As explored in The cost of cheap humour in tampon ad, tampon advertisements traditionally featured "white trousers, skipping along a beach and horse-riding".
Two years ago Libra was widely criticised for a television commercial that mocked transgender people. The offending work was subsequently withdrawn - but not before it had neatly demonstrated the risks of stepping outside the accepted clichés when promoting feminine hygiene products.
This time around it's the Carefree brand that is under fire from traditionalists. It was reported in Tampon ads filth - viewers that a "TV ad showing a girl going online to ask where to insert a tampon has sparked outrage." Complaints have been filed in New Zealand and Australia with advertising standards watchdogs.
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"The campaign was to reassure women, particularly young girls, that periods were natural and all women go through a learning curve," a spokesperson for Carefree explained. "Our aim has been to tackle menstrual health taboos and address girls' concerns with honesty." Evidently, "[r]esearch commissioned by the company showed women of all ages were misinformed and too embarrassed to ask questions about menstruation. The research also found an abundance of young girls unsure how to use a tampon properly."
Comments from viewers were posted on Carefree's Facebook page where people variously labelled the campaign "offensive", "disgusting", degrading", "embarrassing", "tasteless" and "repugnant."
Yet such reactions are surely just proof that periods are in need of an image overhaul. There's something wrong if speaking out about them is viewed in some circles as unforgivable. It's time to reclaim periods as a healthy, normal part of life. There's nothing shameful about them.
The Facebook page contains pithy little sayings such as "Periods happen: We might as well be real about it", "Keep calm: It's just a period" - and, my favourite, "Periods ... just a big ovary action." It asks questions such as "How old were you when you first used tampons?" It also invites women to share stories about their awkward moments with tampons. There are tales about blood-stained dresses, wayward tampon strings and boxes of tampons spilling on the school bus.
I'm certain that if men had periods they would be celebrated with festivals, loud music and crates of beer. Hygiene products would be marketed as objects of desire rather than of mundane necessity. There would be rivalry between mates for most painful period and longest lasting one. Periods would be measured by the number of hygiene products required to contain them. Surviving a significant period would be a source of pride. It's because periods are women's work that we're expected to be discreet and demure about them.
Carefree should be applauded for trying to normalise periods, bring the subject out in the open and start a dialogue about this immutable fact of biology. There's something refreshing about an approach that mimics the way girls and women in real life deal with this monthly natural event. Periods can be ugly, messy and confusing. There are menstruation incidents we laugh about, talk about and roll our eyes about - and there's no need to keep this secret for fear of offending delicate sensibilities.
Watch the ad here:
What's your view on Carefree's latest campaign? Is it offensive or is it a positive step towards more understanding about menstruation?