Thanks to the endless determination of parents to keep baby bottoms dry, Kimberly-Clark’s Huggies diapers brand has become a global powerhouse, with billions of dollars in annual sales. But the target consumers for one of the company’s latest diaper lines aren’t infants—or even their aged grandparents. Instead, ads for its Depend Silhouette line of disposable incontinence briefs feature laughing, long-legged models who look barely over 40. The personal-care giant has been aggressively running the fashion-style marketing pitches in mainstream magazines and on television, because adult incontinence is a market that’s recently become too big—and lucrative—to remain in the shadows.
“We’re trying to make the product more normal, and even fun, with real people in our ads saying, ‘Hey, I have bladder leakage, and it’s no big deal,’ ” says Jay Gottleib, head of Kimberly-Clark’s adult and feminine-care business in North America.
Growth in the adult-diaper market is outpacing that of every other paper-based household staple in the U.S. Euromonitor International forecasts a 48 percent increase in sales in the category, to $2.7 billion in 2020 from $1.8 billion last year. That compares with expected growth of 2.6 percent, to $6.3 billion, during that period for baby diapers. And in only a decade, sales of diapers for adults could surpass those for babies at Kimberly-Clark and rival Procter & Gamble. As birthrates fall and life spans lengthen, the companies figure there’s plenty of room for expansion, because babies grow out of diapers, but incontinent adults usually don’t.
As many as 1 in 3 adults—more than 80 percent of them women—have bladder control issues, the Urology Care Foundation says. Causes include pregnancy and childbirth, health conditions such as diabetes and obesity, and changes that accompany aging, according to the Mayo Clinic.