Nevertheless, backwater areas of prudery still exist in our culture, particularly about female bodily functions.
Take menstruation. Now there’s a four-syllable term that can clear a room. But as Joan Rivers says, “Grow up!” It’s just biology.
Still, given all of the built-in resistance and prissiness that still exists, who could have predicted that the sleeper hit of the season would be “Camp Gyno,” a viral video featuring an aggressive 10-year-old girl at camp who, once she gets her period, becomes a menstrual monster.
Now in a position to be -- yes -- the camp gyno, she throws her not-considerable weight, and hundreds of tampons, around like a combination zealot and rap video star.
The ad, which by now has received more than 5 million views on You Tube, is promoting a brand new tampon delivery service called Hello Flo.
Immediately embraced by social media users, it also got some fevered reviews: HuffPo called it the “best tampon ad in the history of the world,” with only slight exaggeration; ABC News dubbed it “the funniest period ad ever” and it was also deemed “the ad of the year” by Buzzfeed.
Why the wild validation? For one thing, there’s a huge hunger for ads that are unexpectedly direct and unembarrassed –- ads that seem honest -- while also being smart. Just ask Dove.
The writing and production values are topnotch, even though it was done on a shoestring, with no media outlay at all. (New business owner Naama Bloom hired creatives Pete Marquis and Jamie McCelland, who worked with Hayden Five Production )
Some of the lines are over-the-top and obviously sit-commy. Would a young girl at camp say, “It’s like Santa Claus for your vagina!” or ““It’s like I’m Joan, and their vag is the arc?” No, but by being outrageous, it makes up for all the years of cloying cover-up.
Part of the greatness comes from the actress herself, Macy McGrail, who combines such demonic energy and just-right matter-of-factness with her performance endorsing “the red badge of courage” that the viewer has to laugh.
There is also the issue of tiny dynamo Macy’s very compelling two front teeth. They are supersized, and have a small space between them. I wonder if she’ll lose any of her magnetism when the space goes away.
Women have been menstruating for several millennia, thank you very much, even before the manufacture of “Summer’s Eve." But they have been using packaged, branded “feminine hygiene” products (even the category name reeks of a cover-up!) only for the last 115 or so years of the period. The business started in 1896 with “Lister’s Sanitary Towels,” which was later bought by Johnson & Johnson. Thus, the Victorian idea of “sanitization” and cover-up was tucked into every print ad for these unmentionables.
Then, with the inception of television, advertisers came up with absurd, dorky visual cues, like showing a woman riding a horse on the beach in white jeans, to signal proper coverage. It was a cousin of the genre in which mothers sit their daughters down by the fire to have that all-important talk about “freshness.”
The second wave of pad and tampon advertising, deconstructing the first and showing how ridiculous the imagery is, started about 10 years ago. There was a great series of videos created for U by Kotex, showing a young woman standing outside a drug store, asking passersby to go in and buy her tampons. They responded as if she were asking them to handle nuclear waste. (Again, this was Internet-only. The double standard that remains for commercials on TV is insane.)
“Camp Gyno” represents a third wave, and really cuts to the chase, covering a taboo subject in a knowing, insider-y way. After all, this is a spot that is not afraid to include a scene showing the little whistle-blower offering a hand mirror with a tampon (a must for first-time users), and it also mentions that females who live together tend to start cycling together.
What strikes me, though, is that grown-up women seem to love the spot more than the tweens it appears to be aimed at. Perhaps that’s because women (who are the age of these campers’ mothers) have lived through all the indignities and euphemisms that the video tries to combat -- while 13-year-olds, born four years after the debut of “The Vagina Monologues,” have not.
If I have any cavil with the spot, it’s that the storytelling part is so compelling that the idea of the actual business, Hello Flo, kind of gets lost. It’s essentially a package delivery system, sending users an array of pads, tampons, and candy every month, timed to their cycles once they sign up online. The logo reminds me of Wendy’s, with a wink.
Still, the video has been such a success that the owner of the business says she can’t keep up with demand.
And sorry to say, despite all the exultation and exuberance inherent in the video itself, it also presents a depressing summer story for big ad agencies. This is my colleague Bob Garfield’s chaos scenario writ in tampons: the video got all its traction via You Tube and free media. There was zero media budget, and the crew worked for very little while Bloom bootstraps the business.
Cut to butterflies and pounding waves while we think about that.