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Hand Dryers vs. Paper Towels - Marketing Tactics

Posted on 8/14/2012 in Dryers

Pepsi vs. Coke.  McDonald's vs. Burger King.  Paper vs. Hand Dryers?  Real business rivalries usually add a little bit of dirty tricks to the marketing strategies, and our little world of bathrooms is no different.  In our case, it's the paper companies that are the big bullies with entrenched market share trying to fend off any disruption of their business by using what some might consider tactics that are not exactly professional or fact-based.  I will let you be the judge.

As we have established (and multiple experts have concurred), the cost basis for hand dryers is considerably lower than paper towels by something like 10-1 (depending on the exact paper costs and the type of hand dryer).  See our section on Saving money with hand dryers for the detailed information.  It has also been detailed by us (and others) that the manufacture, delivery, and disposal of paper towels is far worse for the environment than that of hand dryers (see our section on Sustainability for detailed information).  So how do the paper companies market against hand dryers?

I used to know a guy who liked to sell based on what he called FUD - he claimed that the salesman's best tools were Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.  It isn't my style, but I see how this can work.  No customer wants to be on the wrong side of something that might turn out terrible.  And here's where the paper companies seem to walk a fine line.

Check out this campaign by Kimberly-Clark called The Healthy Workplace.  This is an incredible detailed program designed for facility people to expect lower absenteeism by buying all sorts of different Kimberly-Clark products (from hand sanitizers to paper towels to disinfectant wipes).  It also encourages workers to use these products more often, and details the places where germs and viruses might transfer from one person to another.  There's even a contest for the healthiest workplace (I assume the one that uses the most products!).  I can't find one piece of science from a single scientist that verifies the claims, but it sure makes me feel afraid of germs.  And to protect our children, they have The Healthy Schools Project (which is the same thing).  Don't get me wrong - a healthy workplace and healthy schools are terrific goals.  I'm just not sure that KC Professional is using the best science to support their claims, and rather they are scaring customers into using more of their expensive and non-sustainable products.

But Georgia Pacific is the winner in winning a FUD award for marketing.  For the record, GP Professional was the first to introduce the fascinating touch-less paper dispenser, the EnMotion machine (which each paper dispenser company has copied...more on that later).  Then, they created the mascot, Mo, a man with a dispenser for a head (really?).  Then, a similar campaign called "Spread Wellness," which has even more FUD than the KC Professional campaign has (it compares a door handle to a 3-day old tuna sandwich which I'm sure is supported by science).  But look at this anti-hand dryer video.  Talk about lies and half-truths.

Clearly bashing one of our favorite products, the Xlerator, it claims that paper is better for customers based on hygiene, cost, noise, speed, water on the floor, and Janitorial preference.  Hmmm....didn't mention sustainability.  But let's look at the claims.

  1. Hygiene.  The video sites a Westminster University study claiming that hand dryers spread germs.  Well, they do blow air around.  But the Westminster study was commissioned by the Association of Makers of Soft Tissue Papers and had so many flaws in it's science that it was not published by either the university or any medical or health journal.  The researchers and the paper industry sent copies to the media in many countries, who are always eager to exploit people's fear in exchange for ratings.  There are studies claiming that hand dryer are more hygienic than paper out there, so I would argue that this is a he-said-she-said argument.
  2. Cost.  Their argument that it takes more than one hand dryer to match a single dispenser has no foundation.
  3. Speed.  Have you ever seen a line like that in front of an Xlerator?  And have you ever timed yourself when using an EnMotion machine.  How many times do you wave your hands before you get enough paper?  I'm usually 3 times.  Then dry your hands.   At least 15-20 seconds.  Xlerator might win this one.
  4. Noise.  Paper wins.
  5. Water on the floor.  Depends on where you put the dispenser and the dryer.  If they are away from the sink, both drip a little water on the floor.
  6. Janitorial preference.  Guess who has the paper contracts for many facilities....and who gets their labor reduced if hand dryers are installed?  Professional janitorial companies. Guess which one they prefer?

So, the hand dryer companies go after paper companies with cost savings and sustainability messages.  At least they have the science and analysis to back them up.

One last comment on the EnMotion machine and others like it.  See, I like using paper towels.   But I dislike those machines.  People like them because they think that they are not touching anything, but the sales pitch to customers is that they save money.  They save money because they limit the amount of paper that the person takes, and this can be set as low as 3-4 inches of paper per swipe (which can not dry a hand unless it belongs to an infant).  The paper companies usually give the dispensers away in exchange for a paper contract, and the paper is the among the priciest paper that they sell.  They've even sued their own customers that put in other paper.  What a great product - we reduce your usage (save you money) but sell you higher margin products!  Genius!

I guess the battle continues on.  But be careful of "hygiene studies" by either side.  Think through your goals and objectives.  Then create a strategy that works for your organization.