Becoming a woman is hard. There's that whole awkward adolescence, then the long canyon of negotiating space—with men, in careers, with other women. It takes a while to know who you are, to figure out whether you like high heels or not, hair long or short, red lipstick or something less aggressive.
Are you less aggressive? Do you address problems or quietly wait them out? What does either position look like in the eyes of others? Are you interesting? Is it OK to want to be interesting and pretty? Do you have to smile when somebody asks you to?
It isn't a journey we'd impose on anybody.
And one of the biggest tests of everyday womanhood happens in public bathrooms, those social watering holes where grooming happens, decibels rise and packs form. The space is so small that you can't be ignored; you will be sized up. You time the length of your pee, even if no one else is listening. You follow conversation; whose voice is louder, who is dominating? Who gets the mirror, who's blocking the sink? And will you be tacitly accepted by the eyes you decide matter, in that eternal few minutes of relieving nature's call?
It's a little nothing, but it can mean a lot in the moment.
Secret introduces this very quandary in the latest installment of its #StressTest campaign from Wieden + Kennedy Portland. Women flood into a public bathroom, chatting amiably. It's a warm but sharply enviable space, full of pretty people who aren't questioning a word that comes out of their mouths—who aren't questioning themselves (even if they are, deep inside).
Meanwhile, in a dark stall, another woman panics. The cues are clear: She has probably always been a woman inside, but is just learning how to express that woman outside. She's in the negotiating-space portion of her transition. And it's deafeningly horrible.
After a deep breath, Dana exits her stall.
"Great dress," a voice says.
"It's really cute," says another.
Meanwhile, the words onscreen read, "Stress test #8260: Dana finds the courage to show there's no wrong way to be a woman."
As the ad wraps up, all the women watching collectively breathe out with our heroine.
"This ad was inspired by transgender women and a real-life moment which is stressful and challenging. This is one of many stories about women's stress we're proud to share," Janine Miletic, brand director of North America Deodorants at P&G, tells Adweek.
"Ladies' Room" has the unique quality of being both universally resonant among women, and timely, given the current political climate and all that hullabaloo about bathrooms and who gets to walk into which one.
"This spot was not intended to make any political statement or to support or oppose any specific legislation," Miletic clarifies. "We're nonpartisan and not affiliated with any political party. 'Stress-Tested for Women' builds on Secret's rich history of supporting all women who show courage in redefining feminine strength."
Per Miletic, Secret's objective has always been to support "confident, modern women" in its advertising. "The campaign highlights a variety of stressful situations that are culturally relevant, and how women face those challenges with courage every day," she says. "This spot is another story that we are telling through that lens. Secret knows it takes guts to redefine cultural norms, and proudly supports all women's efforts—big or small—to take life and stress head on."
At the end of the ad, Secret promises "2x better sweat protection" for when your glands become your enemies. We like the campaign because, instead of focusing on obviously sweaty moments—the classic "day at the gym"—the brand takes on situations unique to its target, small acts of bravery that take more out of us than the other sex can easily understand. To wit: Foregoing a more typical "job interview" scenario, Secret previously pounced on that touchy request for an overdue raise.
Dana's story follows in this path, and she's sure to resonate with the women in transition whose quiet everyday benchmarks haven't often been represented—much less this kindly.
Client: Secret (P&G)
Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.