Bottoms Up: Pampers Takes on China

Posted by Sheila Shayon on April 28, 2010 11:31 AM

How to sell disposable diapers in a country that doesn’t see the need? Indeed, babies in China still mostly wear kaidangku, colorful, buttless baby pants that Chinese toddlers begin wearing at six months, for a squat-as-nature-calls regimen.

That was Procter & Gamble’s challenge in China. In fact, P&G’s ambitious strategy is to add 1 billion new customers by 2015. That’s 500,000 each day, assuming it can convince emerging markets in India and China to adopt disposables.

P&G introduced Pampers to China in 1998, facing the daunting challenge of a nation where parents typically pamper their state-sanctioned one child - a policy, by the way, that may be easing up.

"We’ve been in China since 1988. We're only in about 14 categories. We lead all of them but one," Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald recently commented. "But the spending per capita in China is only $3 a year on Procter & Gamble products."

McDonald compared that to the U.S., where P&G products lead in over 25 categories, with per capita spending of $100 annually.

Western consumer goods must be introduced very carefully in new markets such as China, where a behavioral change precedes a successful consumer market. Terms like “reverse innovation” or “glocalization” do not apply – actual reverse market engineering is required.

Enter the genius of the P&G marketing engine: “Golden Sleep,” a campaign Pampers launched in 2007 replete with carnivals and in-store displays on a massive scale in China’s major urban cities – with a viral invitation on a Chinese website. Parents were encouraged to submit photos of their babies asleep, and the resulting 200,000 were incorporated into a 660-meter billboard in a Shanghai mega-store.

And then came the “science” of a marketing message, as Chinese parents were told that wearing Pampers would yield results that benefit child and parents: "Baby Sleeps with 50% Less Disruption' and 'Baby Falls Asleep 30% Faster.'"

This pitch was based on research done at Beijing Children’s Hospital’s Sleep Research Centre. Karl Gerth, Oxford Ph.D., and versed in Chinese consumerism told, “You don’t want to come off as paternalistic. The idea that Pampers brings a scientific backing and gives children an edge in their environment — that’s a brilliant way to stand out from the competition.”

P&G also engaged in initiatives to help schools and orphanages, promoting social responsibility and opportunities for children at the grassroots level.

As a result, Pampers is now the number one best-selling disposable diaper in China -- and kaidangku pants, it seems, a fading memory. Indeed, P&G's overall performance in China is expected to boost its quarterly performance.

While China's population is poised to take off as the one-child policy relaxes, there's a growing opportunity for P&G and other marketers with child-centric brands.

That said, it also waves a red flag for environmental advocates, who will be watching to see the impact of all those disposable diapers in the world's most heated economy for Western goods and customs.


Jenn United States says:

It is too bad no one is trying to market and brand "kaidangku" and have parents' adopt it here. Just think of all the waste now that China is adopting the disposable diaper too...What P&G is doing is understandable from a business standpoint, but it is too bad.

April 28, 2010 01:39 PM #

Michelle United States says:

I agree with your comment. Why couldn't Pampers create their own brand of kaidangku instead? Why try to change the feelings of the people you are selling to, instead of changing what you are selling? I am not a marketer so maybe there's something I'm missing here...

April 28, 2010 02:31 PM #

Oyun Turkey says:

that's the point actually, change the feeling about product.

April 28, 2010 05:30 PM #

Matthew Dodds (Brandthropologist) United States says:

The article overstates the "kaidangku pants, it seems, a fading memory." I had the great opportunity to work on the Pampers brand in Asia Pacific in the mid to late 90s.  Parents inherently understand their family finances.  In the Philippines (also a market with limited income), parents would use lesser quality diapers during the day.  However, during the night, and given the premium of sleep to a young parent, you are willing to spend more for the benefit.

Many Western brands come in at a price premium initially.  Then, as the market matures, and people have more expendable income, they are increasingly willing to pay for benefits.  We shouldn't look at P&G as 'perpetrating' this product on the Chinese, any more than we should look at the Chinese as backwards for having "kaidangku".  People live in a constantly moving continuum of development.  Intelligent marketers, such as P&G, understand this, and serve the advancing end of the curve.

I admire their success in a very difficult market!

April 29, 2010 03:51 PM #

Ricardo Shiroma People's Republic of China says:

I believe that this will have a huge impact in the enviroment. People should think not only on the impact to families' finance but also how this change would impact the whole world.

April 30, 2010 03:08 AM #

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