Potty humor done pretty well, and very well

Last year, I wrote about the first ad in Kimberly-Clark’s Depend brand’s ‘Underwareness’ campaign. I recently saw this new spot, which picks up the original visual, emphasizing young,  attractive people out in their Depends undies... and little else.

Incontinence is big business, and it’s growing. Depend, which has long been a generic term like ‘Kleenex’, now faces competition from P&G’s ‘Always’ brand. So, I suppose we can expect to see more aggressive and creative ads for a category that used to be pitched in more practical, understated terms.

According to Omnicom’s Organic, which has a detailed case study for this campaign on its web site, there are “more people with bladder leakage in their 20s than there are in their 80s.” I’m not sure where they got that number, but I would venture that they’re using the kind of statistics Mark Twain referred to when he said, “There are three kinds of lies. Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” (According to the Mayo Clinic, urinary tract infections, and pregnancy and childbirth can cause incontinence in young women. I.E., temporary conditions account for most of those 20-somethings. Meanwhile menopause and prostate problems lead to incontinence in older folk; for those people it’s chronic. That’s why sales of incontinence products track with the increase in the older population and why the average age of Depend buyers is far older than the average age of the actors cast in this commercial.)

On the face of it, Depend is saying, "There's a lot of people who are (at least occasionally) incontinent. They're not all decrepit old biddies. We make products that you'd never know were incontinence undies, and you'd never guess who buys some of them." 

A side benefit of this ad strategy is, people who aren’t incontinent (yet) may well come to feel that it’s no big deal, just another life phase, and Depend has them covered. They’ll age into the market taking the brand for granted. 

I certainly don’t hate this ad, but I don’t love it, either.

My ambivalence comes from this: Every year, magazines like People put out "Sexiest stars over 50" stories. And they piss me off because a.) half of them have just turned 50, and b.) the women on these lists all look about 40. So while the words celebrate the idea that you could be sexy in middle age, the images they present send a different message.

This ad comes from the same place. It's still, between the lines, telling you that to be attractive, you have to either be or at least look young. There's a shot of a young woman on a scooter. Would it have killed Organic's creatives to find an old scooter rider? Or, couldn't we have some old-but-active people in this spot? Or just one old couple who obviously still find each other attractive? That would be more honest too, because while there are some young Depends users, who appreciate Silhouette Active Fit, the majority of customers are old people who appreciate the slimline design just as much.

So, I’ll give this a ‘meh’.

Now, if a commercial about incontinence makes you squeamish, you definitely won’t be thrilled by an ad for a toilet that’s conspicuously good at flushing away “splatter”. 

Yet, this ad for American Standard's new Vormax toilet is certainly sticking to the rim of my brain. I just wish I knew why they cast old people in the spot.

Is it because American Standard knows the average age of people who spec high-end toilets? I sure as hell hope it’s not because as we get older, splatter becomes more and more of a problem. Because that’s one of the few physical insults my older friends haven’t delighted in describing, when they talk about my future.

But seriously... This ad by 22 Squared is part of a series for American Standard that definitely doesn’t stick to the ad industry’s tried-and-true casting of young-and-beautiful spokesmodels. 

I reached out to American Standard’s marketing chief, Jeannette Long, to ask whether the choice of casting was strictly driven by the actors’ comedic chops, or whether it was influenced in part by the brand’s research into the average age of their customers. But, Ms. Long was on vacation. If she gets back to me, I’ll update this post. What I can tell you right now is, the ad is running on HGTV, where half of all viewers are over 50, so creating a spot that will resonate with older viewers makes good sense.

In the meantime, what makes this such a brainworm? Besides the wacky humor, the surreal location of the toilet, and the even more surreal reappearance of the woman in the final shot; casting this prim and conservative-looking older woman makes the spot funnier than it would have been had it been made with younger actors. 

It’s currently scoring an 82% approval rating on iSpotTV, with almost all positive comments. Ad Age’s Ken Wheaton called it ‘perfect’, and I’m sure that the unexpected casting was a factor in his rating the spot so highly.

That adds up to a grade of Eh+ here on Revolutionary Old Idea. It's a spot with an inspired casting choice that makes consumers of all ages laugh (a little nervously.)