What is it:
Kleenex is a brand name for a variety of paper-based products such as facial tissue, bathroom tissue, paper towels, tampons, and nappies (diapers, for US readers). Often used informally as a genericized trademark for facial tissue in the United States, the name Kleenex is a registered trademark of Kimberly-Clark Worldwide, Inc.
Kimberly, Clark and Co. was founded in 1872 in Wisconsin. The group's first business was operating paper mills, which the collective expanded throughout the following decades. The company developed cellu-cotton in 1914, a cotton substitute used by the U.S. Army as surgical cotton during World War I. Army nurses used cellu-cotton pads as disposable sanitary napkins, and six years later the company introduced Kotex, the first disposable feminine hygiene product.
Kleenex, a disposable handkerchief, followed in 1924 and was made from the same material. Originally marketed as an effective way to remove cold cream, the first Kleenex ads, placed in magazines in 1925, exclaimed that the product was, "the new secret of keeping a pretty skin as used by famous movie stars."
The company originally rejected the idea of marketing them as a disposable alternative to handkerchiefs after their head researcher first made the suggestion. Nontheless they decided to dedicate a small bit of ad space to the marketing concept and by the 1930’s the idea was popular enough that their main advertising slogan was “Don’t Carry a Cold in Your Pocket.”
According to the Kleenex website:
To explain how Kleenex® Tissue got its name, it is necessary to go back to 1920 and the development of our first consumer product, Kotex® feminine napkins. Our Kotex® trademark was derived from the words "cotton texture" and met our requirements for being short, easy to say, easy to remember and easy to explain. Kleenex® Tissue was originally designed in 1924 as a cold cream remover; hence, the "Kleen" portion of the word was coined to convey the cleansing purpose. We then added the "ex" from Kotex® in order to convey what was the beginning of a family of products. In 1930, the name was changed from Kleenex® Cleansing Tissue to Kleenex® Facial Tissue or Kleenex® Tissue.
When a product becomes so well known or achieves such market dominance that that type of product generally becomes known by the trade name, it is said that the trademark has become genericized. As a result the trademark protection may be lost in some countries. Examples include: Thermos, Kleenex, ChapStick, Aspirin, Dumpster, Band-Aid, Velcro, Hoover, and Speedo.
In the USA, the Kleenex name has become—in common usage but not in law—genericized: the popularity of the product has led to the use of its name to refer to any facial tissue, regardless of the brand. Many dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster and Oxford, now include definitions in their publications defining it as such.
Some past ads:
(including some showing that even tissues were not immune from sexist advertising) . . .
A brilliant modern ad: