Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

‘Well, there is plenty of blood, but none of it’s bad’

September 1st, 2014 by Elizabeth Kissling

re-blogging re:Cycling

In celebration of our fifth anniversary, we are republishing some of our favorite posts. This post by Elizabeth Kissling originally appeared September 29, 2009.

Apropos of Chris’ most recent post, the video of Serena Williams’ new ad for Tampax just popped up in my RSS feed. You can check it out at right.

I’m so torn on this. I’m pretty certain that this is the First. Time. Ever. that the word “blood” has been used in an ad for menstrual products. Do you know what a huge step forward for body acceptance and menstrual literacy that is? When I was growing up in the 1970s, pads were advertised by showing how well they absorbed BLUE fluid. (So were diapers, by the way.) Kotex was the first company to use the color red and the word “period” in ad campaign less than ten years ago. So there is a part of me that is delighted when Catherine Lloyd Burns, playing Mother Nature, smiles slyly and says, “Well, there is plenty of blood, but none of it’s bad”.

I also enjoy seeing a powerful woman say that she isn’t afraid of menstruation, and shown succeeding athletically while menstruating. Kinda reminds me of when Uta Pippig won the Boston Marathon while menstruating.

But the core message and most troubling element of this entire “Mother Nature” campaign is the idea that menstruation is the gift nobody wants. Can’t P&G (and Kotex, and every other femcare advertiser) just promote the damn products without promoting shame and body hatred? Women will buy menstrual products without being told that periods should make them feel “not so fresh”. In fact, the ads might be more compelling if they emphasized the absorbency of the product and treated menstruation as a fact of life, rather than a secret disaster. Just spare us the blue fluid, please.

Don’t Go In The Russian Ocean

June 20th, 2013 by David Linton

If an argument still needs to be made that cultural attitudes toward the menstrual cycle vary tremendously from place to place, despite the biological universality of the phenomenon, perhaps the clearest source of proof lies in variations in advertising practices. For instance, consider a recent TV ad from Russia. (WARNING: Viewing of the ad might not be suitable for all audiences due to its depiction of extreme violence.)

The ad employs several of the oldest tropes in menstrual product marketing and then mixes in a piece of menstrual folk lore (an old husbands’ tale?) with a new spin. Two women, one dark haired in a black swimsuit and one a blond in a white suit, are seen in conventionally glamorous poses as they enter the sea to the strains of a romantic Hollywood orchestral sound track for a refreshing dip at a beautiful beach. They begin to swim, about 50 yards apart from each other. Suddenly, a huge shark surfaces under the woman in the black suit, taking her in its jaws as she screams. Parts of her body fall off before the shark hits the water with her in its mouth and disappears. Meanwhile, the woman in white calmly stays in the same place untroubled by any fear as the product name and tag line appears on the right side of the screen above her: “Tampax: Now Leak-proof.” The words are also spoken aloud by a male voice-over.

Now we see the references to swimming and wearing white as little ironic commentaries on the clichés of menstrual product advertising and learn that those matters are trivial compared to the real worry menstruating women must deal with: attracting sharks! (Perhaps there will be a sequel featuring bears.) Unfortunately, though the woman in black had taken a necessary precaution in her choice of swimsuit color, she made the mistake of choosing an inferior menstrual product that made her vulnerable to shark attraction. Apparently the shark myth is trans-cultural.

The ad takes an additional shot at destabilizing menstrual protocols by employing a tough-sounding male announcer to do the tag line, a role customarily reserved for women.

From an American perspective the first thought is that this never could have been used in a campaign in the U.S. However, it is hard to pin down just why. Like the famous “Beaver” ad from Australia, this piece, despite its tongue-in-cheek mockery, is too blatant. By comparison, American ads, particularly for conventional pads and tampons, nearly always have a coy tone, a wink and a nudge, that suggests that, despite our self-celebrated frankness and claims of liberation from shame and embarrassment, we still harbor lots of deep-seated, good old fashioned prudery.

The real question is, will an ad like this sell the product? Surely shark phobia is not so wide spread in Russia, a country with few shark-infested waters, that women will opt for this additional selling point. No, this ad is typical of the post-modern approach that sets out to shock or entertain the viewer rather than tout the merits of the product. The desired response is to create so much buzz that viewers will say to friends or to companions ignoring the screen, “Hey, did you see that Tampax ad where the shark eats the woman?” Advertisers these days are increasingly in the business of meme creation.

And in a country that has enthusiastically embraced the shark-attack aspects of consumer capitalism, this ad just might be a fitting metaphor.

This brings us to the dark side of the ad. Its violence against women is appalling. Sure, it’s meant to be quirky and transgressive and to mock some of the worn out images that have dominated menstrual product advertising for decades, but while doing so it offers up an image of a woman being torn apart followed by a macho male voice implying that if the stupid victim had only had the good sense to buy the product that he was advocating this unfortunate fate would not have befallen her. Will women never learn?

(Thanks to Karina Billini for alerting me to his one.)

Early German Menstrual TV Advertising

February 26th, 2013 by David Linton

It is axiomatic that advertising commonly reflects and reinforces social values. At other times, by introducing new products or new perspectives on existing products, advertising serves as an agent of social change. Nowhere are these two phenomena more evident than in ads for menstrual products.

On one hand, when ads tell consumers that a particular device will guarantee secrecy or the avoidance of embarrassment, they perpetuate the shame factor that is deeply embedded in the social construction of menstruation. But on the other hand, when ads promise greater freedom of movement and social engagement, they make a contribution to undermining the notion that the period is a physically and socially debilitating event.

It is especially interesting to observe these processes at work in the context of varied social and historical settings. Though the menstrual cycle is a biological universal, its cultural significance is as mutable as any other human condition. For instance, consider the attached TV ad for Tampax, which is the first ad for a menstrual product to appear on German television.

Before we even know what the product is we learn that it has to do with some sort of perfection. Against a black screen the following words appear:

Stets Makellos. . . (Always Impeccable)
Freiheit in Sauberkeit (Freedom via Cleanliness)

Three brief vignettes follow set in countries that only a decade before were mortal enemies and are now depicted as role models for modern women. In the U.S. we see that modern women work in an office and that there’s a peculiar new word that has something to do with relieving work pressure: “Tampax.” Next, we visit a jazz club in Paris where sophisticated women also share the secret magical word that seems to make it possible for them to hang out in nightclubs. It’s some kind of password or incantation. Then we hit the beach in Italy, which was at the time this ad was created in the mid-1950s, was becoming a favorite destination for German tourists. Again the magic word, “Tampax,” has something to do with the fact that these attractive young women in their two-piece bathing suits can frolic in the surf.

Finally, we are told, “And now also in Germany,” accompanied by an image of a damaged Brandenburg Gate and two other German landmarks, and we get to see the product and find out what it is. By now the product is nearly a magic wand which, when waved while whispering the secret word “Tampax,” can result in an easier work day, fun evenings of dancing, and worry-free days at the beach. But while those are the characteristics of American, French, and Italian women’s lives due to Tampax, German women, if they adopt this “world brand, with applicator,” are promised “perfection of female hygiene.” And to drive the point home, a stern looking woman dressed in what looks like a nurse’s uniform, assures the women gathered around her and watching at home on television that if they use Tampax to manage their periods they will be, “Safe and Clean.”

There are many striking things about this ad, not the least of which is the stereotypical view of German concern for cleanliness which, in this case, takes precedence over the hedonism of those French and Italian women — although American women are depicted as hard workers (note the way the office worker assaults her typewriter). And note the specific reference to the fact that Tampax uses an applicator. The chief competition for Tampax in Germany was the o.b. tampon which was invented in 1947 and does not use an applicator. At the time the marketers of Tampax believed that German women would respond to the same appeal to fastidiousness that American women exhibited in their desire to avoid touching themselves too intimately. However, o.b. did become the German tampon of choice, far outselling the American competitor. Though the woman at the end of the ad is costumed like a nurse, the appeal to hygiene and hospital sterility did not tip the scale in favor of Tampax.

About thirty years later a reversal of this tampon competition occurred when the owners of the o.b. brand tried to take on the American market by promoting the superiority of using a tampon without an applicator. That campaign also failed, though its story reveals more nuances regarding the ever-evolving role of menstrual perspectives across cultures. A future post will delve into that chapter of menstrual history.

Cosmo’s Menstrual Politics

August 14th, 2012 by David Linton

Saniya Ghanoui and David Linton

How peculiar are the sexual politics of Cosmopolitan magazine?!?! We previously noted the editorial avoidance of menstrual sex, but let’s take a look at their most recent ride on the menstrual cycle.

On one hand, Cosmo aspires to liberate women from sexual repression into a world of ever better orgasms and perpetual youth and beauty. On the other hand, it ceaselessly stokes anxiety and insecurity with its constant twin emphasis on pleasing “him” and urging the purchase of the latest Big Thing. Occasionally, in an effort to demonstrate concern for women’s health there appears a reference to some aspect of the menstrual cycle.

The most recent example occurs in the June 2012 issue whose cover, under a hot photo of the rock star Pink, announces that inside you can learn, “Why your Period Makes You Cra-a-zy”. Off the bat, the cover recirculates the tired notion that the period is responsible for some kind of transformation, turning a woman into a crazy person. The use of an extra “a” emphasizes the word in a way that enhances its meaning, thus the period causes almost an abnormal form of craziness. There’s also a lovely irony to this cover. Pink is dressed in a vibrant solid-red dress that counters her pale skin and hair. She pulls up one side of outfit as she claws her dress and her expression is meant to show a “tough girl” side to her personality. It’s as if the cover alludes to notions of craziness, as caused by the period, via the image of Pink.

The article does seem to contain practical advice for those who experience some level of discomfort prior to getting their period. The five suggestions include topics such as diet, exercise, orgasms, coffee, and laughter. Unfortunately, embedded in the nuggets of advice one finds relentless reinforcements of age-old prejudices, stereotypes, and negative perspectives. Even the opening page, which sets up the piece, is titled “Beat the PMS Brain Haze” and shows a woman whose head is slightly out of focus and fading into a cloud. In case you miss the point, a sentence beside her head states, “It’s hard to function when your head is in the clouds”. In larger type under the title the message is reinforced, “It’s when you feel so foggy, you can barely choose between a lemon and a lime for your diet soda”.

The next two pages of suggestions comprise a litany of ways to cope with the “annoying symptom”, “hormonal cloud”, “haze”, and “PMS coma” that leave women “easily overwhelmed, stressed out, forgetful and indecisive”, Women are told to “cancel everything that’s optional”, “snack on yummy oatmeal” to “make up for the PMS brain drain”, “ask your guy to rub your back”, and have “a dose of caffeine”.

As published in June 2012 issue of Cosmopolitan

What is obvious about the article and the tips that are meant to keep women “sane”, insinuating that one may be insane while PMSing, is the way in which each bit of advice is meant to fix some frustrating characteristic that is either caused or heightened by PMS. Thus, the message is that women have an extra hindrance they must overcome in order to have a peaceful week leading up to their period. In order to solve the problem Cosmo advises some simple changes, such as having a cup of coffee, to more radical ones like changing or canceling items on your schedule. What the latter puts forward is the idea that PMS is such a hindrance that one must change one’s weekly agenda in order to function normally. While it is true that some may have discomfort during PMS and desire extra time to relax, to completely cancel or modify a weekly schedule suggests a level of wealth or leisure that is in the realm of fantasy.

Despite the appearance that the article is simply a pleasant set of suggestions, it turns out that the three pages are actually a lead into a fourth page on the right side so the connection can’t be missed, consisting of the latest ad for Tampax Radiant tampons. In design and placement the ad blends perfectly with the article so as to flow, as it were, directly from the pre-menstrual days into the period itself with Tampax waiting there to fill the need.

There has been a lot written in recent years about the blurring of lines between editorial content and advertising but the only blurring in this case is the unintentional design of the first page of the piece which is purposely shot out of focus to visually illustrate how women must feel as their hormones debilitate them.

Furthermore, the ad purposely counters all the frustrations exhibited in the previous three pages. The ad promotes the “invisible” period, thanks to this specific tampon, that has “leakguard technology” and a “discreet resealable wrapper.” All of these characteristics are meant to ease irritations associated with the period. And why wouldn’t a woman want to have her aggravations eliminated, especially after reading three pages of problems associated with PMS? It seems the message is that since there isn’t a menstrual product (outside of drugs) that can ease PMS, at least the period can be eased by this tampon.

All Wrapped Up

February 20th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Saniya Ghanoui

Photo by Jennifer Gaillard // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I always felt that airline travel involves building many short-lasting friendships where people bond over delayed flights, weather problems and luggage issues. Recently I was traveling and had to make a connection in the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport. I was using the restroom and I could hear the lady in the stall next to me change her sanitary napkin. She dropped the plastic wrapping from the new pad and it floated into my stall. Without hesitation, I picked up the wrapper and disposed of it. We both exited our stalls around the same time and as we approached the sinks she turned to me and said quickly but firmly, “Thank you so much for doing that.” I was a bit taken aback but responded “Oh, no problem,” we washed our hands and we bid each other farewell as we left the restroom.

The reason I was taken aback was because I felt she had nothing to thank me for. I simply picked up a piece of wrapping and threw it away. However, the serious tone of her voice told me that she was grateful for what I did. Perhaps it saved her what she deemed the embarrassment of picking it up herself? Or maybe she was just thanking me for a kind gesture. It wasn’t as if I gave her something (like a pad or tampon) that she could thank me for and the act in no way inconvenienced me. I wonder if she would have felt inclined to thank me if she had dropped a candy wrapper or tissue instead.

While there has always been this overall social need to conceal the period, it seems lately that there has been a surge in the desire to conceal menstrual products. Procter and Gamble has a site, Being Girl, that gives the Dos and Don’ts of tampon usage, including practicing at home to “see how quiet you can be when making a quick change.” And silence is one aspect that P&G tends to advertise, especially with its Tampax Pearl product. The wrapper becomes a selling point for Tampax Pearl because of its quiet and easy-to-open tabs that allow for utmost discretion.

I’m sure most re:Cycling readers have seen the U by Kotex line of menstrual products. This line is aimed at a younger crowd, the website has a section for tweens, and takes the idea of concealing in a different direction. Instead of making the products discreet and quiet the company advertises “hot new colors and wrappers.” However, changing the color or design of a tampon wrapper is still missing the point and is just as damaging as advertising products with quiet wrappers. The period is still being hidden. If a woman drops a bright green tampon wrapper on the floor is she now going to be less embarrassed because of the color? It doesn’t matter if the wrapper is white, pastel or a bright color, she shouldn’t be embarrassed at all. That is what needs to change — the embarrassment factor women have about their periods, not the colors of the products used.

Advertise Your Period Dot Com

February 15th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Today, in vintage femcare advertising, we bring you Tampax’s idea of menstrual shaming, 1990s style:

 

But Tampax doesn’t understand menstruation as well as they think they do. Sure, it might be a little tiresome to have a Mariachi band follow you around everywhere for most of a week, but as I’ve indicated before, I love the idea of a musical celebration of my monthly miracle.

Tampon Wars

August 12th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

Remember back in February when I made fun of Tampax for explicitly comparing their Tampax Pearl to U by Kotex in their newest print ads? Such direct comparison to the competitor’s product is not a trendy marketing strategy; it hearkens back to the days when Darrin Stephens was a copywriter. (You young-uns can look up that reference.)

I wasn’t the only one who noticed: a recent article in Ad Age says the “30% better protection” strategy has not been used in femcare marketing since Rely tampons were withdrawn from the market in 1980. Not coincidentally, that was the last time Tampax picked up significant market share — a lot of those former Rely users switched to Tampax (Tampax was not owned by P&G at the time, but Rely was).

With the U by Kotex brand apparently winning new customers as well as winning others away from Tampax, how successful will “30% better protection” be as a persuasive strategy? Jack Neff (author of the Ad Age piece) points out that it’s pretty challenging “in a category where absorbency has been tightly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the wake of the Rely withdrawal.”

Advertising Wars: Tampax vs. Kotex

February 22nd, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

It looks like Kotex is winning. Explicit comparison to the competitor’s product is an advertising strategy of 30-40 years ago. Under the new rules, the competitor’s product doesn’t even exist, and certainly isn’t deserving of mention in a promotion for your own.

Tampax02-2011

This ad for Tampax appeared in the March, 2011, issue of Marie Claire


Vintage FemCare Advertising

January 20th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

In my visual communication class this week, I used several femcare ads (along with a couple of cell phone commercials and other images) to illustrate Althusser’s concept of interpellation. My students got more of a lesson than they bargained for, as I ended up also talking a little about the history of advertising for femcare products. I mentioned but did not show this historically significant ad, notable to my students for the appearance of pre-Friends Courtney Cox, but more important because it was the first time the word “period” was uttered on television in a menstrual product ad.

It aired in 1985.

Dam Tampax

October 8th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

One of my students just sent me this. I don’t think it’s recent — and it may even be a fake — but I’d never seen it before.

I like it, even though the liquid is blue.


dam_tampax

Paper Covers Period

September 22nd, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Poor Mother Nature. Defeated again.

In saying “Paper wins”, do you think this ad is intended to criticize cloth pads and menstrual cups?


Ad for Tampax Pearl

Magazine ad for Tampax Pearl, October 2010

Introducing . . . Max le Tampax

May 17th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Apparently Max le Tampax is all stressed out about heading off to the Tampon Academy, where he’ll learn all about freshness and vaginal awareness and how to be empowerful to women.


Something like that, anyway. I don’t speak French, so I’d welcome a translation of this ad for a new Tampax product introduced in France.

[via The Frisky]

Readers should note that statements published in re: Cycling are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Society as a whole.