Research on gender specific marketing within Kleenex Tissues

The Kleenex tissue performs the same across both genders, yet today the same product is marketed separately to males and females.

The Kleenex tissue was originally marketed towards women in 1924 as a way to remove their make-up. However around 1927, the possibility of using it as a disposable handkerchief was realised. After this point Kleenex began to market their tissues towards men as well as women. These early adverts were fairly gender-neutral. These adverts displayed both men and women equally within the adverts.


This Kleenex advert from 1955 displays a man and a woman using exactly the same product. Particularly when compared to today’s adverts, it is noticeable that there is no colour differentiation between the genders. Primary colours are used, and they are marketed towards men and women alike. The focus within the advert is not on the suitability of the tissue for a particular gender, but its suitability for people as a whole.


[Before the war, pink used to be a colour for baby boys and blue was for baby girls. In 1918 the Ladies Home Journal wrote “the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger colour is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl”. This was until the Second World War where there was a colour switch, possibly because the colour blue was used extensively for men’s uniforms and so began to reflect authority and masculinity. Whereas homosexuals were forced to wear a pink triangle on their clothes during the war, which is possibly why pink began to represent femininity. It could have potentially been any colour, however the problem is what the colour now represents; it is almost entirely exclusive to girls.]

Gender stereotyping can be seen in the below Kleenex advertisement from 1964 showing the introduction of ‘man-size’ tissues. The tissues are described as ‘big’ and ‘brawny’, suggesting that this is a reflection on what men are or should be. Whereas, according to this advert, the reasons why a woman might need to use these ‘huge’ ‘man-size’ tissues are for cleaning, painting, removing make-up, wiping the faces of their children or a after catching a ‘man-size’ cold (what dictates a ‘man-size’ cold?) These are all activities that surround stereotypical female roles. The illustrations on the box of a boat, train and a gun suggest that these are ‘manly’ things that only men should use or find interesting. Also the colours used are dark and bold because they are colours that are perceived to be more masculine. These aspects combined could be seen within many other adverts at the time, and only further re-enforced gender stereotypes. Amazingly much of this can still be seen within advertising and marketing today.


[A Canadian couple tried to break these social constraints in 2011 by deciding to raise their child as ‘gender-less’. They did not reveal the sex of the baby called Storm for 5 years. They stated that they wanted it to be “a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime”. The couple have also tried to shield their other two children from gender stereotypes, and as a result their son ‘Jazz’ has long hair and often wears pink, yet he identifies himself as a male. This is an interesting concept because it shows a strong relationship between parental influence and the child’s gender identity and shows that the learning of appropriate gender roles can be fostered.]



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It is evident, when looking at the box designs on the Kleenex tissues today, that gender differentiation is still so pronounced within their marketing. The boxes aimed at men use colours primarily of black, grey and dark red. Yet the woman’s range is made up from light and pastel colours with floral patterns and pictures of make up and fashion accessories. The belief that pink represents femininity and blue masculinity has been proven as a social construct that has only developed over the last 70 years, yet this colour divide is inescapable as a consumer. The issue lies not in the range of colours, patterns and sizes that are available, but in dictation of which of these colours, patterns and sizes are suitable only for men or only for women. It is this separation of what men and women are expected to like and not like that creates these invisible boundaries within the rest of society and allows children to grow up with these regressive notions of gender.



This is some of the research that I have been doing today specifically on Kleenex marketing. I will upload anything else and any ideas for our final exhibition piece when I get a chance. Have a good weekend! 


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One Response to Research on gender specific marketing within Kleenex Tissues

  1. Profile photo of Sarah Hill Sarah Hill says:

    Looking great Steph! Love the early advertising. I’m moving tomorrow but will get my research up as soon as possible! Sarah

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