Potty Talk

A couple of weeks ago, I was leading a group discussion in which a man in

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his 40s said something along the lines of “I don’t want to see anybody on a toilet on television. I don’t even want to see a toilet. That’s just not right!”

He’s probably in the minority with his particular desire, but I’m betting he’s not too far off the norm.

You could argue that we’ve broken the taboo about toilet stuff. Charmin toilet paper has a new campaign with radio ads featuring lines like “You’re my Number 1, when I go Number 2”, and they continue to air the slogan “We all go, why not enjoy the go?”

Cottonelle launched a multi-media campaign to help Americans break the taboo, since it found that “According to a recent survey, one third of Americans find “wiping your bum” to be the most taboo topic … However, it seems America is ready to open the door to this topic since 80 percent of Americans say they would be comfortable talking about bathroom habits with others.” So we can offer kudos to the brave folks at Cottonelle for their campaign, which runs magazine ads promoting the use of their toilet paper and wipes with headlines like “Just like bum cheeks, TP and wipes are meant to go together.”

Clearly the rules for what we can acceptably say and show in advertising about, ahem, “toileting” are evolving. When I first started in the business, Mr. Whipple shamed women for squeezing the Charmin; squeezing a package was about as far as P&G dared go. And an elderly lady whisper-sang the praises of another brand because “it doesn’t feel like (shhhh) toilet paper.”

But for all our evolution, we’re still not fully evolved. So we can say “bum” and “bottom” but perhaps not “butt” when we’re talking about toilet products. We can talk about “going” but it’s still impolite and impolitic to say out loud in advertising that we’re talking about “going to the toilet.”

And those lovable Charmin bears? They “do their business” off camera, and they’re bears, for goodness sake! And we all know what bears do… in the woods…

The taboo around the toilet – and defecation – is one of our last remaining ones, certainly in industrialized countries.* Deep, deep psychological roots. All of which suggests that if or when you

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need to advertise something – anything – to do with the only thing that we still generally do behind a closed door, you should explore carefully and deeply, and understand why certain words, visuals and scenes ‘work’ and don’t.


*The taboo is so serious around the world that the UN and many global organizations are spending time and money to promote World Toilet Day.

“Every day, 7,500 people die due to a lack of sanitation, 5,000 of whom are less than 5 years old. Every year, 272 million schooldays are missed due to water-borne or sanitation-related diseases. Worldwide more than one out of three people do not have access to improved sanitation facilities, according to UN Millennium Development Goals figures. World Toilet Day is observed annually on 19 November. This international day of action aims to break the taboo around toilets and draw attention to the global sanitation challenge.”


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