the promotional messaging around the idea, although very much of its time, is hardly appealing today. Victorian-era toilet paper, for example, promised ‘no stoppage of drains’ and ‘no injury to health’. One was even advertised as ‘splinter free’. Yikes.

Over time, of course, the idea of soft paper caught on. Let’s skip ahead to the 80s, when Andrex introduced ‘Velvet’ – the message was all technical, all about how the product was made to be super soft and fluffy. Informative, but hardly emotionally engaging.

The puppy, on the other hand, was — and is — adorable. Although none of us would like a pesky pooch running away with the loo roll in our own homes, it created an amusing enough story and identified a purely functional brand in a new way.

It gave it some character, something people could engage with. It created a link in their minds between that product and something that made them feel good. And that’s something we see echoed in all contemporary loo roll communications. The cute critters, the fancy patterns, the environmental credentials – they’re all part of creating a feeling around the product that doesn’t relate to what we actually do with it.

And what, you may be thinking, does all of this have to do with employee communications and engagement? The bottom line (see what I did there?) is that if you’re going to promote something successfully, you have to find a message that ties in to what people want to hear. So they don’t want to hear ‘don’t hurt yourself’. They want to hear ‘we’re looking after your welfare’. Or, in other words, ‘soft and strong’, not ‘splinter free’.

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