Marketing menstruation: or, Why D for Dalrymple should be in charge of telly adverts

The Vagenda ran a piece last week entitled No Gory With Tampax –  a feminist take on the vaguely Olympic-themed but overarchingly sick-making ‘No Tampax, No Glory’ ad currently running on TV.

I’d already seen a few ads from this series via US femzine Jezebel, but hadn’t realised that they were showing outside the States. Peddling variations on a theme of pretty girls outwitting ‘Mother Nature’ as personified by a caustic older woman, the ads are now busily exhorting UK women to pay Procter & Gamble a fiver a month for a selection of daintily-marketed wodges of cotton wool.

I used to find the ads merely annoying, but have been actively seething with rage since reading this NY Times article  about Prostate & Fumble’s marketing strategy. The quote that really got me was from the female creative director of the Tampax account at the Leo Burnett USA agency, who insisted that the campaign is “intent on avoiding oft-parodied clichés”.

You what now?

Mother Nature? Monthly gift? Red wrapping paper and white gym knickers? Knowing looks? COME ON. I accept that there may be vagina-fearing Americans out there who see this euphemistic drivel as thrillingly explicit*, but I really want to know why there are still cretins in UK focus groups saying that they like this shit.

We’re the nation that produced Queen Elizabeth I, Mary Wollstonecraft, the Pankhursts, Susie Orbach and Caitlin Moran. Germaine Greer likes it here so much that she’s decided to stay on. Cupcakes and Cath Kidston notwithstanding, feminism in the UK has literally never been this hip. Surely British women are ready for honesty in advertising? Something that doesn’t patronise us. Something that tells it like it is.  Something like:

It’s day two of your period, and it appears that the world has just fallen out of your vagina. We understand. Buy our product, because it will enable you lead a relatively normal existence for the next few days while at the same time preventing stains to your furniture and loved ones. It comes with a free bottle of gin. Here is how it works.

In an ideal world this message would be accompanied by an animated demonstration (which could involve pubes, but at no point a pair of water wings) and some nice music under a clear, non-patronising voiceover.  There could be a series of these ads, each one narrated by a different woman with a different regional accent (or, alternatively, exclusively by the guy who does the commentary for Come Dine With Me: I haven’t decided yet). In case viewers are still unsure as to what differentiates the brand from its competitors, there could be a brief word from the company CEO and perhaps some footage of the place where the product is made, featuring jocular factory workers wearing hair nets and singing rousing menstruation shanties. It would be great. Sales for the product would go through the roof.

But no: we’re still stuck with the same ads, the same characters, the same tired codes. Sure, nowadays the ads daringly using the words ‘period’ and ‘flow’, but essentially they fail to address the reality of what most women experience once a month. More importantly, they’re boring. As the author of the Vagenda post said: “Perhaps if the lady in green was replaced by a red tsunami, it would actually be pretty great.” Amen to that, sister.

From our point of view, the ads are pointless. Feminine hygiene products don’t come free on the NHS, so nearly every woman in the UK between the ages of 12 and 50 is a potential customer for these companies. Unless you’re blessed with an exceptionally light flow – or everything you own is red and self-cleaning – you’re going to need to buy sanitary products from someone for around 40 years of your life. The adverts are just to try and persuade you not to buy them from another company. Unless you’re 11, they’re not going to be educational – so instead, they try to make them entertaining and aspirational. And that gets on my tits, ESPECIALLY when there’s an alternative that I hardly see represented at all.

The Mooncup is probably the only consumer product for which I am 100% prepared to evangelise. It literally changed my life. For those not in the know, the Mooncup is the most popular-selling brand of menstrual cup in the UK. A menstrual cup is pretty what you’d imagine something of that name to be. It’s a silicone cup with a trimmable stem that you fold up lengthways and insert into your vagina.  Once in place, the cup unfolds itself and forms a seal with the inside of the vagina, so nothing can leak out. Then it just sits there, quietly collecting menstrual blood until you take it out by pulling gently on the stem.

You remove the cup every few hours, just like a tampon, and empty the contents into the toilet, or down the sink. The genius of it is that even in the unlikely event that you menstruated a greater volume of blood than the volume of the Mooncup, the blood would just pootle around, trapped between the Mooncup and the inside of your vagina.  Until, of course, the whole passage fills up. Then the Mooncup is expelled with the force of a thousand geysers**.

Ah! The Mooncup. I love everything about it: the convenience, the healthiness, the comfort, the environmental smugness, the hilarious slurping noise it can make if you whip it out a bit too quickly in the cubicle of a public toilet. then there’s the not inconsequential matter of the £550 or so that my two Mooncups have saved me over 9 years***. The only problems I’ve ever experienced with a Mooncup have all been to do with being on public transport and not being able to remember if I’ve put it in. It is just. Excellent.

When my writing takes off and I become mega-famous, I will gladly take time off from swigging martinis and grooming puppies in my literary salon to be the celebrity face of the Mooncup. I already have THIS ad planned out.


SCENE: my flat, but nicer. A buzzing party.

JK Rowling takes photos as Caitlin Moran throws hula hoops for Salman Rushdie to catch in his mouth. A selection of my mates and various celebrity guests laugh and applaud. Germaine Greer sits in a corner necking Pinot Grigio and haranguing a potplant.

Camera pans to Mooncup sitting on kitchen surface, then pulls back to wider shot of me pouring red wine into a wineglass. I wink to camera.

More applause as I rejoin party. Fade to tagline: The Mooncup. We know what you’re thinking, but this will DEFINITELY fit in your vagina.

I pitched an early draft of this treatment to Mooncup on Twitter a few months ago. They said:

@mooncupltd: It’s trickier than it at first may seem, especially without erring into cliches… Thanks for trying ; )

When you regain your senses, chaps, you know where I am.


* It is entirely acceptable for Brits to be xenophobic towards Americans on Independence Day. Ungrateful bastards.

** This cannot happen.

*** ((9 years x 13 periods) x £5) – ((Mooncups x 2) x £18) = £585 – £36 = £549

About Christina Kenny

Christina Kenny is a music journalist based in London.
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11 Responses to Marketing menstruation: or, Why D for Dalrymple should be in charge of telly adverts

  1. It’s a fiver a month if you only need one kind of thing. of course, there’s night time liners, daytime ones, ones for light flow, heavy flow, multipacks of all kinds of tampons etc. with all this it’s closer to £15 I’d say.

    • Christina says:

      Oooh, god, I’d forgotten about all the paraphernalia you have to get. That means you’re spending £195 per year. That’s like… a coat. Or nine and a bit bottles of mid-price gin. How does that make you FEEL?

  2. You May Know Me As Jane says:

    The Mooncup made my period pains much, much worse – I tried it for two or three months and it didn’t work for me. I was sad about this, but have reverted to tampons. Fortunately my periods are a lot of gong and not much dinner so I don’t think I spend anywhere near £5 a month.

  3. maybelater says:

    Girl, I had to get myself a coffee and turn off twitter phone to give this my full undivided attention.
    As a teen in the Thatcher years, I was horrified when she didn’t bring in NHS subsidised products for women. Then Blair and his Babes ignored it too. Men get viagara on the NHS for whatever their little willies desire, but we have to shuffle round Boots ever changing shelves for our shit every month and pay cash. The fact that we’ve used everything from rags, to cotton wool, to wodging cheap loo roll up there when needs must, and still managed to do everything we do is testament to out resourceful nature and fighting spirit. As long as these ad agencies are run by suited graduates and bearded hipsters, we’ve got no chance.
    It’s like these people never had a mum.

    • Christina says:

      I remember asking my mum why we couldn’t get tampons on the NHS. She said “because they would be cheap, nasty and horrible”. I can just imagine a monthly prescription of grey, cardboardy, government-issue tampons. Ew.

      • ramya says:

        they’d be rinse and re-use too, and if you were unemployed but not actively looking for work, they’d cut them in half.

  4. Muz says:

    Christina, its me, Muzna – from Geoff’s class. Remember?

    I have been wondering whether I would come across an appropriate forum to discuss the well of rage I have been harboring for one Caitin Moran/Moron. I was recently given her book by a friend and while it had some pithy ‘Girl Power’ quotes and a slightly manic prose style that I do find endearing, I am really pretty concerned that she is being hailed as feminist du jour, and that her newest tombe can be considered the new Female Eunuch.

    Although Moran herself expounds all things feminst, she appears to have led what can only be described as the ideal, heteronomative life that fits perfectly within the bounds of what is pallatable by whatever patriarchial model you might suscribe to. She fell in love and got married, and had kids – all dead young. Which is grand, because…why is that not ok? Everything is ok! Choice is ok! Agency is ok! Being different is ok! being the same is A-OK!!!!

    I completely awknowledge an individuals ability to speak for the logic and feasability of alternate lifestyle choices, even if they themselves have opted out of said choices. Where she lost me, completely, was at this particular sentiment found in the chapter entitled “Why should you have children”

    “£15,000 bottles of vintage champagne; hot-air balloons flying over wildebeast migrations; sharkshin shoes with a diamond on the sole; Paris: these are all, ultimately, consolation prizes for those who don’t have access to a small, ideally slightly grubby child tha they can mess around with, pole and squash a little – high on ridiculous love.”

    Im sorry Caitlin, is that why I should have children? Because otherwise, I will never be happy? With ANYTHING ELSE EVER? She then goes on to prompty contradict herself in the next chapter, aptly entitled “Why you shouldn’t have children” by including the notion that you can, in fact, learn every lesson you can learn from childrearing elsewhere. Oh…but there was the little detail – or should I say LACK of detail – in this particular chapter. Mention of happiness, love or satisfaction being attainable by those who remain ‘chlildfree’ – another term she doesnt care for, prefering ‘childless.’

    So handily, shes trying to make EVERYONE happy. All the people who are dead set against kids, all of those who are multiplying by the dozen. Good marketing Moran.

    I can safely say, at this juncture in my life, I dont have a maternal bone in my body. Perhaps that will change someday, the passage of time is a winding journey and I wouldnt like to overreach in my predictions of it. But what this book has told me, in no uncertain terms, that if I choose something other than motherhood, there is a distinct possibility that my life could never be as happy as it truly could have been. And that stinks. This woman is no radical feminist. I WANT A RADICAL FEMINIST. In fact, there are feminists in the faculty at my uni who could provide a much much better role model than Moran. And they have a WAY better sense of style.

    Whew. Rant done. x

  5. Henry says:

    That comment is a really rather unfair on Caitlin Moran. The feelings she experienced are hers, and in an auto-biographical book, there is nothing wrong with her saying that – she does not, as you suggest, then go on to say that the alternative is never-being-happiness.

    Also, she has a chapter titled ‘Why you shouldn’t have children’ in the same book.

    I was also furious with a number of small things in that book, throwaway phrases and the like [I have a list, I wrote them down] some of which I would agree were sexist [in fact, there is plenty in both directions in the book]. I think there there is plenty to be warm about from a radical [and liberal / Nussbaumian] feminist perspective.

  6. Pingback: Marketing menstruation (part two): Revolutionary Bodyform Ad Uses The Actual Word ‘Blood’ | D for Dalrymple

  7. Pingback: FFS | D for Dalrymple

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