Toilet Paper Marketing

The value of toilet paperWe all use it, we all value it and we all buy it every week: toilet paper.1 Buying toilet paper is one of those many decisions we make in the supermarket every time we visit. The amount of energy we are willing to invest in a decision depends on the level of involvement we have with the product.2

Research suggests that the type of toilet paper we use is a matter of low involvement.3 Low involvement products are hard to sell because, by definition, consumers don’t pay much attention to them. This is why marketers developed techniques to increase the level of involvement and in effect create a market where one previously did not exist. This practice started in the 1890s when the Scott Paper Company became the first to offer toilet paper on a roll and advertise it with a range of images showing luxury.

Product involvement demonstrates the importance of the meaning of the object to the ego structure or the consumer’s inner self. The products we purchase are an extension of our self, a means to construct an identity.4 Toilet paper manufacturers have used this psychological construct to capture the market. In supermarket aisles we are bombarded by a plethora of types of toilet paper to choose from. The bewildering array of choices ranges from one, two or even three ply, scented, non-scented, hypo-allergenic, recycled, non-bleached, rainforest certified and so on, and so on. There is a type of toilet paper for every segment in the market. It is only because we are subjected to this wide range of choices that we are forced to make it.

involved consumers pay higher prices

The main reason toilet paper manufacturers spend so much money on developing new types of toilet paper and advertising their product is because they want us to care about toilet paper. Not only by developing a product variant for every imaginable preference, but also by adding emotion to an otherwise boring product. Toilet paper advertising features cute puppy dogs, baby’s and other images that trigger emotions. When consumers are involved they are hesitant to choose lower price alternatives and suppliers of toilet paper use this by creating a high level of involvement and charging higher prices than they otherwise could.5

This is no better illustrated than by what I observed during a recent visit to a supermarket in Kangaroo Flat in Australia. They sell rolls of specially printed Christmas toilet paper for $4.49 each, almost ten times as much as normal toilet paper. Cleaning your bottom with jolly messages and images makes life just that much more worth living.

Christmas is a time when people are prepared to spend money on silly items and a roll of special toilet paper can provide a lot of value because it becomes an instant conversation starter, as evidenced by this post.

  1. This post is inspired by a discussion between Ian Watson and emeritus prof. Rhett Walker on this topic. 

  2. Zaichkowsky, J. L. (1985). Measuring the involvement construct. Journal of Consumer Research, 12(3), 341–352. 

  3. Ratchford, B. T. (1987). New insights about the FCB grid. Journal of Advertising Research, 27(4), 24–38. 

  4. Belk, R. W. (1988). Possessions and the extended self. Journal of Consumer Research, 15(2), 139–168. 

  5. Cohen, M. (2000). Consumer involvement–driving up the cost. Consumer Policy Review, 10(4), 122–125. 

Author: Peter Prevos

Social scientist and engineer who dabbles in magic tricks.

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