Sanity At Stake: Direct Market Diapers

Pampers is selling ad-space on babies’ butts. Once, the anti-SIDS safety message “Back to Sleep” resided in the prime billboard space that is the waistband of Pampers Premium diapers. Now, Pampers, having calculated the benefit of product placement over life and death safety’ issues, has chosen to festoon their diapers with marketable television characters.

True, they’re the Muppets, stars of the much touted, much loved educational PBS series Sesame Street. Some might argue that they’re not commercial at all, they’re educational. Plus, as it clearly states on all Sesame related products, a portion of the money you spend on said items goes to Children’s Television Workshop, the production company behind the beloved TV show. But what about the rest of the money? Sesame Street may be an educational TV show, but Sesame Street characters are part of a multi-million dollar business. Muppets appear on ice, on stage, on t-shirts, hats, bottles, toys, sheets, pasta, pens, spoons, stickers, stationary, dolls and more. There are Muppet movies, videos and CDs, a Muppet Press, a Muppet attraction at Disney MGM studios in Florida, a Sesame Place theme-park. The little fuzzy ones can even appear at your next corporate event in short videos geared toward businessmen with names like “Sell Sell Sell,” and “Win Win Win.” Sounds commercial commercial commercial to me.

With apparel, games and corporate America conquered, the Muppets have moved onto babies’ stomachs. It’s hard to believe that Proctor and Gamble (the maker of Pampers) really thinks a six month old is going to develop character recognition. Babies can’t even see the waistband of their diapers. So the target of P&G’s marketing effort must be toy-buying, TV-show choosing, merchandise buying, all powerful MOTHERS.

P&G knows it’s reaching a prime demographic. Since the item is for infants, they can pretty safely assume they’re reaching their mothers, who by biological necessity fall into the coveted “Women 18-49” bracket. Since the characters appear only on Pampers Premium, they know they’re marketing to a customer willing to spend more money for (perceived) quality. And since they are infant-sized diapers, P&G figures it has the opportunity to hook the consumer when her kids are young, and keep her loyal forever. If the kids somehow do get the Muppet Merchandising Message too, well, that’s an added bonus. Of course, their strategy may backfire. Even if kids end up loyal to the admittedly adorable Muppet characters, babies have no purchasing power, and won’t have until they’re too old to be interested in Muppets anyway. And Pampers’ blatant attempts to use kids to get to their mothers could well leave parents resentful, and lead their formidable purchasing power away from any of the vast array of Proctor and Gamble products.

All of this leads me to wonder, then. Who, exactly, is making out in this deal? Did Pampers pay for the right to use Zoe, Elmo, Ernie, Bert, et al, or was it the reverse? All I know is, in my local drugstore, a 40 pack of size three Pampers Premium Diapers sans Muppets costs $13.99. The same pack featuring the fuzzy ones costs the same $13.99, but has only 38 diapers. A negligible difference, to be sure. Only two-cents per diaper. But in my house, where twin infants mean twice as many diapers, that’s two cents times six diapers per baby per day, times seven days a week time fifty-two weeks a year – for a grand total of $87.36 a year. That’s an extra night or two out, depending on who is babysitting. Or a few outfits at the Gap. Two pairs of top quality baby shoes. Or even a massage for Mom, when spit-up, poop, and sleepless nights threaten to take over my sanity.

So there you have it. My sanity could be at stake over diapers. With the stakes this high, why don’t I just buy another brand? Well, Huggies has thus far avoided product placement on their diapers, but they don’t fit my kids. Plus, they’re filled with little gel balls that end up all over the place. Luvs features Barney, who needn’t be forcibly attached to my babies’ bellies to be offensive. All on his own he’s pedantic, simplistic, and creepily moralistic, with low production values to boot. At least the Muppets are, independent of their existence on my kids’ diapers, perfectly fine. In fact, I like the Muppets. I am in no way against Sesame Street, The Jim Henson Company, Ernie, Bert, or the American Way. I just like my diapers ad-free. I also have nothing against Pampers the product. On the contrary, I think they’re the best diapers out there. I find fault not with the diaper itself, just with the diaper’s…decor.

And that creates a problem. Having found a diaper that I like that fits, that doesn’t leave little white balls of who knows what on my kids’ bottoms, and doesn’t leave wet spots on my furniture, I don’t want to have to give it up. Finding the right diaper is like finding the right pair of jeans. It isn’t easy, and when you do, you feel relief and joy, not unlike the relief you feel when you get that last burp from your newborn at 3am – now you can rest comfortably. Of course, ill-fitting jeans risk only divulging the true shape of my postpartum butt; the wrong diaper risks dispersing contents of said diaper all over the place.

Plus, diapers are a necessity. It’s not as if I can say to the diaper industry, "if you persist in merchandising to my six month olds I won’t buy diapers at all." True, I could direct my righteous indignation at disposable diapers in general and use cloth diapers – but we’re talking preserving sanity here. I try to reduce my energy consumption. I use cloth napkins. I recycle. I open windows rather than use air-conditioning, but cloth diapers are too much for me. I know all about landfills, but I’m also a working mother of infant twins, so there’s convenience, diaper rash, and of course, the big factor: stench. It may be politically incorrect, but I’m a tried and true disposable diaper user.

I once was sure that I could do it all — work, maintain an active social life, maintain any kind of sex life, and still have time to be the perfect mother. Now, I know better. I’m neither the perfect mother nor the perfect worker, and sex – at least the leisurely spontaneous kind — is but a vague memory. So things have changed for me. It’s not like I don’t know that I’m different. What I don’t like, is Proctor and Gamble knowing it. I don’t like them pigeon-holing me into some “mother” demographic, directing marketing to me through my kids, and waiting for me to bite. I resent it. I am more than the sum of their market research. Product placement on my kids negates that. To P&G I am a demographic to be addressed, marketed to, and conquered. Being a new mother is hard enough. There are issues over identity, sleep, body image, overall mental well-being. The last thing I need is Proctor and Gamble telling me who I am – or who they think I am – by way of diaper.

So what am I going to do about it? Nothing, probably. My sanity may be at stake here, but I’m not so far gone yet that I’m going to go on a diaper fast, or organize protests. I have infant twins, for goodness sake. Even the word “fast” exhausts me. I’ll just tell myself, every time I fasten that Velcro over the Muppet character strip at 4am, that I am more than a demographic. I am mother, I am woman, I am changer of the poop. Hear me yawn.