Kruger’s campaign from Broken Heart Love Affair offers messy depictions of the human experience

Who: Kruger Products with Broken Heart Love Affair, Wavemaker for media and Scouts Honour for production, with Mark Zibert directing, Married to Giants for editing and Vapor for music.

What: “Unapologetically Human,” new masterbrand creative for Kruger products (Cashmere, Purex, SpongeTowels  and Scotties) that eschews the cuddly animals and cute animations typical of household paper and instead portrays real-world depictions of the times those products are needed—including bloody mouths and toes, snotty noses, and diaper blow-outs.

When & Where: The campaign launched Monday (Aug. 17) with a 60-second ad running on TV to launch, before the media buy shifts to 15s. There’s also a 90-second version online and social executions (See the :60 at bottom.)

Why: Like almost every brand, Kruger’s 2020 marketing plan had to be thrown out with the pandemic. Early on, when people were buying all the toilet paper they could, the company was focused on PR and assuring consumers they had lots of capacity. But they knew they’d have to go back on air eventually, and with something that reflected a world changed by the crisis.

Kruger CMO Susan Irving, who officially took the position March 1 (“Congratulations on the new job, any ideas for this pandemic thing?”) wanted something different for the category—more “human and real,” and with purpose. Not purpose in making the world a better place sense, but being there to help out when things get rough.

How: With category defying video content that says loudly and vividly that being human is messy, and that’s okay. Kruger will be there to clean up the mess. The :90 is the fullest representation of the vision, with acclaimed director Mark Zibert capturing dozens of shots of the moments in life—some sad, some joyous, some gross—when people might need a tissue, paper towel or toilet paper. The emphasis, though, is on the moment, not the clean up—with the product often absent altogether.

“We realize that these products are all about being a human being, and so many people have shied away from that. There’s so much shame in the fact that we cry, or that we bleed, or that we have snot,” said BHLA chief creative officer Denise Rossetto. “We just took it to a higher emotional level, that we all use these products because we all, universally, have what used to be considered flaws, or things to be embarrassed about, but really they are what connects all of us.”

“The most vulnerable moments as humans are some of our most powerful moments, it’s when we realize our own humanity,” added Jay Chaney, chief strategy officer.

How COVID changed context for the brand: Aside from reminding people how much they value a reliable supply of paper towel and toilet paper, the crisis has been a time where people have become much more aware of their own humanity and the elemental qualities that define it, said Iriving. “We’ve gone from the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to the bottom in terms of the importance of home and family and safety.” Instead of talking about the functional benefits of Kruger products, “Unapologetically Human” strives for an emotional connection.

“We may all be very different as humans, but at the end of the day, we all go to the bathroom, we all cry, we all bleed… So the big flip was instead of talking about the product benefits and making the products a hero, this spot is all about humanity and making consumers the hero,” said Irving.

The music: For the English creative, it’s “Human” by Rag ‘n Bone Man; for the French versions it’s “Passer a l’ouest” by Quebec singer Dumas (see it below).

Consumer testing: They tested two different concepts, and Irving was skeptical either would do well. The creative was radically different for the category and there was hardly any product in either version. “When our insights person came back, she said, ‘You’ve got two blockbusters… you’re gonna have a hard time choosing,” said Irving. “And brand link was off the charts.’ I was like, ‘What are you talking about, how can brand link be off the charts when we haven’t even put product in the spot? It just shows you that the world was ready for purpose.”

How purpose drives purchase: It’s about “embedding an emotional memory,” said Chaney. “What’s interesting is when you have these vulnerable moments, you’re going to reach back into that memory and [you’re] going to kind of call upon the product.” Advertising in this category tends to sidestep those moments and what these products are for. Kruger and BHLA are doing the opposite. “It’s such a great association,” he said.

This is the first ad from Broken Heart Love Affair, which also launched in March. (“Congratulations on your new agency, any ideas for this pandemic thing?”) And the agency describes “Unapologetically Human” as a “manifestation of our philosophy.” The agency does not want to tell brand stories, it wants to understand consumer stories and where the brand fits in.

Any concerns about showing too much? “There are a few things on the editing floor,” laughed Rossetto. “The first edit was like ‘Oh God,'” added Irving. But even the TV edit will likely upset some people. “We’re prepared that we will have some complaints,” she said. “You’re gonna have people that really love it, you’re gonna have people that don’t love it. But to me, that means you’re not vanilla and you’re actually moving people.”

“I don’t think we ever want it to be gratuitous,” said Rossetto. “This was just real life… we wanted people to feel like you understand my life, like I’ve carried a baby with that diaper, I’ve got kids with bleeding noses. We just wanted to capture that, and no time did we ever want to be gratuitous, and I don’t think we are because that’s what these products are actually for.”

David Brown