In the early 1920s, Kimberly-Clark was just beginning its exploration of consumer products. As a paper manufacturer, the company had been diversifying its product line and developed a creped wadding for its first consumer product, Kotex®. At this time, marketing a product for the menstrual cycle proved rather difficult and due to the slow acceptance of Kotex® in the marketplace, the company had a rather high volume of creped wadding. It was time to find another commercial application for the fluffy material. That’s when the company again looked at the creped wadding product it had been working on for possible use as a filter for gas masks in World War I. Early experiments had researchers literally iron out heavyweight Kotex®. Later, they discovered how to produce a softer sheet by changing the blend of ingredients and using different pulps. It was the beginning of Kleenex® facial tissue.
The company initially saw the Kleenex® brand as a disposable cleansing tissue. They just weren’t sure what it would be used to clean. Because the same people who worked on Kotex® were now working on this new cleansing tissue project, they were predisposed to women’s needs. They made a connection between the tissue’s properties and the growing use of cosmetics. The tissues could be a clean, convenient replacement for the unsightly “cold cream towel” that hung in many bathrooms.
The tissue was trademarked “Kleenex®” and went on the market in 1924 as a cold cream or makeup remover, a disposable substitute for facial towels. It is likely the name was derived from the word “cleansing” which was shortened to “clean,” while the capital “K” and the “ex” ending were adopted from Kotex®.
All that was needed was to educate the masses. In 1925, the first Kleenex® ad appeared in the Ladies Home Journal showing “the new secret of keeping a pretty skin as used by famous movie stars...” Soon, ads were being carried by all the major women’s magazines, including McCall’s, Good Housekeeping, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Redbook. In 1927, the ads began featuring famous stars of stage and screen for testimonials and endorsements. The “beautiful people” were confessing that the Kleenex® brand was one of their secrets. In 1925 Kleenex® facial tissues were also launched in the UK.
Around this time, Kimberly-Clark’s head researcher had been using the tissues in place of a handkerchief for his hay fever. He persuaded the head of advertising to try to market the tissues for this use. The adman declined the idea at first but then committed a small amount of ad space to the mention of using Kleenex® tissue as a handkerchief. It wasn’t until 1930 that the idea of Kleenex® tissue as a handkerchief substitute really took off. By running simultaneous ads, one targeting the removal of cold cream, the other as a handkerchief, it was proven enough that the Kleenex® tissue had a new purpose. Sales of Kleenex® tissue doubled the first year of this new handkerchief strategy. Now, instead of being a product primarily for women’s use, it now served men and women, young and old alike.
Since the Kleenex® brand came on the market in 1924, it has been the No. 1 brand of facial tissue in the world and has become a genuine global icon. Not bad for a product that was voted down by its salesmen who wanted to instead produce disposable diaper inserts for cloth diapers.