Breaking through the last taboo

If Lil-lets’ aims to target teenage girls, expand internationally and launch a range of towels go to plan, it could become the only brand to cross all sectors of feminine hygiene, says Rupi Gohlar

Lil-lets%20WebsiteLil-lets is looking to reassert itself in the UK and last week appointed Big Communications, with a brief to produce a £1m above-the-line campaign (MW last week). Advertising will run throughout 2008 and focus on gaining loyalty among young consumers. The through-the-line campaign includes a website relaunch, with an emphasis on social networking.

The Electra Partners-owned brand continues its hunt for a media agency and although the campaign push is a “work in progress”, group sales and marketing manager Mark Esling is confident it will build on brand heritage and widen appeal. He adds: “The trick is to make it relevant to all of our target market – regardless of age. Admittedly, we have not been good at recruiting younger consumers in the past and that is one of the aims of this campaign. If it is successful, our products will appeal to all women aged ten to 50.”

Marketing feminine hygiene products is problematic, as menstruation is still considered a sensitive, if not unsavoury, subject. Esling says: “It is a delicate topic – the last great taboo even. Half the population experiences the monthly cycle, but there is a widespread perception that menstruation is a problem, rather than a part of everyday life.” He stresses the campaign will not patronise consumers and intends to engage them in the “voice of an older family member, rather than a corporate brand shouting at its consumers”.

Interbrand executive director Graham Hales agrees the category is sensitive, but insists it has advanced in recent years: “There has certainly been innovation in the industry as brands try to move beyond the product. Lil-lets has taken a Cosmopolitan magazine approach, with a fun and light touch, which has so far been effective.”

Lil-lets is the leading non-applicator tampon brand (Mintel) and last year relaunched its products with a flower motif on its packaging. Yet its position in the sanitary-protection market has slipped from second, with 10.8% of the market share in 2002, to fourth with a 9.3% share in 2006. It trails Procter & Gamble’s Always and Tampax brands, and SCA Hygiene’s Bodyform with a £25.6m value share of the £276m market, according to Mintel.

Having lost ground, Big Communications is tasked with attracting younger consumers. Lil-lets incumbent agency Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R worked with the brand from 1994 until 2001, when Lil-lets handed its £1.5m creative account to London start-up Us, which was given the go-ahead to compare Lil-lets with rival brands for the first time. The agency attempted to reinvigorate the brand’s advertising and courted controversy in 2002 when people complained that press ads showing tampons coated in gel were offensive, but the Advertising Standards Authority did not uphold the objections. In 2004, Rainey Kelly was reappointed to the business.

Lil-letsLast year saw the brand begin its quest to attract younger consumers, appointing Woo to its £1m below-the-line account and rolling out a tie-up with lingerie retailer La Senza in a bid to boost appeal among 19to 34-year-olds. Despite the changes, Big Communications client services director Kate Hartshorn admits Lil-lets’ advertising, recently, has been minimal compared to rival Tampax, which has launched a lifestyle website aimed at teenage girls and has an annual spend under £1m.

Hartshorn says: “We are trying to get people to think about the brand again and understand how forward-thinking it is. Every woman suffers from different symptoms and Lil-lets can cater for them. There is already a loyal following among confident 40-year-old women, but it wants to attract younger teenage/early 20s consumers.”

The brand has come a long way since 1954 when Southalls launched a tampon designed by gynaecologist Dr Judith Esser-Mittag, who created it to expand for improved comfort and better protection. The following years saw it introduce the Super Plus and Mini variants and expand into its second market – South Africa – where it claims to be the best-selling tampon brand. In 1994 it introduced applicator tampons, adding to the Regular and Super ranges, and six years later launched Lil-lets Super Plus extra, a high absorbency product. In 2002, a raft of products launched, including its Mixed Pack range and Extra Comfort offering, as well as its Solutions line including products such as intimate wipes and cleansing mousse. Lil-lets brought its first panty-liners to the UK in 2005, before the relaunch of non-applicator packs last year.

Product innovation has often coincided with change of ownership: Smith & Nephew acquired the brand in 1958, incorporating it into its sanitary protection division. In 2000, Accantia took ownership of the brand alongside the Simple skincare range after a £140m management buy-out, and last year Lil-lets changed hands again, this time being snapped up by private equity outfit Electra Partners for £80m.

This year, production moved from Birmingham to Taiwan and South Africa. Until now, licensing agreements have seen Lil-lets restricted to the UK and South Africa, but changes in production mean it can now market products in other countries, so the brand is gearing up for expansion.

Esling says the company is also trialling its first Lil-lets sanitary towels in South Africa and is to bring them to the UK at the end of the year. “We will be the only brand to cross all sectors of the feminine hygiene market,” he says. Perhaps it will help the brand achieve the visibility and reach it is aiming for.

Timeline:
Lil-lets 

1954 Lil-lets tampons launched by Southalls in Birmingham, based on a design by gynaecologist Dr Judith Esser-Mittag aiming at improved comfort and better protection 

1958 Southalls was acquired by Smith & Nephew and incorporated in its sanitary protection division 

1994 Lil-lets applicator tampons introduced 

2000 Accantia took over ownership of Lil-lets following a management buyout 

2002 Lil-lets launched its Mixed Packs with a variety of absorbancies, and its new range of intimate care products, Solutions 

2006 Lil-lets held 9.3% market share of the £276m sanitary protection sector. The company was bought in an £80m management buyout by Electra Partners and renamed Lil-lets UK

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