There is a new Bodyform ad in town. From a brand that has in the past produced some right clangers (cue “Woooahhh Bodyform”), this new spot is gaining attention for more positive reasons. It is being touted as ‘taboo-busting’, in part because it has eschewed the blue liquid usually used to demonstrate sanitary towel use, and opted for red instead. Because, hey, period blood is red.
It doesn’t show actual menstrual blood in the spot though, as apparently this is deemed by various advertising authorities around the world as being “inappropriate” to show on TV. This ruling forms the punchline of the spot, which ends with the tagline: ‘Periods are normal. Showing them should be too.’
The ‘real blood’ issue is also topical on other channels. Over on Instagram there has been debate about its appearance in photographs, after the social media channel has censored images that show menstrual blood, and even deactivated accounts on this basis, including, briefly, that of fashion photographer Harley Weir.
Beyond the colour of blood, the new Bodyform ad aims to bust other taboos around periods too. And there are a few surprising and pleasing moments. The scene when a woman asks a friend across a dinner party table if she has a spare pad as if it’s no big deal stands out, as all too often this is still a whispered request, especially in mixed company.
Another moment gave me genuine pause. When a woman writes an out-of-office email response saying she was going to work at home that day due to having a ‘heavy period’, I raised my eyebrows. Part of me wants to applaud this – periods can certainly make it preferable to be at home rather than the office. But when ‘have you got your period?’ can still be used as a jeering way of implying that a woman is being irrational or that good old-fashioned womanly trait ‘hysterical’, it feels an impossibly risky move in the average workplace.
Beyond these highlights though, the spot is filled with the familiar period ad scenes – attractive women engaging in sport or dancing (why is a ballet pirouette always a feature of these commercials?), smiling and ok, occasionally mildly grimacing as they deal with their monthly curse in an ad friendly style. I notice no one is bent double with cramps. And everyone is young, slim, beautiful and totally confident with themselves, their bodies and their periods. This ad is certainly no ‘This Girl Can’ when it comes to breaking with convention.
In fact, it seems more preoccupied with the excitement of being the first to show red blood in a period ad, and the potential news angle of this, than anything more complex and engaging. (Similarly, we recently had an ad from breast cancer charity Coppafeel that enthusiastically announced it was the first ad given permission to show naked breasts in a TV spot. While a newsworthy line, it would have felt more important if attached to an ad that did something striking and powerful to provoke more women to check their breasts – this one failed dismally on that front.)
In terms of intrigue, the last Bodyform ad, which showed women engaged in bloody, hard battles on the sports field, felt more compelling. And if you want to bust taboos, ads using humour have already gone a long way on this front, in both this previous ad from Bodyform itself, and in the hilarious HelloFlo ads that have come out of the US.
Because actually, showing red blood in a period ad on the telly seems pretty tame to me. In reality, what women really want from these brands is some product innovation. When I look at the Libresse towel featured in the ad, I can’t help but think ‘is this still the best that we can do?’ A product that, good as the ad says it will be, every woman knows will run the risk of leaking, usually at the worst possible moment.
We have begun to see some development in design for periods, particularly from the US brand Thinx, which has produced a range of attractive underwear that comes with the claim that you can wear it, pad-free, during your period and be protected. But these are expensive products and inaccessible to most.
Hopefully, Bodyform’s ad will take a little bit of the embarrassment and stigma still firmly attached to periods away (according to the research given by the ad agency, AMV BBDO, 9 out of 10 women attempt to hide their period). But as this is pretty culturally ingrained, I think we might need a few more ads like this, or some even better ones, to make some headway. In the meantime, perhaps a healthcare brand could also spend some time coming up with a new affordable, dynamic product that will help us get us get through our periods with less faff. Now that would truly be something to pirouette about.