"I need a favor," announces an attractive young woman in front of a drugstore on a New York street. Holding on to her bike, she peppers strangers, mostly men, with a request about as far from "Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?" as a bicycle is from a Rolls-Royce. Or Mars is from Venus.
"I don't have a lock for my bike," she says, "and I was wondering if you could just run in and buy me some tampons?"
It's not your everyday proposition. But as a social experiment—filmed from across the street with hidden cameras by JWT on behalf of U by Kotex, a happenin' new tampon brand—it's quite revealing.
First of all, it was conducted in the West Village, one of the most liberal, free-range neighborhoods in the country. Yet from the responses, you'd think this cute actress was asking people to handle nuclear waste.
The answers range from a flat-out, red-faced "No!" to offers to hold her bike, to apologies from guys who say they just don't know anything about that "stuff." One dude asks if he could buy her toilet paper—apparently equally useful and a lot less embarrassing to ask for. Oddly, a few women also refuse to help.
After showing several cuts of these scenes, the spot ends with the line, "Why are tampons such a big deal?"
It's a great question, and one asked, in various ways, throughout this breakthrough campaign for the progressively designed Kimberly-Clark brand, which comes in a black box splashed with color.
It's interesting that in our hyper-sexualized, girls-gone-wild culture, where characters on sitcoms like Two and a Half Men joke about "nailing" women and commercials airing during the family hour regularly mention four-hour erections, there's still one backwater of weird prudery: the subject of menstruation and the vaginal healthcare that goes with it.
Unlike E.D., this is a normal process for half the world's population. And with girls hitting puberty younger than ever, there's a greater need for education and de-stigmatization. (A study commissioned by K-C revealed there is much embarrassment, shame and fear around the issue for young girls.)
Fourteen years after Eve Ensler's famous monologues challenged the term's squeamishness factor, the still-active censorship on TV of the word vagina is almost comical. One JWT spot poked fun at this with an announcer joking, "We can't use the word that rhymes with a serious medical condition known as angina." No one will air it.
(Even the Tampax Pearl ads, a step in the right direction, portray a tongue-in-cheek Mother Nature who delivers a euphemistic red-boxed monthly "gift.")
The two previous JWT spots in the series deconstructed the idea of tampon ads themselves. One asked, "Why are tampon ads so obnoxious?" The other asked why they're so "ridiculous." And kudos to K-C for not sparing itself: Some of the absurd clips in its ad "Apology"—women releasing butterflies, twirling on the beach—came from old Kotex spots.
For decades, women wearing white and riding horses have been the mainstays in the sanitary-pad landscape, and in "Apology" JWT gently mocks this with the right combination of intelligence and sarcasm. It opens on a young woman in her artfully cluttered apartment. "How do I feel about my period?" she asks. "I love it. ... It makes me feel really pure." (This is where the butterfly shot comes in.) "Usually, by the third day, I really just want to dance!"
The awful blue liquid used to show absorbency in diaper commercials is also scorned. "The ads on TV are really helpful because they use that blue liquid, and I'm like, 'Oh, that's what's supposed to happen!'" the woman adds.
The other spot, "So Obnoxious," equally clever and breakthrough, is aimed at the college crowd, which can deconstruct ads as fast as it texts. Kelly Diaz, a 27-year-old former JWT intern who stars in the spot, helped create it. "Hi!" she says, "I'm a believably attractive 18- to 24-year-old female. You can relate to me because I'm racially ambiguous." She walks through white rooms clad in white, saying stuff like, "Buy the same tampons I use because I'm wearing white pants and I have good hair, and you wish you could be me."
The spot follows the usual problem/ solution setup, except here the solution is the new, goth-version U by Kotex, the packaging of which looks like a pack of Stride gum crossed with a neon-colored condom box. The tagline is: "Break the cycle." (UbyKotex.com
, created by Organic, is an excellent source of both entertainment and the kind of information you can't show on TV.)
"Finally, one campaign that doesn't make girls look idiotic" was one of the comments posted on the Web site. Agreed. It's totally refreshing and serves to remind us how ridiculously retrograde all the previous tampon advertising has been.
The work not only passes muster; it sets a new bar for truth and humor.