The Dollar Shave Club guys are back, and this time they’re knocking on the back door. “I’m talking about poop,” CEO Michael Dubin announces in another self-consciously edgy (not to say “cheeky”) YouTube video shilling his company’s newest product: wet wipes for grown men.
In the blogosphere, the question of whether or not adults should use what are essentially baby wipes in conjunction with toilet paper has grown nearly as contentious as the debate over the “right” way to hang toilet paper. Do we need both products for good hygiene? Or is this just another case of Madison Avenue exploiting our bodily insecurities? Who really cleans up here: wipers, or the companies making the wipes?
If you’ve never thought about what you flush beyond one-ply versus two-ply, you might be surprised to find out wet wipes for adults in general and men in particular is a growing category. Market research firm Smithers Apex estimates that the global market for consumer wipes will grow by a little over 5% a year, becoming a $12.6 billion industry by 2017. (This category also includes baby wipes, along with wipes you wouldn’t want to put anywhere near your sensitive parts, like bleach-soaked wipes for disinfecting your countertop.)
And Dubin’s “One Wipe Charlies,” which will sell for $4 for a pack of 40, aren’t the only product trying to, uh, crack the market. A product called Dude Wipes, individually-wrapped wet wipes targeted at men, won an innovation award at an industry conference, and gender-neutral products from brands like Cottonelle and Charmin have been on store shelves for some time now. But in the U.S., adults associate wipes with babies and toddlers, says Ian Bell, head of tissue and hygiene research at market research firm Euromonitor.
For the Dollar Shave Club guys, that’s the bad news. The good news is that this is a potentially big untapped market, and the giants in the industry are eager to grow it because it doesn’t cannibalize sales of regular TP. “We found that once people started using wipes, they became part of their routine,” Dude Wipes CEO Sean Riley told an industry publication earlier this year. “This product is really creating new customers for wipes.”
“We know from our user data that the growth is 100 percent incremental,” a Cottonelle exec told the New York Times last year. “If you used six squares of dry toilet paper before, you’d still use six squares, and one or two flushable wipes.”
If nothing else, Dollar Shave Club knows its audience: As the success of Kmart’s “Ship My Pants” ad proves, poop jokes never seem to get old. The roughly two-minute video features Dubin on the toilet, strolling through the woods past a cartoonishly costumed bear (who’s doing what bears do in the woods, naturally), running through a battle zone with camo-clad soldiers, and engaging in scatological wordplay that would appeal to any 13 year-old boy. “You’re leaving buried treasure behind,” Dubin trills as he joins an archeological dig between two round piles of sand.
At least the ad sort of acknowledges the pointlessness of being coy about a product the website refers to as “buttwipes” (yes, it’s one word). When Dubin announces he’s talking about poop, his fellow archeologist answers in a somewhat annoyed tone, “I know, Mike. We all know.”
“Changing consumer behaviour and habits is always a challenge, particularly with toilet paper where the function of the product cannot be addressed directly in advertising and promotion,” Euromonitor said in a 2011 blog post. Dubin apparently didn’t get that memo.
As the title of the kids’ book says, everyone poops. Dubin is perfectly happy to talk about it, but can his schtick get guys to change their wiping habits? And should it? Euromonitor’s Bell estimates that products like One Wipe Charlies could be close to a billion-dollar market in the U.S. with 10% household penetration. That’s a lot of money Americans would be flushing down the toilet on a product that, until a few years ago, nobody knew they needed.