Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Shameless. Or, How To Make An Ethical Femcare Ad.

February 1st, 2013 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Chella Quint, Adventures in Menstruating

I saw a femcare ad that I actually liked.

I know, right? I don’t even know who I am anymore.

I’m kidding. I’m exactly the same person. It’s the ad that’s different.

Now. I don’t promote individual femcare companies. I do ad analysis. As long as femcare adverts remain the loudest voice in the menstrual discourse, I’ll keep encouraging people to use social media to create a two-way conversation and to increase their advertising literacy. Since I started this project, though, I’ve longed to see an ad that was period positive: that didn’t use shame to sell or use humour at the expense of menstruators. This is the first one I’ve ever seen.

It’s a viral video that’s been put out this week by Mooncup UK, a small (but growing), ethical company producing reusable, medical grade silicone menstrual cups. The ad directly challenges the current market leaders and promotes their own product without once dipping into the fear/embarrassment/secrecy triumvirate used throughout the history of femcare.

Here’s the ad:

And here’s the analysis:

Like a number of femcare ads that have made news over the past couple of years, it’s funny, viral, and sends itself up.

Where previous ads by bigger brands have gotten it wrong, though, it’s usually been because there were still echoes of the history of shame, fear and manufactured problems that could all be solved by the product. Ads for disposables somehow never seeming to mention the inconvenient truth (thanks, Al) about landfills and waste.

But the Mooncup ad works because:

They have a massively on-message USP. The unique selling point is that it’s reusable for years. Those who prefer tampons to pads could be persuaded to make the switch. I know many people who have sung their praises for ages, and while I’ve been doing the Adventures in Menstruating project, their company’s reach has grown far beyond its Brighton offices, and awareness around menstrual cups generally (a number of companies produce silicone and latex menstrual cups around the world), has spread, mostly by word of mouth, small distributors, and a few clever ad campaigns.

Brand loyalty for products that you don’t need to replace often is built through trust, reliability, and integrity. It’s a classic advertising model, but it’s usually applied to big ticket items like cars. Gives a whole new meaning to Think Small.

I’m aware that there are very different business models working with a one off purchase vs. repeat purchase disposables. If tampon companies respond, it’d be refreshing if they used what I like to call the Ocean Breeze Soap model. (Tampons are convenient in a pinch. Just like other disposable products are handy for the same reason. It would be way better for the environment if we used fewer convenience products, but if you do choose to use a disposable product of any kind, we hope you’ll choose ours.) Disposable femcare companies can’t deny their carbon footprint, but they frequently take the lazy option and distract consumers with shame and fear.

Shame is out of the equation. Its persuasive powers aren’t tainted by the classic canon of leakage fear, invisibility, euphemisms like ‘comfort’ or ‘freshness’, or that mysterious blue liquid. (Okay seriously – what IS that stuff? Do they use water with food colouring? Wildberry fruit punch? What?) They don’t need to use shame – no femcare company does.

They have a convincing argument backed up by statistics (that they are willing to share and which you are welcome to read and critique further). This ad lists the reasons why menstrual cups are better in a direct product comparison: better for your body, better value financially, and better for the environment than disposables. (In the style of a rap battle. But I’ll come back to that in my next post next week.)

I emailed Mooncup and requested data to back up the claims, and they, impressively, sent it straight over:

Source: no of tampons (22 per period)

Source: tampons absorb “everything”

Source: Mooncups hold 3x as much as a tampon

PLEASE NOTE: Gram to millilitre conversion:15 g= 15 ml.

Mooncup A (2011) contains 29.3 ml

Mooncup B (2011) contains 28.8 ml

See pg 6 of the AHPMA UK Code of Practice for Tampon Manufacturers & Distributors 2010 for tampon absorbency figures.

The ad works on two levels. Like Sesame Street. Sticking with the childhood metaphors for a minute here, femcare product users are kinda like belly buttons: there are innies and outies. Some menstruators prefer insertion methods of catching menstrual blood while it’s still inside the body, like disposable tampons or reusable menstrual cups. Others prefer to use external pads (disposable or reusable, including a few designs that are built into trendy underwear). There are also a few outliers – a small number of menstruators who choose to use nothing at all. (A couple of contributors to Adventures in Menstruating #6 product tested Nothing, with interesting results.)

The target audience for this ad – on the surface – is the innies: people who are not squeamish about blood or tampons, don’t mind insertion methods and would be more likely to consider swapping to a menstrual cup than pad users (although the ad briefly mentions pads at the end…on the off chance).

What it’s doing on another level, though, is sending a shout out to fans. With knowing puns and stereotypical send-ups of early-adopters, the jokes are inclusive and validate consumers’ brand loyalty and lifestyles. The video also provides a toolkit for encouraging others; the ad itself is a blueprint for increasing word of mouth advertising, complete with setting, arguments and strategies. Oh no…is it…

Is it 2CK? Is it 2PFPINAB (two personified femcare products in a bathroom)?

No. This could have mirrored the kind of print ad you saw fifty or sixty years ago: two ‘housewives’ in the kitchen worrying about how to stay ‘dainty’ for their husbands. But here, the viewers are not voyeurs, and this is not an overheard conversation – the camera angles cast us alternatively as the Tampon and the Mooncup.

It’s a very clever mash up of a reclaimed and reconstructed 2CK and a blatant product comparison ad. It’s well acted and directed, and the production values are high. Viewers aren’t patronised. We’re included.

Can advertising be ethical?

If you tell the truth about your product, use inclusive language, back up your stats, place adverts appropriately, and don’t use shame or patronise the intelligence of the viewer? Then… yeah. I mean…if we’re trying to build a better world and all that, I don’t think it’s too much to ask. Advertising may depict an alternative universe, but it shouldn’t be exempt from treating people with respect.

I contacted Kath Clements, who is Mooncup’s Campaigns and Marketing manager and the person who had sent the statistical data over as soon as I requested it. She was happy to answer all the questions I asked. I felt a bit spoilt – like I was monopolising her time. Obviously it’s in her interest if I spend time talking about and telling others about her company, but I really wanted to know about the marketing side, and she was really open about it. It made me think I could approach other femcare companies and see if they’d speak to me as well. Worst they can do is say no, right?

I asked her about the ethics of advertising. (As in, are there any? I mean…this ad seems so ethical! And funny! And not shaming! I’m not used to getting all three in one ad.)

She replied:

“When I started, my job description was that we don’t do push marketing. My role was getting editorial, facilitating word of mouth and education. It’s evolved. Maybe in order to be seen we need to ‘play the game’ but it still comes from the same place of trying to be conscious of what we do. We don’t want to make women feel bad; we want women to know that they have a choice.”

I also asked for a bit more info about those stats. The data comes predominantly from the AHPMA – the Absorbent Hygiene Products Manufacturing Association, which I didn’t know was a thing. AHPMA seems to regulate industry standards for absorption measures etc. using patented absorption measuring devices that are kind of a hoot.

I feel like this is secret information – like this level of transparency is something I shouldn’t be sharing. But actually, it makes me respect a company that appears to have a business strategy as ethical as its product.

In terms of promotion, I know that when corporations use viral ads, they’re usually not going viral spontaneously – they’re seeded by professionals who get the word out through traditional PR routes and get the hit numbers up. Don’t think flu. Think 12 Monkeys.

So it was back to Kath:

“Our last viral reached 380,000 views without any seeding. As with the Love Your Vagina song, the battle is gaining views naturally through shares by Mooncup users (Facebook, Twitter, blogs etc.) as well as viewers who just like (or don’t like!) the content choosing to share it. As before, as the concept’s groundbreaking, we’re also getting editorial coverage which is growing its reach. Beyond that, for the first time, we’re also using a company called 7th Chamber who are seeding it for us, and supporting its positioning across several sites. We’ll be doing MPUs on some mainstream websites, and putting them against content that’s a bit incongruent to make it stand out.”

I had to ask what MPUs meant – they’re multipurpose units – the square ads on websites. I assumed that kind of thing could break the bank, and asked her how much something like that was worth.

She couldn’t tell me all the figures, but said that seeding wasn’t that expensive when compared to other aspects like the film production and the usage costs (the actors will receive payments that are like set-fee royalties while the ad is online), and that it was all far, far cheaper than a television ad. If the femcare ads on television were produced with this aesthetic, though, we’d have a totally different discourse.

I had to ask her how she and the Mooncup team were able to make ethical choices. Like…what was it about them helped them to keep femcare stereotypes out of their marketing.

“We’re aware that advertising has the power to tap into people’s void and make people want to buy things they don’t need or make people uncomfortable. Our choices about what we commission are informed by the whole team of us, each keeping an eye to the impact that any of our advertising may have on the viewer. We work to make sure that what we create aligns with our ethics both as a business, and as individuals.”

Final Verdict:

Reusables have entered the ring as a marketable commercial alternative to tampons. A new standard has been set for shame-free advertising and now disposables need to keep up. Definitely period positive.

Stay tuned to the blog next week for Rap Battle analysis!

Cross-posted with permission from Adventures in Menstruating

  

2 Responses to “Shameless. Or, How To Make An Ethical Femcare Ad.”

  1. Laura Wershler says:

    Chella, I love the ad, and thank you for this in-depth analysis.

    What I’d really like to know is if any of the menstrual cup companies have yet been approached by any of the giant femcare product companies with a buy-out offer. I’m not suggesting this is a good thing, but it would indicate that the disposable product selling companies recognize the growing market for re-useable menstrual products and want in on the action.

    Also, I wonder if any of the paper product companies are working on developing their own proprietary re-useable product. They’d be fools not to be considering how to make money off the growing market for menstrual cups and re-useable pads.

    But of course what I’d like to see happen is ethical companies like Mooncup – that don’t buy into to the fear/shame/secrecy approach to menstruation – succeed in growing market share as more and more women eschew disposable femcare products and embrace open, honest attitudes about menstruation.

    Can’t wait for your Rap Battle analysis!

  2. Chella Quint says:

    Hi, Laura! Thanks! I’d like to know that too. Can’t hurt to ask, although I suppose it’s not something that’s in their best interest to reveal. I wish more companies were as transparent about their business model and advertising practices as Mooncup were with me. I suspect the first step if a disposable or paper-based company wanted to also market reusables would be to highlight the CONVENIENCE factor of disposables rather than the secret/discreet/invisible shtick. Then step two is differentiate between the two uses. Eg. grandma’s best china/paper plates. So there’s a clear reason for making a choice to use one or the other. Camping, comfort, at home/at work. Compare to pens that are disposable/refillable/cartridge, razors that are disposable/electric, rubbermaid does one use, a few use and permanent storage items – any femcare company could use the same marketing model and make disposables, menstrual cups and things like Instead which are sort of halfway between. Independent menstrual cup companies in fair competition with each other and with disposables would be fab. In the long run, an open and honest attitude to femcare has to consider ethical implications of using disposable products, but no more so than the ethical implications of using other disposables. It’s got to be about choice and not eco guilt/shame. Reusable pads, on the other hand…they need to come from clothing manufacturers. It’d be amazing to see people picking up reusable pads by like Fruit of the Loom or Hanes in the underwear aisle at Target or someplace. Rap Battle coming up on Tuesday. :D

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