How Do You Highlight the Frustration of Tampon Dispensers? Make Men Pay for Toilet Paper

International Women's Day stunt promotes advocacy group Period

A man on a toilet fumbles for change in his pocket to pay a coin-operated toilet paper dispenser
Period's video argues that if toilet paper is free, tampons should be too. Hooha
Headshot of David Griner

For decades, women have had to deal with infuriating, unreliable tampon dispensers in public restrooms, where if you’re lucky enough to find one working, you’re almost sure to find it out of stock.

But all the frustrations about how (or whether) tampon dispensers work can drown out a seemingly obvious question: Why aren’t tampons free to begin with? We don’t expect bathroom users to pay for toilet paper, soap, water or paper towels, so why should it be different for tampons?

That’s the question being pushed into the cultural conversation today, International Women’s Day, by advocacy group Period and agency Huge, which created the mobile-activated tampon dispenser Hooha.

To get people talking about expanding, modernizing and simplifying access to tampons, Period and Huge created a coin-operated toilet paper dispenser that could be installed in a men’s restroom. A video explains the idea and why the creators felt it was necessary:

“If you walked into a bathroom and there was no toilet paper, you’d be really frustrated,” said Nadya Okamoto, the 22-year-old founder of Period, which advocates for better access to menstruation products. “Menstruation is just as natural and can come just as unexpectedly. We are fighting for freely accessible period products in schools, shelters and prisons—because menstrual hygiene is a right and not a privilege.”

"We are fighting for freely accessible period products in schools, shelters and prisons—because menstrual hygiene is a right and not a privilege."
—Nadya Okamoto, founder, Period

Huge, a digitally focused global agency owned by Interpublic Group, began rolling out prototypes of Hooha on 2019’s International Women’s Day.

Developed by Stephanie Loffredo, associate director of social marketing at Huge, Hooha was created to replace archaic tampon dispensers in public or office restrooms with a reliable and modern machine that users can text to dispense a free tampon. The design also includes a window to make it clear how many tampons are still in stock.

“Last year, we built Hooha, a smart tampon dispenser you can text for a free tampon, which helped start a conversation about tampon accessibility in public restrooms,” Loffredo said. “This year, we wanted to drive the point home, so we partnered with Period to recreate the experience of what it feels like when you’re asked to pay for a basic human need with an obsolete form of payment.”

Huge has spent the past year expanding Hooha’s footprint while looking for growth opportunities with CPG brands, which could provide the products to be made available for free, and partnering with real estate developers to potentially place Hooha machines in a variety of properties.

While the video’s scenes were obviously dramatized for filming, the coin-operated toilet paper dispenser was installed in a bathroom for a day, during which it offered a “pay with a tweet” option to let men share a message of solidarity with women via the #FreeThePeriod hashtag. Because the bathroom was largely being used for filming that day, not many men actually used the stall, the creators admit—though they note that the men who did use it didn’t have any coins on them, which Loffredo notes is a direct parallel to the frustration women often experience.

A social media campaign around Period’s video launch is encouraging supporters to tweet bathroom selfies with messages about how schools, workplaces and businesses should offer easy access to period products, with organizers encouraging the use of the #FreeThePeriod hashtag and tagging @periodmovement.

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."