Tampon Marketing Gets Real For The Social Media Age

Jul 31, 2013
Originally published on August 2, 2013 9:08 am

Advertising for feminine hygiene products was traditionally so cheesy that it invited mockery far and wide. There was something so laughable and incongruent about maxi pad commercials that featured blue liquid and girls dancing on beaches.

In recent years, the marketing trend has shifted to a more honest approach. So honest that a new promotional video for the monthly tampon delivery service HelloFlo features a tween who got her period before other girls at camp.

"The red badge of courage," she calls it.

She then starts "Camp Gyno," schooling the other gals about her experience and dispensing the necessary sanitary products that come with it. But her reign as queen bee is short-lived once the ladies' parents start mailing the HelloFlo feminine care packages to camp. "It's like Santa for your vagina," the narrator exclaims.

Since it was first posted on Monday, the video has gotten nearly 2.5 million views on YouTube and temporarily shut down the HelloFlo website.

"It has just exploded. Taken over the Internet," says HelloFlo founder and CEO Naama Bloom. She says she and her two friends with ad agency experience came up with the idea over some takeout Thai food.

"We weren't setting out to create this groundbreaking advertising," Bloom says. "What we wanted to just do was tell an authentic, true story with a little bit of humor. No one used to watch the old tampon and pad commercials thinking, 'Oh, this is a falsehood.' But when they suddenly see girls talking about tampons and their period and what really happens, it casts a light on the blue fluid in the pad commercials."

A 1980s Tampax commercial we found in the course of reporting this story features a young Naomi Watts actually calling her period "that hassle you don't talk about."

Today, marketing has undergone a major shift toward openly acknowledging what was previously taboo.

"What's driving a lot of marketing today is the explosion of social media," says Ann Diaz, the creativity editor at AdAge magazine. "People are able to converse freely with friends and about brands. And people are able to have a huge platform for expressing their views about everything. So in order for brands to connect with consumers, they have to talk like real people."

Bloom says that real talk not only has helped sell her product, it's started important conversations.

"The important thing about this video and what I'm trying to do is get parents to talk to their girls about what's going on in their bodies in a way that doesn't feel embarrassing or uncomfortable," Bloom says.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

There is no other way to say this. A lot of people are not too comfortable talking in public about menstrual cycles. But that topic is getting a lot of attention this week after an ad for a tampon delivery service went online.

The ad, HelloFlo, has racked up more than three million YouTube views since Monday. It's also stirred up a wider conversation about advertising to women and girls.

Here's NPR's Elise Hu.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: The nearly two-minute commercial sets the scene at a sleep-away summer camp, where a pre-teen gets her period before everyone else.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELLOFLO AD)

MACY MCGRAIL: So I was like, the expert. I became the camp gyno.

RYAN CAMPBELL: (Rapping) I'm a queen bee, come get it.

HU: Camp Gyno - as in gynecologist - dispensing products and advice about periods to other girls.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELLOFLO AD)

MCGRAIL: Listen up, ladies! Menstruation demonstration!

HU: It goes well for her, until parents start sending HelloFlo tampon care packages to camp.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELLOFLO AD)

MCGRAIL: How could a camp gyno compete with that?

NAAMA BLOOM: It has just exploded. Taken over the Internet.

HU: That's Naama Bloom. She just started the HelloFlo service in March. Two of her friends from the advertising business helped come up the commercial. Now, because of its internet explosion, she gets as many orders in an hour as she was getting in a month.

BLOOM: We weren't setting out to create this groundbreaking advertising. What we wanted to just do was tell an authentic true story with a little bit of humor.

HU: That true story is an experience Bloom and so many women know well.

BLOOM: I went to summer camp as a kid and there was a girl there who knew more than rest of us about everything and she was who we all turned to. You know, I've spoken to so many women and every woman has that person in your life.

HU: The Camp Gyno ad was created on a small budget, but Bloom didn't say how small. She didn't spend any money buying placement for the video, either. Since taking off online, the ad's won praise for being courageous and hilarious, and some complaints from online commenters calling it tasteless or crude. She says feminine product ads have certainly come a long way.

BLOOM: No one used to watch the old tampon and, you know, pad commercials thinking oh, this is a falsehood. But when they suddenly see girls talking about tampons and their period and what really happens, it casts a light on the, you know, blue fluid in the pad commercials.

HU: You probably remember those old commercials, which were filled with cheesy euphemisms about protection and hassles, like this one from Australia in the 1980s.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAMPAX AD)

NAOMI WATTS: There's the hassle with your face. Oh no. The hassle with your figure. Hmm. And every month, that one you don't talk about.

HU: Openly talking about those previously taboo topics is where marketing has shifted.

ANN DIAZ: It's been happening, maybe, for more than five years now, I think.

HU: Ann Diaz is creativity editor for Ad Age Magazine.

DIAZ: What's driving a lot of marketing today is the explosion of social media. You know, people are able to converse freely with friends and about brands. And people are able to have a huge platform for expressing their views about everything. So in order for brands or marketers to connect with consumers, they have to talk like real people.

HU: Bloom says that real talk has helped sell her product and start conversations. Moms have reached out to her to say the commercial's leading to talks with their daughters about their bodies.

BLOOM: Whether the parents are aware of it or not, the whole world is moving in this direction of transparency. And advertising is going to follow. Because it has to follow, otherwise it feels like it was created in a different era.

HU: She says advertising for this era means saying things out loud that used to make us squeamish.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELLOFLO AD)

MCGRAIL: Suck it up and deal with it!

HU: Elise Hu, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.