In celebration of our fifth anniversary, we are republishing some of our favorite posts. This post by Elizabeth Kissling originally appeared September 29, 2009.
Apropos of Chris’ most recent post, the video of Serena Williams’ new ad for Tampax just popped up in my RSS feed. You can check it out at right.
I’m so torn on this. I’m pretty certain that this is the First. Time. Ever. that the word “blood” has been used in an ad for menstrual products. Do you know what a huge step forward for body acceptance and menstrual literacy that is? When I was growing up in the 1970s, pads were advertised by showing how well they absorbed BLUE fluid. (So were diapers, by the way.) Kotex was the first company to use the color red and the word “period” in ad campaign less than ten years ago. So there is a part of me that is delighted when Catherine Lloyd Burns, playing Mother Nature, smiles slyly and says, “Well, there is plenty of blood, but none of it’s bad”.
But the core message and most troubling element of this entire “Mother Nature” campaign is the idea that menstruation is the gift nobody wants. Can’t P&G (and Kotex, and every other femcare advertiser) just promote the damn products without promoting shame and body hatred? Women will buy menstrual products without being told that periods should make them feel “not so fresh”. In fact, the ads might be more compelling if they emphasized the absorbency of the product and treated menstruation as a fact of life, rather than a secret disaster. Just spare us the blue fluid, please.
I always felt that airline travel involves building many short-lasting friendships where people bond over delayed flights, weather problems and luggage issues. Recently I was traveling and had to make a connection in the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport. I was using the restroom and I could hear the lady in the stall next to me change her sanitary napkin. She dropped the plastic wrapping from the new pad and it floated into my stall. Without hesitation, I picked up the wrapper and disposed of it. We both exited our stalls around the same time and as we approached the sinks she turned to me and said quickly but firmly, “Thank you so much for doing that.” I was a bit taken aback but responded “Oh, no problem,” we washed our hands and we bid each other farewell as we left the restroom.
The reason I was taken aback was because I felt she had nothing to thank me for. I simply picked up a piece of wrapping and threw it away. However, the serious tone of her voice told me that she was grateful for what I did. Perhaps it saved her what she deemed the embarrassment of picking it up herself? Or maybe she was just thanking me for a kind gesture. It wasn’t as if I gave her something (like a pad or tampon) that she could thank me for and the act in no way inconvenienced me. I wonder if she would have felt inclined to thank me if she had dropped a candy wrapper or tissue instead.
While there has always been this overall social need to conceal the period, it seems lately that there has been a surge in the desire to conceal menstrual products. Procter and Gamble has a site, Being Girl, that gives the Dos and Don’ts of tampon usage, including practicing at home to “see how quiet you can be when making a quick change.” And silence is one aspect that P&G tends to advertise, especially with its Tampax Pearl product. The wrapper becomes a selling point for Tampax Pearl because of its quiet and easy-to-open tabs that allow for utmost discretion.
I’m sure most re:Cycling readers have seen the U by Kotex line of menstrual products. This line is aimed at a younger crowd, the website has a section for tweens, and takes the idea of concealing in a different direction. Instead of making the products discreet and quiet the company advertises “hot new colors and wrappers.” However, changing the color or design of a tampon wrapper is still missing the point and is just as damaging as advertising products with quiet wrappers. The period is still being hidden. If a woman drops a bright green tampon wrapper on the floor is she now going to be less embarrassed because of the color? It doesn’t matter if the wrapper is white, pastel or a bright color, she shouldn’t be embarrassed at all. That is what needs to change — the embarrassment factor women have about their periods, not the colors of the products used.
Today, in vintage femcare advertising, we bring you Tampax’s idea of menstrual shaming, 1990s style:
But Tampax doesn’t understand menstruation as well as they think they do. Sure, it might be a little tiresome to have a Mariachi band follow you around everywhere for most of a week, but as I’ve indicated before, I love the idea of a musical celebration of my monthly miracle.
I wasn’t the only one who noticed: a recent article in Ad Age says the “30% better protection” strategy has not been used in femcare marketing since Rely tampons were withdrawn from the market in 1980. Not coincidentally, that was the last time Tampax picked up significant market share — a lot of those former Rely users switched to Tampax (Tampax was not owned by P&G at the time, but Rely was).
With the U by Kotex brand apparently winning new customers as well as winning others away from Tampax, how successful will “30% better protection” be as a persuasive strategy? Jack Neff (author of the Ad Age piece) points out that it’s pretty challenging “in a category where absorbency has been tightly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the wake of the Rely withdrawal.”
It looks like Kotex is winning. Explicit comparison to the competitor’s product is an advertising strategy of 30-40 years ago. Under the new rules, the competitor’s product doesn’t even exist, and certainly isn’t deserving of mention in a promotion for your own.
This ad for Tampax appeared in the March, 2011, issue of Marie Claire
In my visual communication class this week, I used several femcare ads (along with a couple of cell phone commercials and other images) to illustrate Althusser’s concept of interpellation. My students got more of a lesson than they bargained for, as I ended up also talking a little about the history of advertising for femcare products. I mentioned but did not show this historically significant ad, notable to my students for the appearance of pre-Friends Courtney Cox, but more important because it was the first time the word “period” was uttered on television in a menstrual product ad.