When Carefree released new ads featuring non-model-esque girls experiencing real period issues, they knew the ads were groundbreaking. Showing a woman’s period in a truthful light was something no company has ever dared to do.
“We did a lot of research among girls 13-24, and mums 35+ with young daughters, and the overwhelming message was that they wanted honesty in period ads,” says Mitzi Saitzyk, a spokesperson for Carefree. “The very fact that the ads have drawn controversy is evidence that there are still women out there who believe periods remain a taboo topic.”
The two commercials drew 330 complaints between them, and registered as the most complained about ads of the quarter.
What was so offensive? If you haven’t seen the ads, I strongly urge you to take a look. Instead of the regular girls-running-on-beach-with-wind-in-their-hair (bollocks, who does that when they have their period?) or guys-using-pads-as-body-shields (beyond unrealistic, it’s not even funny), Carefree have decided to go the unusual route of … telling the truth.
Yes. The truth. About periods. Oooh, quick! Everyone duck for cover! We wouldn’t want to actually shed light on something that happens to 50% of the population every single month for some 35-odd years, would we?
Well, yes, we would. Fed up with pictures of perfection, the tough issues danced over, euphemisms used and awkward moments never coming to light, women have always felt embarrassed and ashamed about one of the most natural things that happens to our bodies.
The new Carefree ads are confronting, no doubt about it. In one scene, friends help a girl tie a jacket around her waist because she’d leaked through to her dress, in another, a girl asks if she’s put the tampon in the wrong hole, and in another, a girl loses a pad in a swimming pool because she’d been too afraid to use tampons.
“The ads are real, and they’re totally relatable,” says psychologist Jo Lamble, ” I think they’re so much better than other ads that have been around forever. I don’t think they’re offensive, it’s not like they show blood.”
We’re not used to seeing this kind of vision in our advertising because for years, we’ve been spoonfed with tactical imagery that only serves to perpetuate the myth of a woman’s period as some kind of musical, fantasy time where everyone is bathed in sunlight, deliriously happy. But perpetuate it for who? Men? What will happen if they know the truth about menstruation? Will they keel over? Faint with shock? Run away? Or perhaps bake us a cake because surely, they’ve finally realised, cake is one of the only things that makes us feel better at this time of the month.
Watch the Carefree ad above
But offensive they are not. It’s about time we spoke about a woman’s period with honesty. Hiding behind dancing girls or body shield pads doesn’t benefit anyone and, I’m fairly certain, has stopped working for big companies like Johnson & Johnson, who are behind the Carefree ads and extensively researched before going ahead with this “Be Real” campaign.
“There’s been a shift in the demographic from the women in the 80’s and 90’s who grew up with blue liquid,” confirms Saitzyk, “Today’s girls are more informed and have more access to information. Talking to them in the old fashioned way is just not going to fly.”
Saitzyk says the research began in 2012 and found “The girls in focus groups were concerned about the lack of information they had about menstruation and their bodies. They didn’t know what discharge was. We thought, ‘well maybe we have a role to play in helping girls understand that you don’t have to feel marginalized by the fact that you experience discharge.'”
They created an ad which had a girl looking at the screen and saying “did you know that discharge is your body’s way of cleansing your vagina?”
This also caused a big hoo-ha, with complaints pouring in about the word ‘vagina’ used on natural television, not to mention discharge. You’d think we were talking about something that was going to cause serious damage to our society. Like, I don’t know, alcohol.
They also received a bunch of positive feedback from young women, thanking them for shedding light on a topic they honestly had no idea about.
Watch the Carefree ad above
“We thought, wow we’re really onto something,” Saitzyk remembers, “the ‘Be Real’ campaign is really an extension of that.”
And there has been lots of great reactions with these ads too, the most notable from a man, who wrote:
“These are the best ads ever. I’m a single father and I have two girls and these ads sparked a conversation that I really needed to have with my girls before they start menstruating. I didn’t know how to broach that subject, but watching these ads and laughing with my girls allowed us to have that conversation.”
Lamble confirms this is a great thing for families. “If the ads can get a conversation started about what can be a hidden topic, that’s a great thing,” she says.
There are lots of negatives inflicted on women – less pay, more domestic violence, and now obviously, the fact that people complain when we mention the word vagina in public. But we all need to remember we have one enormous thing going for us: purchasing power. Most purchasing decisions in the household are made by women, which means we hold colossal influence over large corporations, usually run by men, who are trying to sell us stuff. Johnson & Johnson isn’t the only company who’s picked up on the fact that women want empowering messages in advertising. The latest Pantene campaign, released by parent company, P&G, focuses on trying to remove the negative connotation associated with “throwing like a girl” and “running like a girl”, which have effectively become criticisms. They show that throwing like a girl is actually a great thing, because lots of girls can throw very well, thank you very much.
Removing stigmas associated with being female is something that women have demanded, and is now happening, which is a great start on a very long road for women.
“If you’re going to market to a female, sell her on the reality of her life as opposed to this view of perfection that is unattainable,” says Saitzyk. “We’re proud of these ads and when you look at the number of complaints, it was such a small number compared to the fact we’re in a country with 20 million people.”
Have you had an embarrassing experience with your period? Do you think advertisements should ‘tell it how it really is’ more than they do? Tell us your thoughts and experiences below…