Television advertisements for tampons have long earned widespread derision. Monthly periods are more likely to entail dull aches, hot water bottles and lashings of Nurofen - not white trousers, skipping along a beach and horse-riding. But I guess the reality wouldn't translate so well to the screen as the idealised version of "that time of the month". Advertising agencies are prepared to show the discomfort of generic issues such as headaches and heartburn but "women's stuff", it seems, must be romantically portrayed. How quaint.
I worked in retail advertising for about fourteen years and the first rule of creating any campaign is to not alienate your target market. In the case of ordinary, everyday household items I actually extended that rule to say that we shouldn't offend anybody. When your market is broad based you have to play it safe. Controversy and challenging concepts are best left to film-makers, playwrights, authors and bloggers.
Yet I believe that some creative directors in advertising agencies work with an eye to picking up an industry award for daring ideas and stylish execution. Secretly, and sometimes not so secretly, they couldn't care less about turnover, units sold or whatever other measures of effectiveness are critical to the client.
Some advertising agency personnel clearly don't mind offending in the interests of creating what they perceive to be a great campaign. Attempts at edgy humour may be okay when selling a niche product to a narrow demographic but are inadvisable when selling a personal hygiene product to half the population.
I've seen firsthand the assessment process that nascent advertising campaigns undergo in large corporations. There are storyboards, upward trending graphs and meeting rooms full of people all wanting to add their five cents' worth but never mentioning the elephant in the room because one person at the top either loves the concept or plays golf with the head of the agency.
But in the case of the latest television advertisement for Libra tampons, it wasn't an elephant in the room; it was a trans woman in the bathroom. The stereotypical portrayal and narrative of the story has affronted us and justifiably sparked outrage - because transphobia is not okay. Someone experiencing gender dissonance deserves compassion, understanding and inclusion - not careless scorn and attempts at cheap humour.
The offending execution showed a trans woman and a cis woman going about their routines in front of a bathroom mirror. There was the dual mascara application, lip-gloss application and bra adjustment. The "punchline" came when the trans woman retreated after the cis woman presented a tampon. The subtext that you're not a real woman if you don't require tampons is potentially offensive to any woman who doesn't have periods - whether it's because she's older, unwell, post-hysterectomy, trans or has weight issues.
At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, Libra really can't afford to offend women. Hell hath no fury and all that. Women, of both the trans and cis variety and presumably those with periods and those without, have been venting in various twenty-first century forums such as on Libra's Facebook page and on Twitter under the #transphobictampons hash-tag. There have also been calls for consumers to boycott the brand.
Libra responded decently - and with sound business sense - by withdrawing the advertisement. Meanwhile the profile of transgender discrimination has been raised and a dialogue generated about an often misunderstood sector of society. And for every person who found the advertisement hilarious there's probably a handful of others who have been enlightened about how inappropriate it is to mock and further marginalise minority groups for the sake of a laugh. In hindsight, maybe those white jeans and horse-riding commercials weren't so bad after all.