So Johnson & Johnson’s Canadian division’s just launched a new Stayfree campaign that I found out about when a Toronto reporter contacted me for an article she was writing. The campain is a series of viral youtube videos that simulate a date with one of three archetypal ‘Mr. Rights’, segue into a product testing situation, and conclude with an offer of a coupon for a free pack of pads.
Now, you can’t argue with free stuff, and the viral nature of the campaign is a good hook to try and get women who have brand loyalty but who might be persuaded to swap, but I think it’s the pads market going for tampon users. A virtual date with attractive thirty-something guys with careers, skills and hobbies? That’s the top half of the 18-34 demographic and I’m pretty sure I remember reading we’re mostly tampon users, though a lot of people have swapped to reusable menstrual cups, so I think on that front these ads aren’t going to work. They’ve already got a couple of things working against them, and only the free stuff in their favour.
Then there’s the length of those ads – two-and-a-half minutes of talking nonstop and the woman’s just nodding? I ramble on about menstruation, but I do let people get a word in edgeways.
Taking the ads as a whole, the ‘I’m on a horse’ Old Spice ad surreal shift to product testing mid date is funny, and the fact that it is so much of a cliché is in keeping with the new ‘tongue in cheek’ ad style, but the message is all wrong. It’s interesting that comedy femcare ads are happening now (this is the third big comedy campaign after Mother Nature and the role reversal Kotex ones, and the nth viral…). I may have no show left to do soon because I’ve parodied femcare ads for the past five years and now they’re parodying themselves. Maybe they’ve been reading my zine. Still though, I wish they’d stop making the same old mistakes. Periods don’t need to be invisible, they don’t need to be negative, and they don’t stand alone – they’re part of a whole biological process and not a creepy ‘other’ that women ‘suffer from’. They’re too inconsistent to be properly funny. If they’re going to go to all that effort, they’d do better to leave out the negative messages. But I’m making sweeping generalisations. Let’s break it down. Here’s where they go wrong on their dates:
Brad The Chef:
They’ve missed a trick with the tomato sauce spilling on the chef’s shirt. It figures that the first time ever there’s a red stain in a femcare ad it’s on a dude.
Then he says “I like thinness, don’t you?” Ok so body image obsessed then… Fail.
Ryan The Toymaker:
Stereotype of the do-gooder, check. Good effort. But then he says, “I hate moisture.” (Like it’s evil.) “Don’t you just hate moisture?” And then the camera…nods?
Dismissive euphemism for blood aside, if they both hate moisture, that is going to be one…chaste relationship.
Moisture? Liquid? They may have tried to appear ‘brave’ or ‘savvy’ by sticking a dude in the ad, but Stayfree doesn’t have the ovaries to use red liquid or say blood? In 2010? Either would be fine. Their version of the visual and the vocab makes menstruation disappear…in an ad for maxipads.
Finally, the killer for Ryan is when he says, “It’s not fair that you should have to experience this every month. It’s just not fair.”
I’m assuming that’s part of the parody – the middle distance stare, the reverent whisper – but the pitying tone means we’ve just been equated with homeless cats (one of the cats is named ‘Spazz’ – in England, that term is really offensive…) and disadvantaged children in our ‘inability’ to cope with menstruation. We are disadvantaged. Poor us.
Ok, feminine hygiene ad deconstruction aside, Trevor doesn’t know how to vacuum. Either that or I don’t. All I know is, if I were doing it that way, I’d wanna be doing it better, so the whole ‘here’s a man who can hoover’ thing doesn’t work. Again another stain, but this time it’s pit stains, and we’re allowed to see real pit stains. Why isn’t that blue liquid?
It’s hilarious by the way that there is a red logo on the back of his pants – I thought he had a stain on them for a minute.
Then he says, “Wow, just look at all that messy liquid. I tell ya, if I could go through this experience every month instead of you, I would.”
He thinks he’s saying he’ll menstruate. He’ll be a hero and take one for the team. What? He and Stayfree don’t seem to be aware that they’re signing him up for a whole lot more than that. He can offer to swap reproductive organs if he wants, but he may end up in it for the whole nine yards and the whole nine months, should anyone be able to take him up on that. One of main problems with femcare advertising is they literally bank on us thinking blood’s gross. But menstruation is just one small part of a much bigger reproductive process. Is he offering to get pregnant and give birth for me? Cool. It’d be nice if he were jealous and was like pining for the chance to menstruate, but he’s painting it as though he’s the saviour who can rescue us from misery.
Many women have periods that are not that bad. You just don’t hear about it because it doesn’t sell anything. No extra heavy flow pads, no super absorbent tampons and no contraceptive pills or painkillers if it’s all going fine.
Bottom line, a guy being down with periods is great, and to find that out on a first date with him is even better, but the ‘I know best’ attitude, parody or not, when combined with the blood’s ‘gross’ and ‘can’t be mentioned’ and ‘it’s such a burden to you’ is whack, and not what I’m looking for.
And finally, I tried to get in touch with the Commercial Production Association of Toronto, to ask what the statistical chances were of it being a guy behind the camera. They weren’t answering.