Kleenex recently announced it is changing the name of its “Mansize” tissues to “Extra Large” following complaints from consumers that the brand name was sexist.

“Kleenex Mansize tissues have been on shelves for the past 60 years. Over that time, the brand has always been characterised by a much larger tissue size, which is both soft and strong” said a spokesperson for Kimberly-Clark, the parent company of Kleenex.

“It was launched at a time when large cotton handkerchiefs were still very popular and Kleenex offered a unique disposable alternative. Despite that our consumer service is registering consistent increase of complaints on gender concern related to Mansize subbrand.”

“Kimberly-Clark in no way suggests that being both soft and strong is an exclusively masculine trait, nor do we believe that the Mansize branding suggests or endorses gender inequality. Our Mansize tissues remain one of our most popular products, with 3.4 million people buying these tissues every year.”

The move was applauded by the Kleenex social media team in a recent tweet. This rebranding effort provides key lessons to communicators and PR pundits. Here are some of the major takeaways from this move:

Gender messaging missteps have become less and less forgivable

There is a growing list of organisations facing backlash because of messaging or comments relating to gender of the consumers. The stationery maker BiC had to navigate criticism after marketing pink and purple pens as “for her”. There were a bombardment of reviews on Amazon of the pens making fun of the company’s strategy and the notion that the pens were “designed to fit comfortably in a woman’s hand”.

PepsiCo recently had to issue apologies for its strategy to launch food products “designed and packaged” for women. “Lady Doritos” quickly became a social media trend with a flood of comments ridiculing the initiative.

Consumers are not only more aware, but they also have multiple avenues to express their discontent when it comes to PR and marketing messaging. The public have higher expectations from brands, including an expectation that organisations will take a stand on political and societal issues. This means brand managers need to be more aware of the potential issues with their content.

Some people are still going to complain

You can’t make everyone happy. People will still complain no matter what decision you make, especially in today’s climate of polarized opinions and social media as an avenue to express those views.

After Kleenex UK decided to change it’s products name, many Twitter users responded to the move with criticism. That’s inevitable. The goal shouldn’t be please everyone but to make decisions that align with your company’s vision and culture.

Be sensitive to hot-button issues – within limits

Pay attention to what people care about and what makes sense. Sam Smethers, chief executive of UK-based women’s organization The Fawcett Society, said “Removing sexist branding such as this is just sensible 21st century marketing”, adding, “But we still have a long way to go before using lazy stereotypes to sell products is a thing of the past”. However, trying too hard to make a political or social statement without keeping the organisation message and vision in mind can also create issues.


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Ronn Torossian is the Founder & Chairman of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently owned PR firms in the United States. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth and vision, with the agency earning accolades including being named a Top 50 Global PR Agency by PRovoke Media, a top three NYC PR agency by O'Dwyers, one of Inc. Magazine's Best Workplaces and being awarded multiple American Business Awards, including a Stevie Award for PR Agency of the Year. With over 25 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected public relations executives. Throughout his career he has advised leading and high-growth businesses, organizations, leaders and boards across corporate, technology and consumer industries. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications. He has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly in the media and has authored two editions of his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations," which is an industry best-seller. Torossian's strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, a Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, and a recipient of Crain's New York Most Notable in Marketing & PR. Outside of 5W, Torossian serves as a business advisor to and investor in multiple early stage businesses across the media, B2B and B2C landscape. Torossian is the proud father of two daughters. He is an active member of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and a board member of multiple not for profit organizations.