Dawn Porter’s campaign for moist wipes is a damp squib

MaryLou Costa is a key member of the Marketing Week features team and her blog brings her unique Australian perspective to brands. She also oversees the Market Research Focus weekly bulletin.

A straw poll of my office colleagues confirmed that there are generally mixed feelings for the TV presenter Dawn Porter, ranging from a vigorous thumbs down to vague affection and outright unawareness of who she is.

In her defence, I have enjoyed some of her previous programmes, such as the series in which she explored alternative lifestyles such as polygamy and being a lesbian. I also found her series on breast cancer actually quite moving considering her mother actually died from the illness.

However I have to declare her foray into the world of commercial partnerships less than a success. Her tie up with Andrex to promote the new Washlets moist toilet tissue product comes across as painful and somewhat misguided.

The 6-part video series which sees Porter become a pioneer of Washlets to the masses, in her usual shameless, quirky style, has its humorous parts, while clearly demonstating the product’s positive features. She ventures from city streets, shopping malls, gyms and mechanics workshops to gatecrashing a hen party before her adventure culminates in hosting her own party in a bathroom. The results are, of course, that her previously embarrassed new friends are now firm converts to the product.

Andrex has spent £3 million on this campaign but I fear the brand’s ROI will be quite limited. Naturally Porter has a reasonably high profile, with around 80,000 followers to her blog. But only the most ardent fan (and critics like me) would sit through each of the six Washlet videos. Views on YouTube are relatively low; the first video gaining around 10,000 views with the last one attracting just a few hundred.

There is only so much a sane person can bear to hear about moist toilet tissue. The awkwardness around discussing how people wipe their bums never becomes amusing, although the shock on the faces of the mechanics offers one of the few laugh out loud moments.

Who is this campaign targeted at? Everybody, it seems, is being urged to use a new product that isn’t really necessary and comes at a premium price. Tesco sells refill packs of 42 Andrex Washlets at £1.88, which equates to about 5p per sheet. Compare this with regular Andrex toilet roll, priced at about 17p for 100 sheets. Without getting into a discussion about the logistics of hygienic behaviour, it’s likely you’d use more than one sheet of both. Even if you’d naturally use more of the regular toilet roll, it would still end up cheaper. I don’t think your everyday consumer wants to stump up for this kind of unnecessary luxury when we are about to plunge into Recession Part 2 any day now.

Andrex should have focussed on who would be likely users of this product. The festival goer is the first that comes to mind for obvious reasons. Travellers are another clear market, especially when you look at the popularity of travel sized antibacterial hand gel. Women who would want a handbag sized product to take with them on nights out is yet another one. And perhaps this would also appeal to consumers with a higher disposable income that would welcome a jumbo tub, albeit attractively designed, to place in their bathrooms.

Perhaps such targeting is Andrex’s next step. I think it should have been its first one. It would have been £3m better spent.

Probably not if you ask Dawn Porter though, as I know she is getting married soon and I’m sure her fee from Andrex has contributed substantially to the wedding bill. I wonder if she will be giving away free Andrex at the reception?

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