The toilet paper brand launched a campaign at the beginning of the pandemic to raise money for those in need and urge Americans to stop hoarding rolls
Animals’ fight or flight instincts can lead to some surprising responses. For many Americans at the start of the pandemic, their fear led to a maddening rush to stock up on toilet paper.
Cottonelle and other toilet paper companies watched their products fly off shelves. Whereas normally a brand would be thrilled to see such high demand for its goods, this trend was concerning. Consumers were hoarding the product, meaning many didn’t have access to their preferred brand or any toilet paper at all.
Cottonelle had three problems to solve: Reassure consumers there was enough toilet paper for everyone, encourage hoarders to share their extra stock with neighbors and step up and do something extra for those affected by COVID-19. Working with FCB Chicago, its agency of record, Cottonelle developed its #ShareASquare campaign.
“At its core, the #ShareASquare program was inspired by our consumers,” says Ada Zavala, senior brand manager for Cottonelle. “We understood the additional stress on people to locate Cottonelle products in stores and online. While we were working tirelessly to address the increased demand, we noticed people reaching out to share our products with those in need in their own communities and wanted to celebrate those acts of kindness.”
— Joy Bella (@joybellabella) March 26, 2020
The common refrain from brands at the beginning of the pandemic was to reassure their audience that they were “here” for consumers. But as anyone who’s been trapped in a public restroom with an empty roll knows, words don’t mean much when you really just need some two-ply. For Cottonelle to say it would be there for consumers, that meant reassuring shoppers it could refill shelves. But the company also had to encourage people to help one another in the interim.
In its own effort to do more, Cottonelle started by donating $1 million and 1 million rolls of toilet paper to the United Way Worldwide COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund. To integrate this work with highlighting customers’ good deeds, Cottonelle donated an additional $1, up to $100,000, from March 25 through June 1 anytime a social media user posted their own toilet paper outreach efforts tagged with #ShareASquare.
FCB wanted the campaign to include a striking visual component that would catch social media users’ attention. Lisa Bright, executive vice president and executive creative director at FCB, says the team working on the campaign was inspired by square photos and videos typically used on Instagram, and they noticed how a simple white square could also represent a square of toilet paper.
The agency created a short video that reassured consumers that Cottonelle was working hard to restock shelves, that it donated funds to the United Way, and it implored Americans to do their part and share excess supplies with those who needed it.
The integrated campaign included television, paid media, earned media, influencers and social media. Late night TV host Jimmy Kimmel dedicated part of his monologue one evening to the effort and announced his own donation to United Way. To sustain the momentum, Zavala says Cottonelle’s social team actively searched for and elevated examples of toilet paper sharing throughout the campaign. The United Way, which has a long relationship with Cottonelle parent company Kimberly-Clark, worked closely with Cottonelle to distribute marketing materials so recipients could share news of their donation across social and earned media channels.
In total, Cottonelle donated $1.3 million and 1 million toilet paper rolls to United Way’s recovery fund over the course of the campaign, marking its largest single donation in the brand’s history. More than 6,000 people engaged with the #ShareASquare hashtag on social media during the campaign.
“We enjoyed seeing all the instances of toilet paper sharing, of course, but seeing the ways people found to safely share, like porch drop-offs, not only showcased people’s kindness, but their creativity,” Zavala says. “We also circulated the challenge internally at Kimberly-Clark and encouraged employees to participate, which became a way to build our own community while we were all safe at home.”
The social media posts generated by consumers were rather clever. A search of the hashtag on Twitter includes a photo of a neighbor dressed as the Easter bunny dropping off a package of Cottonelle, a video of dogs passing rolls of toilet paper to one another and a photo of a birthday cake in the shape of a toilet paper roll. There were also a number of references to the episode of “Seinfeld” when Elaine Benes’ next-door bathroom stallmate told her she “didn’t have a square to spare.”
“Because it was so social-first and there was a very clear call to action to it, [the campaign] definitely saw a lot of engagement,” Bright says. She also attributes some of the campaign’s success to Americans simply wanting an actionable way to help others. “[The campaign helped] to instill this behavior—and at a time when I think everyone felt a little helpless. It was nice to see people step up and do it in a way that then gave them meaning.”
It also helped boost consumer perception of the Cottonelle brand.
“We took a negative and turned it into a positive,” Bright says. “Especially in a time where there wasn’t a lot of positive going on, Cottonelle could have been seen in a really negative light for not being around on shelves. This helped to put back a positive lens on Cottonelle through consumers’ eyes in a powerful and meaningful way.”
Photos courtesy of Cottonelle.