The Straight Talk Menstruation Ad That’s Causing Quite a Stir

Mayor Bloomberg, TV networks are a little uneasy

Prime-time TV shows like 2 Broke Girls have become far more comfortable using anatomically correct terms for female body parts. But if you think such straight talk is loosening the restrictions on network speech, think again. Making vagina jokes in sitcoms is one thing, but addressing vaginal health in commercials that advertise in those shows, well, that’s just tolerated.

Feminine protection has always been a sensitive topic to handle in advertising, often reliant on euphemism and absurd imagery of women. At its launch three years ago, U by Kotex consciously parodied those ads. And in a new campaign, the brand pushes the boundaries even further.

In the no-holds-barred “Generation Know” pitch, the Kimberly-Clark brand employs TV and online documentaries featuring real young women, doctors and moms talking about the myths surrounding periods. Yes, you can go swimming. No, bears won’t maul you if you’re camping. That was the easy part.

“It wasn’t a battle to sell the idea to the client. It was more of a battle to produce it and get the campaign on air,” said Vicki Azarian, group creative director at Kotex agency Ogilvy. “How do you break through to the consumer if you can’t break through to the media?”

The networks all requested the spots get reworked to avoid use of the word vagina. One of the myths the campaign seeks to dispel is the fear that tampons will get lost inside of users, an idea deemed to be too visually provocative for consumers in the networks’ minds. (Never mind that erectile dysfunction TV ads are allowed to mention side effects like eight-hour erections.)

Reps for ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox either did not return calls to Adweek or declined comment. Ogilvy even had trouble initially securing a permit to film in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park. The agency was told by the mayor’s office it could not shoot that kind of content in a public space.

The campaign targets consumers 14-22, with an emphasis on 18-year-olds. Its graphic details might make older consumers squirm, but it’s very much in line with the way oversharing young women communicate on social media.

U by Kotex also launched a website that offers frank answers to teens’ questions. In the campaign’s first month, the brand has seen a 68 percent increase in YouTube traffic and a 379 percent rise in the amount of social conversation.

Getting consumers talking is key. In the past, “you had to dance around the subject like it was a pharmaceutical product, and a period was treated like a disease,” said Ogilvy account supervisor Terri Mattucci. “We really had to push the envelope here. In order to be an honest brand, it’s up to us to be more open in our discussion about it.”

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