How P&G Brought the Diaper Revolution to China

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When Procter & Gamble set out to sell Pampers in China more than a decade ago, it faced a daunting marketing challenge: P&G didn’t just have to persuade parents that its diapers were the best. It had to persuade many of them that they needed diapers at all. The disposable diaper — a throwaway commodity in the West — just wasn’t part of the cultural norm in the Chinese nursery. Babies wore cloth diapers, or in many cases, no diaper at all. And that, says Bruce Brown, who’s in charge of P&G’s $2 billion R&D budget, is why China presented — and still presents — such a huge opportunity. Today, after years of exhaustive research and plenty of missteps, Pampers is the No. 1-selling diaper in China and the company, in many ways, is just getting started there. The diaper market in China is booming. It stands at $1.4 billion — roughly a quarter the size of the U.S. market — and is projected to grow 40 percent over the next few years, according to research firm Datamonitor. P&G’s success in China has helped CEO Bob McDonald set some bold goals. Last October, he laid out a plan to add one billion customers over the next five years by promoting P&G brands throughout some of the poorest corners of the world. How will P&G go about doing that? To get a sense, just look at the way it cracked — and to a large degree created — the market for disposable diapers in China. Learning From Failure

When P&G first launched Pampers in China in 1998, the effort flopped. Instead of developing a unique product for the market, P&G made a lower-quality version of U.S. and European diapers, wrongly assuming that parents would buy them if they were cheap enough. “It just didn’t work,” Brown says.

Chinese split-pants, or kaidangku. Photo by The Wu's Photo Land on Flickr It didn’t help that Chinese families had always gotten along just fine without disposable diapers. There, potty training often begins as early as six months, and children wear what’s called kaidangku — colorful open-crotch...
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