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COLUMN: The Idiocy of Feminine Hygiene Marketing

The Idiocy of Feminine Hygiene Marketing

In the fourth installment of ‘Leopard Print in the Ivory Tower,’ Annika Blau considers the lengths we go to in tampon/pad advertisements to sell these products without actually mentioning their function or the parts of the female anatomy to which they apply.


There are a lot of pointless, bewildering and moronic things in this world of ours. Like war. And poverty. And that disclaimer on packets of nuts that says “may contain traces of nuts.” The list goes on, endlessly, but today we’re just going to talk about tampon advertising.

Advertisers unlucky enough to score sanitary briefs are given the singularly problematic task of making an ad about having your period that at no point depicts having your period.

Oh, and even though you’re essentially discussing vaginas, you can’t mention the word vagina. It’s like a sick, real-life version of that board-game Taboo.

In 2010, Kotex used the word “vagina” in its US ads. All three major commercial TV networks refused to run them. Here in Aus, Kotex’s “Beaver” ad was the most complained about ad of 2008. You know, the ad where the girl goes around with a literal (well, CGI animated) beaver? Yeah… That one. It wasn’t even a vagina. It was a beaver-beaver. An animal. A metaphor. But still, a metaphor that was too offensive for television.

If you’re a woman in advertising, you are guaranteed the tampon briefs. So while you spent four years studying Freud, a large part of your career will be spent coming up with new and original ways of saying “vagina”. But don’t let that deter you – it’s serious work. Not everyone can come up with an appropriately vague-but-not-too-vague term like “hooha”. You gotta give credit where credit’s due, and Libra should get a pat on the back for that one.

For years, advertising creative teams have resigned themselves to this moronic farce without complaint. But last year, they had enough. It began when a guy named Richard wrote the following message on UK sanitary brand Bodyform’s Facebook:

“Hi, as a man I must ask why you have lied to us for all these years.

As a child I watched your advertisements with interest as to how at this wonderful time of the month the female gets to enjoy so many things, I felt a little jealous.

I mean bike riding, rollercoasters, dancing, parachuting, why couldn’t I get to enjoy this time of joy and ‘blue water’ and wings!! Dam my penis!!

Then I got a girlfriend, was so happy and couldn’t wait for this joyous adventurous time of the month to happen …..you lied !!

There was no joy, no extreme sports, no blue water spilling over wings and no rocking soundtrack oh no no no.

Instead I had to fight against every male urge I had to resist screaming as my lady changed from the loving, gentle, normal skin coloured lady to the little girl from the exorcist with added venom and extra 360 degree head spin.

Thanks for setting me up for a fall bodyform, you crafty b@gger.”

The wallpost got 86, 735 likes. And Bodyform’s advertisers decided it was time Richard, and all the other men out there, knew the truth about periods. Their video response below went viral. Bodyform’s CEO (actually played by an actress) opens the video with:

“Hello Richard. We read your Facebook post with interest, but also a sense of foreboding – and I think it’s time we came clean. We lied to you, Richard. And I want to say sorry.”

She then goes on to explain that there’s no such thing as a happy period, and that the sky-diving and horse-riding of the ads was in fact a metaphor, because “men can’t handle the truth”.

While the ad is humorous and light-hearted, it also makes an important point: why, in an age where we are educated about the truth of periods in year-five sex-ed., do we continue this ridiculous charade?

I’d have thought, by now, that in a society wall-papered with sexual imagery, where even the most extreme pornography is only a click away, we could do away with “hooha”. But evidently not.

So instead we get sanitary ads that have nothing to do with sanitary products. Take the Libra Odd Spots campaign for example. Do you associate trivia with menstruation? No. Me neither. But Libra does. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Libra Odd Spots are just like regular pads, only instead of having a blank white wrapping, their pad wrapping lists “odd spots” of trivia. You know, to match the odd spots of platelets and t-cells scattered on your underwear.

Here’s an example for you:

I’m guessing they mean “explosive”.

Thanks to Libra Odd Spots, the tedious event of applying a pad becomes a fascinating, enlightening experience, where you’re introduced to great wonders of the world, like how turtles and honeybees are actually deaf.

How could you have lived previously, ignorant to the fact that a goldfish can turn white if kept in a dark room?

I don’t know, Libra. I don’t know.

But nothing beats Odd Spot #169: that the average person eats eight spiders per year in their sleep. Now tell me, honestly Libra, have you eaten a single spider in your sleep, in your life? Let alone EIGHT SPIDERS A YEAR?

I don’t eat spiders in my sleep.

Noone I know eats spiders in their sleep.

And I fail to see how the idea of eating spiders is less confronting than saying the word “vagina”.

But who am I to question the veracity of Odd Spot #169. As a tampon manufacturer, Libra is clearly the expert on arachnology.

Is this what it has come to? That we’ll link periods with eating spiders in our sleep before we link them with vaginas?

I mean, I guess I can see a tenuous link. I mean, maybe the bit about the spiders is to reassure anxious thirteen year-olds confronting the sanitary realm for the first time. Maybe it’s Libra saying,

“Hola, anxious tween. I know bleeding organs are kind of weird. But hey, you know what’s weirder? EATING SPIDERS IN YOUR SLEEP.”   

So that the anxious tween can think, “You know what, Libra? You’re right. On a scale of one to eating spiders, shoving a cotton plug in my uterus is only about a three. So I’ll give it a go.”

Maybe this is the logic. Maybe this is why sanitary marketing is talking about eating spiders.

But it’s probably not. It’s probably that our inability to have adult discussions about menstruation means we’ll go to the absolute lengths to distract attention away from the realities of periods, while selling products for periods.

My final issue with sanitary marketing is the aggressive marketing of products that don’t need to exist. Like Vagiwipes, introduced by Libra last week. Vagiwipes are like wet-ones, but for cleaning your vagina. Now I’ve had this tried and tested method of vagina-cleaning for years. It’s called a shower. But clearly that no longer suffices. It’s not enough to wash yourself daily, now women have to be constantly vigilant, lest their vagina smell, for even one moment, like a vagina rather than a bouquet of gardenias.

I concede that advertising’s manufacturing of new needs is not limited to the sanitary world. Last night on television, I watched an ad for pregnant women pushing a vitamin to help their baby’s brain develop.

“Trying for a baby?” it said. “You might not realise you’re pregnant yet. That’s why you should start taking our vitamin now.

Maybe those first two or three weeks it takes you to realise you’re pregnant are critical vitamin-absorbing time for your fetus. Or maybe the vitamin company’s just trying to capitalise on the months and even years it takes some women to get pregnant. I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were the latter.

It is the mark of our ultra-consumerist society that we’re working longer hours and living lives of debt all so that we can pay for products we’ve been duped into believing we need. All for vagiwipes, and vitamins for our probably-non-existent child.

It’s perhaps at this point that I should retire to a cave and live my days out there.

Maybe I’m too idealistic, but I can’t help dreaming of a world where we say “vagina” and not “hooha,” where we can talk about pads without a CGI beaver, and maybe, just maybe, where nuts don’t need a disclaimer to be recognized as nuts.


Annika Blau is a freelance writer from Sydney with a lot of opinions. Her writing explores what pop culture tells us about ourselves, and pairs the teachings of academia with those of the supermarket aisle. She wants to know why we don’t examine Kanye West with the same academic rigour as The Cantebury Tales, and finds Lady Gaga as revealing as the census. More of her writing can be found at annikablau@blogspot.com.au.