Written by: Emilie
7 min read

Why has the world started caring which brand of toilet paper they use? Mude’s Digital Content Producer Emilie Carmona explores how everyday products are rising above genericism through branding.

As the current climate shows, there are some things in this world that everybody just needs, but has never really cared too much about. Toilet paper, razors, bottled water, deodorant — they’re essential items, but mostly, their brands are snore-inducing. On the shelves, they blur together into a sea of price tags, where the lowest price is the preferred catch.

Items like these are called commodity products. Their industries have so much competition, that you probably wouldn’t care which one you picked up at the supermarket. They’re easily substituted with any of the generic brands that offer the same thing.

But the big players in this field are commodity brands. The product is essentially the same as the above, but they inspire a sense of brand loyalty that keeps them coming back for that product, and that product only. Customer will pay more to support these brands over the generic version, because they’ve successfully latched onto a piece of their identity.

How do they do it? Through authentic, human-focused, bold brands.

The Top Tier Commodity Brands

Meet the new-age commodity brands that have stepped out of their competitors’ shadows through bold branding.

Their brands are fresh, authentic, and are helping them build die-hard fanbases in a way most everyday products rarely do.

Consumers choose them over their competitors because they believe in both the product, and the brand that houses it.

Here’s a look into three of our favourite trailblazing commodity products, and the brands that have built their empires. Later in the article, we’ll analyse the techniques they used to do it, and what you can learn from their success stories.

Native Deodorant

Photo via Nylon Singapore — “Would you wear this deodorant that smells like rosé?”

If you listen to podcasts, you might have heard of this one.

Native is a USA born personal hygiene company making the most out of the self-care wave. Toting 10,000+ 4.5 star reviews, Native offers a range of all-natural deodorants for women, men, and teens, in a constantly rotating table of core and seasonal scents.

At $12 a pop or $10 on a subscription, it’s definitely in a price league above your Dove’s and Nivea’s — but unlike those brands, their fan-base is loyal to the end.

With the tagline, “Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live”, Native nails their USP: safe, eco-friendly, effective deodorant that’s better for your body and the earth.

Like many new-age commodity brands, Native doesn’t just push their product — through their social content, they sell a lifestyle.

Their Instagram is stocked with clean, sophisticated, and mostly user-generated product shots, showing how their product fits into their customer’s lives.

The product packaging is simple, minimalist, with a pop of colour in the type, making it an easy and beautiful snap for customers to show off online.

Dollar Shave Club

Photo via Jilt. The viral crowdfunding video that started Dollar Shave Club.

The Dollar Shave Club has positioned itself as the no-frills way for men to nail their morning grooming routine. They offer subscription-based shaving kits with all you need to look and feel your best, nothing more or less.

Plus, they’ve got a personality that young people connect with, as much as you can connect to a razor company.

Of these three examples, Dollar Shave Club is the outlier when it comes to price (it’s in the name). They use wholesale manufacturers overseas and pass on those savings to the user. A starter shaving pack costs around $15, and then the bi-monthly refill boxes cost around $30.

They blew onto the scene in 2012 with the viral launch video to end them all. After 5 years in startup land, they were purchased by commodity product kings UniLever for one billion dollars.

This video not only offers up a simple value proposition, but it shows the customer who they are and that they’re about.

Their brand personality is crafted to connect with young people who are fed up with empty, soulless big-brand marketing. To tackle that, Dollar Shave Club created a hilarious, relatable, and nonchalant tone of voice that echos across its entire content spectrum. Their Instagram is populated with comic-style illustrations and memes that let their audience have a laugh at the male grooming experience.

Despite the playful styles, their visual style is reminiscent of an old school barber, with hand-lettered style serif typefaces, cool tones, and organic lines. It’s that kind of vintage sophistication you get when you head into the barbershop, but for a much better price point.

Who Gives a Crap?

Aussie toilet paper company Who Gives A Crap asks you to give a crap — about the planet, your bum, and other people. They’re a subscription-based (seeing a pattern here?) company offering one thing — quality, recycled toilet paper that makes a difference.

Who Gives a Crap’s values stand at the forefront of their identity. They donate 50% of their profits to help build toilets in developing countries, cut down zero trees to make their product, and get rid of the nasty chemicals normally found in big-brand toilet paper.

Their audience clearly connects with their earth-friendly ethos, but they balance the serious issues they stand for with a casual and punny brand voice. They love their toilet jokes, short-form videos, and emoji-filled graphics.

For example — when they launched their crowdfunding IndieGogo campaign, their CEO livestreamed himself sitting butt-naked on a toilet in their frosty warehouse for 50 hours, until enough money was raised to start production.

Their visual style is feel-good, filled with bright colours and playful patterns. Of course, when you first see a fluro, polka-dot covered toilet paper roll, it’s immediately memorable. But the brand’s visual impact extends far beyond the life of the roll.

Who Gives a Crap encourages their customers to upcycle the colourful paper wrapping from their product into art, origami, and even clothes.

Besides making great user-generated content, this clever approach keeps what is normally a disposable product in the world for longer, and ties right back into their brand values.

Christmas decor created entirely from Who Gives a Crap’s artful product packaging.

When #toiletpapergate rocked the world and left supermarket shelves empty, Who Gives a Crap’s sales skyrocketed by 800%. They’ve now been completely wiped of subscriptions and stock for at least the next 6 weeks.

Who Gives a Crap’s joyful branding has created a dedicated customer base — who’ll never have to snatch a 24 pack out of someone’s trolley in Aisle 5.

The Common Threads

Now that you know who they are, what are all these brands doing right? We noticed a few techniques that each of these companies are nailing across the board.

Compassionate brand values

In recent times, we’ve all become more aware of how the products we buy impact both us and the planet.

So when choosing between a 99c home-brand product, and a company that focuses on environmentally compassionate values, the one that makes the customer feel better, wins.

Brands that are loud and proud about their responsible manufacturing processes, safe ingredients, and other eco-friendly initiatives stand tall against generic brands who push these factors to the side in the name of profit.

How can you do it?

  • Customers want to feel good about their purchases. So get behind a meaningful cause. If people need your product and can also make a difference by purchasing it, then it’s a win-win situation.
  • People support brands that align with their morals because it fosters their sense of identity. So shout your values from the rooftop. This will help you find your tribe, and keep them on your side.

Authentic brand voices and stories

What most commodity products get wrong is assuming that the necessity of their product will do their hard work for them.

If you compare Kleenex and Who You Gives a Crap, a brand that feels human is what sets the latter apart.

Kleenex’s brand message can be boiled down to: it’s toilet paper, and it works.

That fact might be cushioned with some pseudoscience percentages about “innovative softness technology”, or try to romanticise the humble roll by connecting it to a homely feeling.

But what Who Gives a Crap got right about their brand personality is that toilet paper is about going to the toilet. Not cute puppies and babies.

Rather than using euphemisms to wriggle around the subject, they embrace their everyday product for what it is, and have a laugh about it. Kleenex tried to cover up what they really are, and Who Gives a Crap flaunt it.

How can you do it? 

  • Speak to your customers like they’re real people with a brain. Because they are. Be authentic, transparent, and human.
  • Don’t try and confuse them with round-about messaging, or try to make your product something it’s not. Focus on the value your product provides, whatever that is, and expand from there.
  • Give them a brand story they can care about with faces, emotions, and purpose.
  • When creating your brand’s voice, think of your brand as a person that’s friends with your audience. Speak from that perspective.

Vibrant visual identities

Most commodity brands play it safe with their visual identities. When everyone needs your product, big brands tend to go for mass appeal over the unique.

But these brands and many more don’t try to blend in. When everyone around them is in greyscale, they choose to be vibrant. Imperfect illustrations, loud typefaces, crazy colours — they’re all choices that big brand commodity products would never dare to make, and that’s why their impact is so stark.

These visual choices perfectly complement their brand voices. Even if Gillette started talking like Dollar Shave Club tomorrow, it would make no sense alongside their generically masculine visuals.

How can you do it?

  • Look outside the limits that have been set by your competitors. Industry-standards will have you competing with a sea of indistinguishable products, but going bold could put you on an entirely different level.
  • Check out industries outside your own for unexpected brand inspiration. Who Gives a Crap seem to have taken notes from the fashion and art world, where Dollar Shave Club eyed off vintage product typography and comic magazines.
  • Consider the visual appeal through a digital lense. Does your product look good enough for your customers to share it online? User-generated content is an easy way to generate more brand awareness.

Looking for someone to handle it all? This piece was written by Mude – a creative agency helping people reimagine what’s possible through brand, digital and video services. Get in touch for a chat!

About the author // Emilie

Digital Content Producer at Mude.