Seeing Red – the Problem with Period ads

“I was ten years old. I had noticed something was weird earlier in the day but I knew from commercials that one’s menstrual period was a blue liquid that you poured like laundry detergent onto maxi pads to test their absorbency. This wasn’t blue so…I ignored it for a few hours.”

–  Tina Fey, Bossypants

My mother used to be an OB/GYN, so I learned early about menstruation, in graphic detail. Not only did she talk about it all the time, but she drew pictures of each stage for me too. In retrospect, I am glad she forced the issue because I would probably have been too embarrassed to ask. If I had relied on ads to direct me, I would have been incredibly confused.

So periods started in 2000?


The word “period” in this context wasn’t even used until 2000.  This Always ad was the first ad to even show the color red – in 2005.  According to creator, Willy Chyr, he “quickly learned that one of the most frustrating aspects of femcare ads is that they all make such a big ordeal out of having one’s period. It’s not enough that they act like they’re selling a lifestyle, they have to try to be your best friend as well.”

While white spandex will never be a part of my lifestyle, I understand. The ads assume women make a big deal out of their periods, and go overboard to calm them down by distracting them with beaches, flowers, and twirling. They seem to say “You can be feminine without worrying about all that gross stuff that marks you as a woman.”

But a period isn’t an exclamation point. Women usually deal with them twelve times a year, for maybe 40 years. Can they be annoying? Sure. Do we want people to know when we are on them? Well, not without our permission. But we can talk about them without shame. We may even ask friends if they are on their period to see if we are synced up.

It is easy to blame the ads for hiding the messiness of periods with cliches and euphemisms, but networks may reject ads for being too frank. When you can’t even say “down there”, how can you talk about what’s happening down there?


Period tropes

JWT Communications opened the door to talking about periods frankly.

Kotex brand manager Aida Flick told Popeater,
“We just felt like, ‘Well, we’re gonna try and be truthful and transparent. With this generation, we know humor is big and so we thought, sometimes actually laughing at yourself is a good place to start.’”

The Kotex commercial makes fun of menstruation cliches, and even includes clips from former Kotex ads. The viewer is directed to the Kotex website, where you are allowed to talk about periods and body parts. The Declaration of Real Talk states  “Yeah, I have a period. And a vagina, not a va-jay-jay. It’s what makes me a woman. But society and the media aren’t being straight with me.”

Bodyform stops the lies

If women were confused about periods, then how were men going to deal with them? In a snarky facebook post, Richard Neill asked Bodyform why they deceived him into thinking that women on their periods were adventure loving embodiments of joy.

Bodyform cleverly responded with this ad, informing him that they lied in an effort to shield him from the hideous, awful truth.

According to adweek, “Yulia Kretova, brand controller for Bodyform said in a statement: ‘We found Richard’s post very amusing and wanted to continue the positive dialogue around periods that this generated. Working with the brand for five years, breaking down the taboo around Bodyform and periods has always been a challenge, and I hope that we have started to address this.’”

Camp Gyno care packages


As puberty hits girls earlier and earlier, being truthful about periods is even more important. Hello Flo, a monthly menstruation delivery service, addresses this issue in this ad, Camp Gyno.

Naama Bloom, the founder of Hello Flo, told “I want to use this business to create a locus of girls and women being empowered, owning themselves, having lots of information.”

I found the ad to be pretty amusing and liked the way the girl educated the others before spiraling out of control. I also liked how it showed how confusing these products can be. However, some found the style and language to be infantilizing. Why are candy and chocolate included in the packages? Why didn’t they just emphasize the convenience?

After years of using euphemisms to disguise a period, maybe we’ll see an ad that doesn’t need humor to do it either.

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