Guest Post by Chella Quint, Adventures in Menstruating
Here it is again:
I watched it, I enjoyed it, I shared it, but I couldn’t ignore this other blog post title forming in my head after the first viewing:
“OMG! They’ve used an educational rap!” say several slam poets and rap battlers (including a statistically small number of female rap battlers) at once as they collectively facepalm.
Yeah, so, there’s that. A number of readers will know I perform regularly on the spoken word scene and I’m on my university’s slam team. Lately, there’s been a little more slam/battle crossover in the spoken word universe, so I thought I’d check in with a few pals for some peer review. They’ve each agreed to weigh in below on their impressions of the video’s effectiveness from a wordsmith’s perspective.
Sticking with the marketing point of view though, cultural appropriation of rap for commercial purposes is such an old trope that it’s more status quo than newsworthy. In fact, in this particular advert, I really think that the usual criticism is mostly offset by the genuine use of rap as protest against disposables.
Interesting as it might be to me, I know that the femcare industry and most consumers don’t need to read a peer review of the authenticity of the rap battle. I had a hunch that Mooncup’s choice to adhere to some of the conventions of the genre has actually helped them get the message across more effectively (and certainly more effectively than more typical #OMGRAP ads currently making the rounds).
I don’t think it’s a gratuitous use of rap. I think it’s a well observed and effective pastiche.
When I got in touch with Mooncup last week to get the stats for last Friday’s post, I also checked out the origin story for the rap battle. Kath Clements, their Campaigns and Marketing manager, was happy to share their process:
“It was a real collaborative effort between Mooncup and [the ad agency] St. Luke’s. We needed a device for positioning a debate and a conceptual framework – we put it in our natural habitat which is the toilet! We were aware we were appropriating a thing with cultural connotations, so we tried to do it with finesse.”
I asked her about how it was written, and she told me that St. Luke’s worked with a producer who battles in his free time, and liked the concept enough to help them out and write it pro bono. He also coached the actors who play Tampon (who has actually rapped before in her own right) and MCUK (I just got that joke), who appeared in Mooncup’s last viral ad campaign.
With that insight, it looked to me like I could analyse the battle in good conscience. See, I really like the wordplay, puns and syncopation of classic freestyling, and my twelve-year-old self delightedly and ignorantly partook in gentle games of The Dozens with my middle school pals. The casual sexism and homophobia that I’ve witnessed on the current battle scene puts me off, though. I valued this ad’s depiction of women in a rap battle scenario. So I wanted to check out my theory that the quality of the pastiche and the rhyme are part of the payoff for this ad.
The first bit of commentary comes from Harry Baker, who’s been on Don’t Flop but who also raps about maths and slams about dinosaurs, both of which are more my speed.
“I think it’s almost too obvious that it’s made up of key statistics made to rhyme, but I guess that is the point of the advert. Things like the ‘no strings attached’ line would get a reaction from a crowd probably. So first reaction is ‘eye roll’ + ‘rap to get down with the kids’ but the rhyme/hook is there. For me I’m fine with it being a rap battle between two women, and it makes sense as a way of A vs B advert information, but the rhymes themselves aren’t really good enough to get away with it, or do the genre justice – I guess it’s good they want to use the format in mainstream media (pastiche is a great word) but what I would watch for/do in a rap battle is the intricate word play and rhyme schemes which I feel this lacks!”
Next up was Paula Varjack, originator and host of the Anti-Slam:
“Cheesy rap as an advertising device has been in effect since the eighties. I think the device only works if the rhymes are very clever or funny or both. Like a bad slam poem this doesn’t totally work as its more didactic than clever, and definitely not funny enough. I’m not sure I would have watched to end unless you asked me, and it’s only a minute and a half long. But as advertising for menstrual products go, it’s nice to not have abstract scenes of tennis playing and the like and I did actually glean info about Mooncups. Also I give them a couple points for rhyming mental with lentil.”
So the first two responses swung more toward the #OMGRAP side of the cringe-o-meter.
I spoke next to Kate Garrett, my captain on the Sheffield Hallam University slam team.
“Wow – first impression is, yes a bit cheesy as many ads are, but it’s also wicked cool and far more clever than most. I enjoyed that. In the case of women selling femcare, I think that’s a good device and empowering, that side of it isn’t cheesy – I just find most ads cheesy because they’re ads. Also as the Tampon Crew started the rap battle, it’s showing how those companies are quietly bullying us all into using what’s already widely known, and trying to bully other options out of the market by going, ‘ew weird reusable femcare omg go away’. So if anyone wakes up to that, the ad’s done a great service. Mooncup had good rhymes, and great lines ‘we only collect from the menstrual flow’ and ending the ad with ‘no strings attached’ – love both of those, great wordplay (I like ‘flow’ because a rap is someone’s ‘flow’ as is the intended meaning in this context, and obviously strings/tampons – excellent …)!
“Nothing particularly jumped out as a bad rhyme, it scans well and seems to work, however, I’d say they shouldn’t use the phrase ‘it’s making me mental’ just to rhyme with ‘lentils’. There are other words and other rhymes more suitable. In an advert empowering women to make informed choices, which is refreshingly free from the usual sexist stuff, it’s probably better not to use any ablist language either. Then again, the phrase came from Tampon Crew, among several insults, so I guess they could’ve been making a complicated point about tampon companies being bullies by giving them certain language? I’m not sure now. Could’ve been lazy writing, could’ve been super clever subtext.
“Anyway. I also loved that Mooncup were honest about loving the earth in the face of being called tree-hugging hippies and whatever else. The Mooncup Crew clearly don’t care what people think in this rap battle, which is ace. In a rap battle, if the other person can’t insult you, you win! I prefer this ad over other femcare ads. I actually started mentally blocking ads for tampons and sanitary towels years ago, but this ad is totally honest, clever and genuine – it uses words like “menstrual” which I’m not sure I’ve even heard in an ad for tampons!”
Regarding mental/lentils: In real life, the intersectionality of oppression means avoiding the word ‘mental’ to challenge mental health stigmas at the same time as challenging the menstrual ones. Examining all of Tampon’s lines, though, I think Kate may be right about the super clever subtext.
Throughout the rap, here’s what Tampon is says about herself:
- She is criminally dismissive of outer space
- She has no qualms about repeated name calling and putdowns
- She uses the phrase tree hugging hippies, so she stereotypes people
- She does not believe in global warming and equates it with herbal remedies (which, David McCandless style, can go both ways).
- She uses the word mental when describing her own escalating emotional state after considering the implications of reusable femcare gaining in popularirty and stubbing her out once and for all.
This is a clever way of alienating Tampon from the audience, it’s a little bit Brechtian, and works in Mooncup’s favour. Kate’s right: In rap battles, blatantly ignoring a dis and coming back with a better one is in keeping with the genre. But maybe next time they could try to find another rhyme or have Mooncup use counterspeech to call her on it within the ad. After all, most people watch viral videos and move on – there’s not a lot of time for deeper analysis.
To round off all that food for thought, I asked the University of Sheffield’s slam team captain, for balance. He’s a good guy, when we’re not in direct competition on stage. He thought the battle format was essential for allowing a reusables company to challenge the disposable femcare industry. Here’s Jack Mann, captain of Dead Beats Poetry Society:
“Rap as a medium for advertising always seems cheesy, however I didn’t know about Mooncups, and so I followed the link to see what they were. As such, the ‘cheese’ was necessary for awareness and, in such an ephemeral zone as online media, worked exactly to spark intrigue. It’s a parody, soI knows that it isn’t to be taken seriously as a medium, however as a poem in that sense is spot on ! it pits them as equals, as if that’s assumed.”
I point out that the Tampon and the Mooncup don’t have equal time – that after the first round, Mooncup actually has two extra lines per round to make its point and subtly influence the viewer: not only do Tampon’s excuses seem shorter and whinier, but Mooncup grows more articulate as each round continues.
Back to Jack:
“Because [Mooncup] want to usurp the grip of the tampon without seeming like upstarts, the only way to do that is to forget that they aren’t on the same level and then use the language behind the established leader to assert that the tampon is not just (relatively) silly but no longer on the same level. In a live battle she would potentially be scored down for exceeding the time limit, but because of crowd reaction would invariably score higher – same as with slams – if a poet pleases the crowd, the crowd then usually influences the judges who then want to please the crowd also.”
These guys all took my questions seriously, scored the Mooncup rap as if there were weighing in after a battle or judging a slam, and answered my slightly tongue-in-cheek queries about the battle rules honestly. It looked overall, whether they thought the rhymes were cheesy or not, that this worked.
I asked Erica Mitchell Packington, social media tech consultant and Chair of Sheffield Steel Rollergirls why it works.
“I think it’s clever, funny, the rhythms work and its factual as well as being kind of kitch and knowing. I guess if I was properly going critique it, I’d recognise the ‘cat fight in the toilets’ thing, but it comes across more strongly as a rap battle that situates the choice in the place that it’ll be enacted and the Mooncup character role models ignoring insults and using stats to fight back against bullying.
“If people don’t know what a Mooncup is, it might prompt them to look them up. I love the way they deal with the whole hippie aspect of it. It’s ridiculous, but I felt a bit sorry for the tampon woman at the end. But rap battles are battles and someone has to lose, I suppose. Might have been better if the victory was softened by her taking a Mooncup or something, but I doubt that fits with the practice of rap battles!
“From a social media perspective, they have really tried to honour the conventions of the rap battle. In the past, advertisers might have been able to get away with a vague approximation of an art form or subculture, but now it’s much easier for the audience to check. The access to the ‘real’ (or at least the real that is shared) means marketers have to quite finely balance the tone.”
Details in this ad are very well observed, and the tongue-in-cheek nod to rap battle as product showdown, despite the initial cringe-factor, is satisfyingly executed. So? Does the battle complement Mooncup’s game plan?
Harry summed it up well:
“On the whole I like the ad because it gets its message across without insulting women, which is a lot more than you can say for many femcare ads and many rap battles.”