While Gen Z and millennials have come to love brands for clever euphemisms, U by Kotex has had it. In its new 'Normalize Periods” campaign, the Kimberly-Clark brand focuses on body literacy in a new campaign that strives to be relentlessly unapologetic.
“Periods are still surrounded by stigma and whispering, says Mindy Langelin, senior brand manager. “The reality is that although it's 2023 and we’ve been bleeding since time began, we've been conditioned to think about periods as not normal. People are still hiding period care products and tucking tampons up their sleeve. The heart of this is to say no to all the embarrassment we've been conditioned to accept.”
Kotex's research finds that 73% of women hide period products on their way to the bathroom, and 64% experience concerns about period odors.
The new campaign is part of the company’s launch of its latest innovations, including a cushion-core design that creates a raised center, increasing absorbency and comfort. And it’s also adding plant-based charcoal to neutralize odors.
Ads feature matter-of-fact observations, like "Vaginas aren’t flat."
The Kotex campaign is the latest in brands moving toward more frank conversations about periods, including issues of sustainability, inequitable taxation and the impact of period poverty on women around the world.
Langelin tells Marketing Daily that Ogilvy, which created the campaign, brought in much of the “strategy and creative horsepower. The goal is to destigmatize periods and also showcase these two innovations. And the agency’s insights about body literacy brought it all together.”
Besides digital spots running in connected TV placement, including YouTube, Hulu and Disney, the campaign uses banner ads, shopper activations and influencer partnerships, all keeping a playful tone while still using medically correct terms like vagina, vulva and labia majora. Ads are also running on Spotify, as well as social channels, including TikTok, Snapchat and Pinterest.
Kotex, a pioneer in the category for more than 100 years, prides itself on period progress. “Back in the day, we were the first company to display our product openly on shelves,” Langelin says. In 2020, it created a commercial showing red fluid on its products, as opposed to the blue liquid that has long ruled the category. In 2021, it asked a popular YouTuber to make a clever menstruation machine.
When asked what success will look like, “it will be when my daughter and her friends talk about their periods without embarrassment," Langelin says. "Periods are the most normal thing. That’s why we call it a cycle. It’s time for us to start treating it that way.”
Other companies are also looking for new, better ways to break the stigma. Intimina, a period cup brand based in Sweden, recently launched a fun new ad congratulating Spain for becoming the only country in the Western world to allow people to call in sick due to menstruation. (Japan, South Korea and Zambia have also legalized honest sick calls.)
A spot called “Useless Spanish Lessons” parodies language videos, focusing on research that finds one in four women have felt the need to make up an excuse to skip work because of period symptoms. It lampoons the most popular reasons, from faking food poisoning to claiming a pet is sick.