Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Kotex Goes Rogue: Madmen's Bad Idea?

I read in the business section of yesterday’s New York Times that J. Walter Thompson has come up with a revolutionary, controversial new advertising campaign for a new line of products by Kotex called “U by Kotex.”

The campaign ads make fun of previous ads for menstrual products which use euphemisms, and it encourages girls and women to sign up at the web site, to join a “Declaration of Real Talk” vowing to defy society’s pressure and be out and proud about their menstrual periods. For every signer, Kotex will donate $1 to Girls for a Change—a non-profit in California that puts urban school girls together with professional women mentors.

The ads, (sample above) prepared by the JWT madmen for TV, advocate the use of words like “Vagina” and “tampon". All the ads have tag lines like “Why are tampon ads so ridiculous? Break the cycle!” and end by showing the new line of tampons, pads and liners. They are packed in black boxes with windows that reveal that the tampons inside are not white, but in a rainbow of colors.

When I read about this campaign, even thought I’m as pro-woman’s lib as anyone, I got an uneasy feeling.

Kotex and J. Walter Thompson are trying to convince young women and girls that, by buying their new rainbow-colored tampons and tossing around words like vagina, they are striking a blow for women around the world. But let’s face it, this is just a ploy to sell a product.

(I’m not the only one uneasy with the ads —according to the NYT, J Walter Thompson was informed that it could not use the word “vagina” by three broadcast networks, so it re-shot the ad with the actress saying “down there” instead. That version was rejected by two of the three networks.)

On the web site, however, there are no such problems and the videos on the site demonstrate how to use the products, including inserting a tampon in “an anatomically correct puppet.”

When I went on the web site, I was both amused and uncomfortable watching a very well-acted video showing a young man in a drug store who was completely confused by the chore of buying his girlfriend some sanitary protection. He was asking all sorts of questions of equally embarrassed strangers. Among other things, the young man said, “She said she’d kill me if I bought cardboard.”

Hello? How many women are out there who would send their clueless boyfriend out to choose a sanitary product for them?

Maybe I’m wrong about this ad campaign and women will embrace the suggestion to be out and proud about their menstrual cycle, but to me —a 69-year-old crone— it just seems like an extension of the current trend encouraging rudeness and confrontation in daily life -- most egregiously personified by the reality shows.

But thinking back, I have lived through a dramatic progression in attitudes toward women’s menstrual cycles. Before Kotex started advertising disposable sanitary pads in 1921, women pretty much had to make do with folding and laundering rags on their own.

I got my period at the age of 11 when I was in fifth grade. This involved wearing an uncomfortable belt of stretch elastic which had even more uncomfortable metal gadgets with teeth in front and back to grab the “tails” of the bulky sanitary pads. Having any part of this contraption show through one’s clothing was unthinkably embarrassing, and we would pile multiple petticoats under our voluminous circle skirts to hide any “accidents.

My mother was so leery of anyone hearing her mention the word “Kotex” that when she made a shopping list, she would write that word in the Gregg’s shorthand she had learned in secretarial school. She gave me elaborate instructions for wrapping, double wrapping and then getting rid of the used napkins outside the house—God forbid any male person in our household should suspect what was going on!

When they invented tampons, of course there was much discussion among my age group about how to insert, and whether you would lose your virginity — so I guess the anatomically correct puppet on the web site does serve as beneficial educational tool.

At some point, young women became somehow very knowledgeable about how to deal with the whole menstrual cycle and its accompanying problems. When I tried to broach the subject with my own daughters, I learned they had all the questions answered and under control long before, and didn’t want to hear anything about it from me.

Now that I’m long past having to think about “the curse” or “my friend” as it was euphemistically called, I’m vaguely aware that women today can control the frequency of their periods and even elect not to have them at all. This also makes me feel a little uneasy (like the “revolutionary” Kotex ad campaign) because it seems to me more “natural” and perhaps healthier to allow your body to ovulate every month, the way women have been doing since Adam and Eve.

But after re-reading the above — perhaps the new Kotex campaign actually is a public service to women rather than just a cynical way to get girls and women to buy a new product line.

What do you think?


Robin Paulson said...

While your brother never chose my sanitary protection products, he was always quite comfortable buying them for me if he happened to be going to the store and I needed some. Let's hear it for Bob the Evolved Husband!

Susan said...

Joan--Your memories reflect mine exactly --except I was a year and a half older than you when it happened for me.

I remember being the leader of our daughter's 4th grade Girl Scout troop when I thought it was time to devote a weekly meeting to the subject. It seemed early, but, hey! You were a 5th grader and I remembered other girls who were too.

Our daughter and I have always exchanged knowing, silly glances when singing "Joy to the World" at Christmastime in church. Remember the third verse?

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

abc said...

thx u very much, i learn a lot