A lesson in sensitivity

A 1981 ad for Tampax shows how a sensitive subject can be tackled with intelligent copy

Advertising seems to have a particularly difficult relationship with some subjects.

When, for example, did you last see a good ad for sanitary products? 1981 probably (for our older readers) – the year this ad was created. (Actually, I do vaguely remember a couple of other nice campaigns from sometime in the late 80s – but three campaigns in over thirty years? Pathetic. Apologies if I’ve forgotten any others, I guess I’m not exactly the right audience.) But for a target market of mothers of young teenage girls, this ad is a bullseye.

So why is it good? Firstly it actually sells the product. Using great copy. Written by a man, incidentally. There’s empathy and insight but the copy also sells the product benefits. It even elegantly weaves in a sales promotion offer. You might like to use this example the next time an account person tries to instruct you to do a ‘hard working’ ad.

And if you have great copy, then it makes sense for the art director to make it legible. Maybe this simple two column grid with copy flowing around images looks a bit dated. Maybe the choice of typeface and excessively tight tracking is a bit, well… 80s. But I’ll wager you won’t find better art direction in any ad in any women’s magazine you pick up tomorrow. And you know what? I actually think you could run this ad now. (OK, maybe we’ll tweak the typeface.)

In fact all the great things about this ad give it a kind of timeless quality. I’d be amazed if any mother with a 13 year-old daughter would turn the page. In 1981 or now. The photography grabs the reader in the first millisecond. It’s very well handled. Two almost identical pictures of the same girl is intriguing. The expressions and body language are perfect. And the plain background is more interesting than cut-outs on white.

One of the things I also love about this layout is the bottom right-hand corner. There’s nothing there. The logo sits nicely at the end of the body copy together with the address for the sales promotion. See, it is possible to handle these things sensitively and in a way that doesn’t ruin the layout.

But the single most unusual thing about this piece of communication is that the whole subject is handled with intelligence. This ad talks up to the audience, not down. No snazzy colours, no blue liquid absorbency demonstrations, no fake action/fashion shots, no huge packshots, no screaming logo … no patronising bullshit. Hallelujah.

Please remember that it’s possible, next time you get the most unglamorous brief in the agency.


Paul Belford is founder of agency Paul Belford Ltd. See paulbelford.com and @belford_paul

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