“Price check on Depends on aisle 3!”

Yikes, that’s pretty much the last thing any shopper wants to hear while making a drug store purchase.

Some products are inescapably embarrassing or awkward to talk about, be that adult diapers, feminine care products, herpes medication, or STD tests. Even mild embarrassment can cause consumers to alter their behavior, according to a research study published in the Journal of Consumer Research. But the makers of Depend, Vagisil, Valtrex and STD tests still need to get the word out about their products, so what’s to be done? Harness the power of social media to eliminate this stigma.

Consider Depend’s latest “Drop Your Pants” campaign; a plaid-shirted manly-man is walking down the street, and all the young women he passes are staring at him. But it’s not his good looks that are turning heads. As the camera pans wider, viewers can see he’s not wearing any pants. Instead, he’s got on adult diapers. A voiceover announces, “It’s time to bring it out in the open.” It’s not just a sales pitch for adult diapers; it’s a full-on campaign for raising awareness.

Humans are inherently social individuals who don’t like to be the only person engaging in a behavior that’s out of the ordinary or embarrassing (like purchasing adult diapers). By showing fashionable older adults wearing adult diapers on the internet helps eliminate some of that taboo. And by using humor to make light of an absurd situation or awkward product, social media further breaks down these stigmas.

According to the Wharton School’s online business journal Knowledge@Wharton, the Depend commercial hits all the right notes; it’s relevant (as Boomers retire, incontinence is an increasing problem), it’s actionable (viewers can visit a website to learn more); it brings value (website visitors can download coupons and request samples) and it’s exciting (customers realize they are not alone in their need for Depend). The newly designed Depend adult diaper looks the same as regular underwear, so why not (literally) bring that out into the light for the world to see?

The commercial kicked off a larger social media campaign inviting customers to tweet a photo or video of Depend to raise money for advancing public awareness of bladder problems. Kimberly-Clark, the company that manufacturers Depend, pledged to donate $1 for each Tweet or Instagram post (up to $3 million). Bladder incontinence may not be the chicest cause celeb, but it’s no longer relegated to the back corners of drugstores, thanks to the savvy use of social media.

Online marketing takes the “awkward” out of embarrassing products

In one sense, makers of adult diapers, feminine hygiene products and even STD tests have the upper hand; they’ve got a built-in customer base that needs these products. The challenge is actually getting the customer base to make a purchase.

Let’s face it; even if Depend succeeds in normalizing adult diapers, the idea of purchasing them at the drugstore is still a bit awkward and embarrassing. Thanks to the anonymity of the Internet, ordering products online is far less awkward. Promoting these products via social media and blogs is also easier than traditional media forms, like television ads.

Bottom line

Social media and blogs let you speak directly to your audience. Blogs provide a forum for honest discussion about taboo issues and are an ideal place to start generating buzz about a product. Identifying target customers also doesn’t require time-consuming research. Marketing feminine care products on a blog dedicated to women’s wellness, for example, is a no-brainer. Tie in a social media marketing campaign and relevant hashtags to normalize the product, and you’ll have your own viral marketing success story on your hands (even if the product in questions is adult diapers, herpes medication, feminine care products or STD tests).

Plus, with online marketing you give customers a direct, actionable link to securely make a product purchase, removing the potential for that embarrassing “adult diaper price check on aisle three!”