Diapers are recession-proof

December 19, 2008 § Leave a comment

Diapers are recession-proof.  Even cat diapers.

Yes I’m a cat person.  It may not be macho, but there it is.  I could blame the girlfriend, but it would be a fib. I’m a bona fide cat person, and these days, I’m afraid to say, I am cat-with-diapers person.  It’s a drag.  Trixie, is quite old and that darn litter box never seems to be where she needs it to be.  The solution (and it works): cat diapers! It’s not dignified (and if she knew they were actually doggie diapers she’d be mortified), but putting feline vanity aside, the fact is the diapers work, they do exactly what I expect them to do, and that is the point.

Ambiguity is out.  Meeting expectations is in.  The recession is here and it is a good time to be a thing that people not only need, but also understand that they need. People understand diapers.  They get what a diaper is here to do, and it is really easy to tell if a diaper isn’t living up to expectations. Phew.

Yet a diaper is a category, not a brand.  The same is true for peanut butter, spaghetti, and baked beans.  There are diaper-producing companies, but which ones are loved?  I have to believe that it will take more than a merely catastrophic drop in the Dow to make us trade in our disposables for those old-fashioned cotton nappies.

Will the recession tip the scales for Huggies over Pampers? Is this a win for P & G (NYSE:PG) or Kimberly-Clark (NYSE:KMB)? Probably not. The staple companies will survive, but who will thrive?  Are there companies that command the prestige of brand loyalty and offer the clear expectations of a diaper?

I’d bet on the place where most of us buy our diapers (kitty, doggie or others): Walmart (NYSE:WMT).  It is not your typical brand story. WMT does not use their substantial brand equity in the usual way.  In fact they are almost an anti-brand: Walmart doesn’t use the power of their brand to protect a premium in the marketplace. The “always low prices” mantra inhibits that, but they don’t squander their brand leverage, they turn it on their vendors.  The recession means that the squeeze will be on, and as the tempers in the overcrowded Walmart parking lots rise so will the pressure that WMT can apply to already over-taxed suppliers.  Bet against those products that are running out of ways to lower costs, but depend on Walmart for distribution.

So before I hop in the car and drive off to good ol’ Walmart to buy some more Pup’sters™ Disposable Diapers, I thought I would leave you with this thought:

I want to find the brand story of the recession.

Let’s face facts, talking about Walmart is about as sexy as talking about diapers, even kitty, I mean doggie diapers.  I want to find the company that proves that a business can be authentic, smart and savvy and can chart a successful course even in these rough waters.  I think the winners will be ones who blend three factors: clarity of expectation, consistent follow-through on meeting expectations, and a steady stream of the new and the sexy.

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