• Angad Chowdhry

Period Talk: How are Brands Speaking About Menstrual Health?

Image from Usplash, by Natracare

“Over the last 3.5 years since the birth of TruCup in Singapore and India, we’ve noticed the change in conversations, perception and what menstruators truly want for their bodies. Our primary objective is to create societies where periods are not a taboo- establishing truth against stigmas, sustainability against waste, freedom against restraints & stereotypes, inclusion of all menstruators across the world.”

- Shivangi Bagri, Founder and CEO, TruCup

Brands, like TruCup, are shifting the discourse around menstruation and menstrual health. They are not only creating menstrual cups but also dedicated to being a voice for inclusivity and women’s health, sexual, reproductive rights. Additionally, they are also engaging with men and boys on these topics.

The culture of silence that surrounds menstruation and menstrual health is slowly giving way to open and honest conversations around topics such as sexuality and underlying medical conditions (e.g .Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and Endometriosis). Access to safe and hygienic periods is being viewed as a means to empower young girls and women.

For instance, In Kenya, ZanaAfrica is combining reproductive health education with the distribution of sanitary products. Similarly in India, the award-winning menstrual health campaign #PeriodsPeCharcha (Let’s Talk Periods) started by Srilekha Chakraborty is demanding menstrual hygiene services for young girls in communities of Jharkhand.

Brands have also expanded their products and marketing to ensure sustainability. It is estimated that India’s landfills accumulate approximately 12.3 billion sanitary napkins per year. This amounts to almost 113k tonnes of menstrual waste generated. Given that 90% of each sanitary napkin is made of single use plastic, the total amount of it being released into the environment is mind-boggling. However, the switch to more ‘eco-friendly’ menstrual health products is not as easy as it sounds. With only 36% of 336 menstruating women having access to disposable sanitary napkins, it becomes crucial to address the need for equitable access to a safe and healthy period- one that is devoid of stigma.

Menstrual hygiene brands have become important participants in debates around menstrual taboos and changing public perception. No more ‘whispers’ and advertisements that make menstruators feel shame or embarrassment. They are also becoming more aware of the diversity of experiences, which is reflected in the wide array of products being sold in the market. Be it Lunette menstrual cups that are free of harmful chemicals, or Saathi pads which are made of eco-friendly materials such as bamboo and banana fibres-- there is a product for everyone.

To better understand the growing interest in new menstrual health products and the way brands are responding to the needs of menstruators and dominant public narratives, we studied 414 instagram posts of 9 prominent menstrual hygiene brands and 100 search keywords.

The questions we seek to answer through our analysis are: What are menstruators curious about? What are brands speaking about when it comes to menstrual health and related topics?

Here is what we found:-

Brands are having important conversations with their audiences

Brands are talking ‘differently’. Directly selling products is no longer the goal. The very nature of marketing has had a complete makeover. There is an effort being made to segment their audiences and cater to a multiplicity of needs.

Brands are playing an important role in changing and shaping the nature of discourse on menstrual health and hygiene. During our analysis of the Instagram posts of menstrual hygiene brands, it was noticed that majority of the posts could be categorised into the following:

  1. Advocacy/Cause: relating to community efforts on menstrual health, human rights and women’s health, information about critical issues. Posts also celebrate international days e.g. International Menstrual Hygiene Day, Pride Month, World Water Day etc.

  2. Period Tips: managing one’s period and PMS symptoms such as cramps, bloating etc.

  3. Health: online conversations with medical experts, information related to women’s bodies, Toxic Shock Syndrome, Fibroids, mental health etc

  4. Products: selling, discounts, giveaways

  5. Empowerment: loving and respecting one’s body, celebrating role models, posts on self-care, conversations around breaking gender binaries and stereotypes

  6. Sustainability: references made to being eco-friendly, ingredients of the products being advertised, recyclability of products and packaging

Overall, topics that were previously discussed discreetly are now finding their way on public platforms with a significant reach. For example, posts educating people about medical conditions that have an impact on the pain experienced during menstrual cycles. Similarly, adopting terms such as ‘menstruators’ to include a wider gender spectrum and not just women. A recent example of this is Boondh’s #UngenderMenstruation campaign which shines the spotlight on non-binary menstruators and their experiences.

Advocacy or cause related posts are also a huge focal point for brands. They help change both the nature of messaging adopted by them before and perceptions of customers. This eventually leads to behaviour change.

They also aim at altering the ‘brand image’ by changing the vibe of the products being advertised. They do this by:

  • Contributing to conversations around discarding societal labels

  • Celebrating sexuality by taking on celebratory and affirmative views on women’s bodies

  • Championing for agendas gaining momentum

  • Collaborating with NGOs and grassroots organisations

  • More recently outlining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on menstrual health and hygiene

People are curious about new menstrual hygiene products

In India, there is an interest in knowing about products other than sanitary napkins, especially menstrual cups. In the last 12 months, searches for the following keywords have grown:

  • “Period cup use” (52%)

  • “Folding menstrual cup” (52%)

  • “menstrual cups” (25%)

  • “menstrual cup use” (15%)

  • “period cup” (16%)

They also want to know about the different brands in the market and the prices of menstrual cups by different brands. Sirona, Carmesi, Sanfe, Peesafe and Shecup are the top searched brands among the Indian audience. Most of them fall within the same price range, which means the market currently has a wide array of brands for consumers to choose from.

We also found a 44% increase in people searching for “menstrual cup use in hindi”. With most brands communicating to what is presumed to be a largely English speaking population, other language users may potentially be excluded.

Lastly, people are interested in the topic of sustainability as there were emerging searches for “eco friendly pads” “compostable menstrual pads” and “plastic free period pads”.

How brands can do better

It is evident that brands are taking a more holistic approach to menstrual health and hygiene. Our findings show us that brands can do more:

  • In order to be inclusive, some messages should also cater to both, Hindi and non-Hindi speaking populations.

  • While sustainability is an underlying theme in most social media posts, brands should also attempt to converse with their audience directly on the topic. Building awareness about the need for eco-friendly products should be an important aspect of their social media messaging.

  • With a segment of the population in India not active on social media, brands can diversify the platforms on which products are being advertised through on-ground programming.

There is a progressive shift in the attitudes of both governments and conglomerates when it comes to institutionalizing menstrual health. This can be seen in the historic Sabarimala verdict where the Supreme Court of India rejected an age-old practice that was discriminatory towards girls and women. More recently the debate around ‘period leaves’ was re-initiated with Zomato introducing up to ten days of leaves for all women (including transgender) employees. Similarly, brands such as TruCup are going a step further by empowering rural women through micro-entrepreneurship opportunities, geared at making them economically independent.

These steps, although considered small, go a long way in reaffirming the long-term impact that subversive discourse can have. When it comes to equitable access to menstrual health and hygiene- it is time for both brands and people to push back. That is the only way forward.