Pampers in China: From Market Sleep to Golden Sleep

David Aaker, the creator of the Aaker Brand Equity Model, once said:

“P&G’s Pampers completely reframed the diaper category in China, and in doing so created enormous growth for the category and for the brand.”

But it did not look like P&G would even make it when it entered the Chinese Children Products Market in the late 90’s.

They did not know how to convince mothers that their newborns needed diapers as these moms already had a cheap and efficient solution to their need: The Kaidangku (开裆裤).

A very traumatic sight for us foreigners, but it is considered as very convenient by the Chinese families. It’s not only affordable, but it also helps children to start potting way before children in the western countries (6 months versus 22–30 months).

So how did P&G overcome the obstacles they faced at that time in the chinese children products market? And how did they manage to become the leading diapers brand in a booming market? (yes, still! check this article on How to profit from the end of China’s one-child policy.)

Hint: R&D…

Culture bias:

First, let’s get back to the basics: here is how culture is defined in Principles of Marketing (P. Kotler and G. Armstrong):

“Culture is the most basic determinant of a person’s wants and behavior. It includes the basic values, perceptions, preferences, and behaviors that a person learns from family and other important institutions. Subcultures are “cultures within cultures” that have distinct values and lifestyles and can be based on anything from the age to ethnicity.”

In of the Chinese market, the cultural variable was essentially the common use of the kaidangku. On the other hand, the emerging middle class in the 90’s concerned by the one-child policy was the subcultural variable to consider.

When first entering the Chinese market in 1998, P&G assessed its price strategy the wrong way by making a cheaper version with an inferior quality of their western product.

This was because they assumed that Chinese consumers were bargainers with all their purchases. A cultural bias, as the emerging middle class of mothers tend to make their purchase decisions based on what it best for their only child rather what is cheaper –premium quality seekers. Pampers diapers ended up being considered as just irritating plastic.

P&G’s problem was that they did not understand the value that Child Care products represent in the Chinese consumer culture.

Even though, Pampers product quality was revised in 2006 and they came up with softer and more absorbent diapers half-priced compared to the U.S. market (10 cents) by developing more efficient technology platforms and even moving manufacturing operations to China in order to eliminate shipping costs, the market was still sleeping.

Why? Because mothers still didn’t see why the would substitute the kaidangku –a perfectly convenient solution– for diapers, an unnecessary commodity.

The breakthrough:

In 2007, Pampers tries again. But this time, they do their homework and start by following the basics principles of putting together a marketing strategy: Research and (only then) Development.

They realized that if they wanted to convince the Chinese consumer to buy Pampers diapers rather than to continue using Kaidangku, they had to find what ELSE these mothers needed.

P&G launched an in-depth research on the Chinese consumers, it turned out that their need was pretty simple: More Sleep.

A universal need that any mother long for during the first years of having a baby… But an even more interesting fact came out of this in-depth research: the mothers’ concern about the quality of their baby’s sleep and its impact on his/her future cognitive development, in a country where the one-child policy made the parents obsessed with their child academic achievement as the Chinese society became more and more competitive.

After commissioning the Beijing Children’s Sleep Research Center for a study on how Pampers helped babies sleep better, they came out with the results that baby’s wearing Pampers diapers:

  • Fell asleep 30 percent faster;
  • Slept an extra 30 minutes; and
  • Had 50 percent less sleep disruption through the night.

Pampers then rethought its whole communication strategy when it launched its “Golden Sleep” campaign.

The aim of the “Golden Sleep” new communication strategy was to frame Pampers as a product to improve the quality sleep of babies by communicating the “scientific” data results from the Sleep Research Center.

The viral campaign on Pampers Chinese web site focused on encouraging mothers to see by themselves the positive effect Pampers diapers had on their babies sleep by launching a Sleep Tracker that allowed parents to monitor their babies’ sleeping patterns and then asked them to post pictures of their sleeping baby on the website that would be incorporated later on into the largest photomontage ever-made and the goal was to make it into the Guinness World Record.

Botom Line:

Pampers ended up building a stronge brand equity in the Chinese Children Products market, through:

  • addressing a deeper need rather than convenience, softness or affordability,
  • educating Chinese mothers about the benefits of longer uninterrupted sleep for their baby’s cognitive development,
  • and involving mothers in the product experience (with their Sleep Tracker and the photomontage).

R&D is indispensable to a company to build a proactive marketing strategy. P&G were able to cause change and acceptance of their product in the Chinese market by overcoming the cultural aspects offering resistance and by “creating” a need for the product only because they asked questions, experimented, targeted the real need of these mothers and only then developed and marketed the value proposition.