In February, Mooncup launched a new campaign: ‘No more period drama’. Don’t judge it too harshly, it’s a giant leap forward compared with the Mooncup marketing of yesteryear (think stickers slapped onto the backs of leisure centre toilet doors in the 90s).
I mention this campaign because I have become almost obsessively interested in how brands sell women sanitary products. The average woman will spend about 3,500 days of her life on her period, which equates to 11,000-15,000 sanitary products. So there’s a pretty big opportunity for brands in this category.
Gendered marketing can be a murky business. Despite giants like Unilever pledging to redress the balance of gender stereotyping in their ads, you don’t have to look very far to find brands making a total hash of it (hello Protein World, Sprite, etc).
You’d think sanitary items would be relatively solid ground, but advertisers have traditionally struggled to find the right path. Enormous sanitary pads quivering majestically across your TV screen; mysterious blue liquids pouring from test tubes; hysterically happy women throwing themselves out of planes – these images are memorable, but the message and the medium are bland and unfocused.
This is because the products they’ve been advertising have failed to innovate. Uninspiring product + incoherent message = I don’t care. And the outcome? In the past four years the amount we’ve been spending on tampons has dropped by almost 25 per cent, as women seek alternative solutions.
I believe that the more creativity you put into solving someone’s problems, the more licence you have to talk to them – and the more likely they are to purchase. For example, Heist tights did something ingenious and actually asked women what was annoying about tights (too tight around the midriff), then designed a pair that fixed these problems. Its whole visual identity and TOV is beautifully inventive, creative and thoughtful, because it has something sincere to say and has backed up its words with actions.
In the sanitary category, the brands offering better solutions to women are the ones investing the most effort in using a recognisable voice. In part, this is due to how the internet has enabled change in the language used around feminine hygiene. Runner Kiran Gandhi’s account of free bleeding during her first London Marathon is a good example of this: more conversational, less elusive. This change has, to a degree, freed brands to do the same.
Menstrual cups are interesting because they’ve crept steadily into the mainstream by appealing to a younger, more sustainably minded audience. You won’t see a lot of menstrual cups on TV – as the challenger brands in this category, they’ve realised they can be more effective (and targeted) on digital.
Menstrual cup brands such as UK market leader Mooncup, leading US brand DivaCup and the Kickstarter-funded Intima have a much clearer idea of the women they’re hoping to reach and are producing content that’s finally resonating with customers. Looncups didn’t quite deliver, but it’s only a matter of time before we’re comparing monthly stats with our mates à la Strava, right?
There’s one more product worthy of our attention, which wins in both invention and identity. Let’s talk about period pants. In a way, Thinx take periods right back to basics, constructing garments to wear when you’re on your period – except that instead of red flannelette petticoats, we’re talking about sleek, slinky pants. In the words of one of their ads: “No, they’re not like diapers, and you don’t have to sit in ur blood all day. Boom."
Thinx has been called out as needing to work harder to make its product match up to its values. Despite this, it’s going where other brands have feared to tread – calling out taboos and acknowledging how politicised periods have become, thereby enabling a dialogue that serves women as well as sells to them.
Is this the silver bullet for brands with ambition to speak to women? No, because different markets require different approaches. But with the tampon tax (and the controversial uses of the new Tampon Tax Fund) such an emotive subject, a brand actively innovating to empower women has earned the right to align with movements that do the same, and can deliver content in sync with the women it serves. A step in the right direction? Yeah, I think so.