Kleenex to Single Women: You'll End Up as a Lonely Old Cat Lady If You Don't Get Married!

Last Updated May 6, 2010 5:28 PM EDT

A Kleenex ad suggests that if women don't get married they'll end up as lonely old cat ladies -- but Kleenex will be there to help them cry over their lost loves. The ad -- by ad agency JWT in London -- leaves Kimberly-Clark (KMB) open to accusations of sexism because two other versions, featuring men, revolve around their success or failure in sport and music. In other words, the women's ad suggests that your entire life will hinge on marriage and family, whereas the men's ads just look at a slice of their professional lives.

The lesson here is not to take your market research too literally: Sure, if you ask them, most women will admit that being proposed to is the big turning point of their lives, one in which they're likely to cry and reach for a Kleenex. But that doesn't mean they want to be defined solely on that one factor. In this case, the client seems to have seen a spike in the data and demanded an ad to reflect it. Good management isn't about being driven by your data. It's about looking at your data and then applying judgment.

The women's ad consists of two halves. The top, pink half is dominated by the word "yes" and shows a woman weeping for joy as an engagement ring, wedding cake and stork-carrying baby surround her. The bottom, gray half is labelled "no" and shows an old woman on a park bench, a woman eating alone, and two cats.

In both cases, the woman is crying into a Kleenex. "Let it out" is the tagline.

Genni, who operates the What She Said blog about advertising, said:

There are three things that bother me: 1) It shows the broken-hearted girls future as sitting alone, eating by herself. Ok, have a little faith. 2) It later shows her as an elderly woman, on a park bench, by herself. Great encouragement for your sadder target market. 3) There are cats everywhere suggesting, not only will you eat alone, sit alone, but you also will have no friends.
I think I'll use Puffs next time.
What makes K-C's choice even stranger is that generally it's women who buy tissues, and yet they're the ones being offended. (Like most men, I get by quite happily with toilet paper and kitchen roll and can't really see the point of absorbent paper that's neither one nor the other.)