The Feminine Hygiene Revolution: Brands are (finally) honest - but is that enough?
Updated: Sep 18
Our research interests take us to many places. Earlier last year, we studied abortion and family planning, and not long after, conducted a study into Clean Labels across various industries, including personal care (toothbrushes and tampons).
Today, we dive deeper into the feminine hygiene market, studying how brands today talk about their products.
Frankly Speaking: Call a Period a Period
We’re officially in a Feminine Hygiene Revolution. Period.
With social media platforms like instagram and twitter and newer generations who are accustomed to oversharing and micro-blogging to very minute details on these platforms, the limits of what forms ‘Acceptable Conversation Topics’ widen.
More specifically, the limits of who gets to listen in or participate in these conversations change. We are letting more people in on our discussion of bodily matters, from sexual health, to mental health, to hygiene.
Daily life in the 21st century entails us spending almost as much time in one-to-many social information broadcast situations as much as more private communications: we are daily contributors and consumers of tweets, posts and stories from social media feeds, as much as we are contributors in whatsapp messages, emails and phone calls. Increasingly, we are behaving the same in these different mediums- there is not much difference in what the ‘private self’ and ‘social self’ would talk about.
Whereas once topics such as menstruations, cramps, and other related ‘private’ issues might have been relegated to the domain of one-to-one conversation- in covert whispers, text messages or the like, shifting communication habits mean that people don’t see why they shouldn’t talk about them on more public, social platforms as well. Accordingly, from industry veterans to newer, direct-to-consumer challenger brands, brands have shifted from talking around the topic of menstruation to tackling it head-on.
Our study of the evolution of sanitary product advertisements have shown that they’ve transitioned from unrealistic depictions of white clothing and vigorous sports in the while menstruating in the pre-2000s era to more accurate depictions of blood and cramps in the 2010s.
Analysing Essity’s #BloodNormal and VIVA LA VULVA campaigns
We ran the videos for Essity’s two campaigns #BloodNormal and Viva La Vulva through our Quilt.ai Culture AI tools and found that in these videos, the machine-labelled emotions of ‘sensuality’ and ‘creativity’ were at high levels.
What this meant was that greater skin exposure was detected in these videos, hence arising in the high amounts of what the machine labels as ‘Sensuality’. Brilliant, strong colours used within the frames (in lighting and props) resulted in high levels of creativity being detected, indicating the significant air of liveliness in these videos in addressing the subject of menstruation.
While once, effort was put into crafting storylines around the period experience in these sanitary product ads, now, this same attention has been directed towards zooming in on the period experience and depicting the vividness of the experience.
Examining Twitter and Youtube chatter surrounding these candid advertisements, comments revealed that most people took the ads quite well, showing appreciation for accurate representation of periods.
Doing Better: Taboo Smashing, but strategically so
Among the negative comments were feedback reading along the lines of “[Even] I don’t like this”. Prefixing of their opinion with the “Even” adverb (whether that’s explicitly expressed or implicitly hinted) indicates unexpectedness- that in spite of the fact that they’re users of these products and people who experienced menstruation as depicted in these ad campaigns, these ads weren’t to their liking.
We saw that these people were for period visibility and candor, but were upset about the perceived undignified portrayal of menstruation. Shock value in these videos (such as blood trickling down thigh) were not appreciated, which revealed to us this:
Within taboo breaking, we very much see that there are still some no-trespassing comfort zones that people want protected. People want menstruation talked about, but in a classy manner. Almost paradoxically, people want accurate public depiction of menstruation but yet privacy about the details.
Ads, traditionally expected to both persuade and entertain, should do their job differently in the entertainment aspect when it comes to advertising intimate hygiene products. Elements that lent themselves more to the cinema- such as dramatic frames of blood trickling down, or being washed out in the shower, while bold and taboo-smashing, are teeter on the edge of sensationalism to the eyes of some.
Doing it right: The art of tightrope walking
We looked to up and coming disruptor brands to see what makes their messaging work, and found two key things when it comes to keeping things classy:
1- Situating the product in the Wellness category
Across these new challenger brands, we observed that they positioned their brand as one within the wellness and health industry, with aesthetics and messaging that referenced nourishment, replenishment, and wholeness, thus aligning pads, tampons and related products with the wider conversation on self-care, presenting the period experience as an opportunity for showering oneself with extra TLC work to soothe oneself.
2- Subtlety Wins
In being candid about menstruation, these disruptors have perfected subtlety in bluntness, acknowledging feelings during menstruation but also one’s need for dignified representation- ohne playfully uses taglines like ‘brb i’m bleeding’ in their tampon cases, simultaneously acknowledging the blood but also the overall feeling of ‘brb..can’t handle this now’ discomfort.
Lola, in their instagram page, has a shot of an open period pad, shot from top-down, displaying the pad prominently for all to see. Without even entering the fake blue blood versus real blood conversation, but still taking a leaf out of that book, Lola busts down the hush-hush taboo of pads by photographing the unwrapped pad, with hands spreading it open.
Contrast this to the usual association of pads being shoved hastily into pockets or scrunched up in tight fists, and the message is clear (without saying too much): This is a pad, this is menstruation, deal with it.
For our full report on this topic, email firstname.lastname@example.org