Vaginas debut in television and video ad campaign

U've come a long way, baby. Maybe too far.

In 1948, Modess sanitary napkins shocked American consumers by daring to run what were regarded as overly explicit television commercials. The entire content of the commercials comprised two words: Modess…because.

Times have changed.

Today, Kimberly-Clark’s U by Kotex brand launched a television and online video campaign that focuses specifically on vaginas.

You won’t see vaginas on television, but you will hear them talked about.

The campaign, which includes 15- and 30-second television spots and two-minute-plus online videos, will attempt to “start a conversation about vaginas” by “talking more directly about the anatomy [the product] serves,” Jack Neff reported in Advertising Age.

“One might view this work as provocative,” K-C intergated marketing planning director  Melissa Sexton explained. “But it’s provocative not for the sake of being provocative, but because that’s the way the honest conversation needs to happen.”

The commercials and videos use many of the same elements over and over – perhaps irritatingly so if you watch them all together – the most prominent being clips of old women talking about myths about menstruation and tampons.

Dreams of my great-grandmother

Both media place heavy emphasis on sound bites from women in their upper seventies talking about the menstrual myths they learned from their mothers, including

  • “If you use tampons, you’ll lose your virginity.”
  • “If you use tampons, your body will swallow them up.”
  • “You shouldn’t go swimming in the ocean (or walking in the forest) during your period because sharks (or bears) will smell the blood and attack you.”
  • “If you bake bread or cake during your period, it won’t rise.”
  • And so on.

Assuming their mothers were in their thirties when these women started reaching puberty, this would make the myths at least a century old.

Straw women?

As such, those myths make convenient straw men – or, in this case, straw women.

Like millions of American women, my 31-year-old daughter took sex education classes and read books on the subject starting in the elementary grades of public school, and she never heard any of those myths, much less believed them.

Which means either that Kimberly-Clark may be betting too heavily on a false premise or that millions of public-education tax dollars have been utterly wasted.

Brand manager Lauren Kren is putting K-C’s money on the latter. “We talked to girls and found over half of them have trouble separating myths from facts when it comes to vaginal health,” she claims.

Learning from others’ successes

“[I]n some ways,” Neff wrote, the campaign’s online component “resembles the more than decade-old backing Procter & Gamble Co.’s category-leading Always and Tampax brands.”

It also follows successful strategies and tactics from other categories.

Catch ’em when they’re young

Like soda and beer brands, women’s hygiene products comprise a category where brand preferences are formed early and turn into lifelong loyalties.

That’s why the brand is trying to “forge an emotional bond” with its target audience, young women 14 to 22 years old.

Win their preference at that age, and you’ve got month after month of sales for two or three decades.

Use free information to sell your product

Personal-injury and class-action lawyers have turned information-seekers into paying clients by creating what Ad Age called “websites and social-media campaigns…that are little more than web-surfer flytraps designed to capture the personal contact information of potential clients.”

U by Kotex’s YouTube page has five two-minute-plus videos offering (very general) information and asking young women to go to their website,, and, in the words of the home page, “challenge the way the world thinks about periods, vaginas and everything that comes with them.”

To capture data, the videos ask them to “take action with Generation Know” and “share what you wish you learned” by going to the site and ordering the “girl’s action kit” of posters saying things like “I wish I knew vaginas came in all shapes and sizes” to put up all over their campuses or neighborhoods.

Since Kimberly-Clark launched the brand in 2010, it’s added “more than a point to its 17.9 percent share of the $1.6 billion sanitary-pad market,” Deutsche Bank’s SymphonyIRI data.

So you’ve (or U’ve) come a long way, baby.

Time will tell whether you’ve gone too far.

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