Category Archives: reusables

Peer Review

So I like the new Mooncup ad for lots and lots of period positive reasons.

Here it is again:

I watched it, I enjoyed it, I shared it, but I couldn’t ignore this other blog post title forming in my head after the first viewing:

“OMG! They’ve used an educational rap!” say several slam poets and rap battlers (including a statistically small number of female rap battlers) at once as they collectively facepalm.

Yeah, so, there’s that. A number of readers will know I perform regularly on the spoken word scene and I’m on my university’s slam team. Lately, there’s been a little more slam/battle crossover in the spoken word universe, so I thought I’d check in with a few pals for some peer review. They’ve each agreed to weigh in below on their impressions of the video’s effectiveness from a wordsmith’s perspective.

Sticking with the marketing point of view though, cultural appropriation of rap for commercial purposes is such an old trope that it’s more status quo than newsworthy. In fact, in this particular advert, I really think that the usual criticism is mostly offset by the genuine use of rap as protest against disposables.

Interesting as it might be to me, I know that the femcare industry and most consumers don’t need to read a peer review of the authenticity of the rap battle. I had a hunch that Mooncup’s choice to adhere to some of the conventions of the genre has actually helped them get the message across more effectively (and certainly more effectively than more typical #OMGRAP ads currently making the rounds).

I don’t think it’s a gratuitous use of rap. I think it’s a well observed and effective pastiche.

When I got in touch with Mooncup last week to get the stats for last Friday’s post, I also checked out the origin story for the rap battle. Kath Clements, their Campaigns and Marketing manager, was happy to share their process:

“It was a real collaborative effort between Mooncup and [the ad agency] St. Luke’s. We needed a device for positioning a debate and a conceptual framework – we put it in our natural habitat which is the toilet! We were aware we were appropriating a thing with cultural connotations, so we tried to do it with finesse.”

I asked her about how it was written, and she told me that St. Luke’s worked with a producer who battles in his free time, and liked the concept enough to help them out and write it pro bono. He also coached the actors who play Tampon (who has actually rapped before in her own right) and MCUK (I just got that joke), who appeared in Mooncup’s last viral ad campaign.

With that insight, it looked to me like I could analyse the battle in good conscience. See, I really like the wordplay, puns and syncopation of classic freestyling, and my twelve-year-old self delightedly and ignorantly partook in gentle games of The Dozens with my middle school pals. The casual sexism and homophobia that I’ve witnessed on the current battle scene puts me off, though. I valued this ad’s depiction of women in a rap battle scenario. So I wanted to check out my theory that the quality of the pastiche and the rhyme are part of the payoff for this ad.

The first bit of commentary comes from Harry Baker, who’s been on Don’t Flop but who also raps about maths and slams about dinosaurs, both of which are more my speed.

“I think it’s almost too obvious that it’s made up of key statistics made to rhyme, but I guess that is the point of the advert. Things like the ‘no strings attached’ line would get a reaction from a crowd probably. So first reaction is ‘eye roll’ + ‘rap to get down with the kids’ but the rhyme/hook is there. For me I’m fine with it being a rap battle between two women, and it makes sense as a way of A vs B advert information, but the rhymes themselves aren’t really good enough to get away with it, or do the genre justice – I guess it’s good they want to use the format in mainstream media (pastiche is a great word) but what I would watch for/do in a rap battle is the intricate word play and rhyme schemes which I feel this lacks!”

Next up was Paula Varjack, originator and host of the Anti-Slam:

“Cheesy rap as an advertising device has been in effect since the eighties. I think the device only works if the rhymes are very clever or funny or both. Like a bad slam poem this doesn’t totally work as its more didactic than clever, and definitely not funny enough. I’m not sure I would have watched to end unless you asked me, and it’s only a minute and a half long. But as advertising for menstrual products go, it’s nice to not have abstract scenes of tennis playing and the like and I did actually glean info about Mooncups. Also I give them a couple points for rhyming mental with lentil.”

So the first two responses swung more toward the #OMGRAP side of the cringe-o-meter.

I spoke next to Kate Garrett, my captain on the Sheffield Hallam University slam team.

“Wow – first impression is, yes a bit cheesy as many ads are, but it’s also wicked cool and far more clever than most. I enjoyed that. In the case of women selling femcare, I think that’s a good device and empowering, that side of it isn’t cheesy – I just find most ads cheesy because they’re ads. Also as the Tampon Crew started the rap battle, it’s showing how those companies are quietly bullying us all into using what’s already widely known, and trying to bully other options out of the market by going, ‘ew weird reusable femcare omg go away’. So if anyone wakes up to that, the ad’s done a great service. Mooncup had good rhymes, and great lines ‘we only collect from the menstrual flow’ and ending the ad with ‘no strings attached’ – love both of those, great wordplay (I like ‘flow’ because a rap is someone’s ‘flow’ as is the intended meaning in this context, and obviously strings/tampons – excellent …)!

“Nothing particularly jumped out as a bad rhyme, it scans well and seems to work, however, I’d say they shouldn’t use the phrase ‘it’s making me mental’ just to rhyme with ‘lentils’. There are other words and other rhymes more suitable. In an advert empowering women to make informed choices, which is refreshingly free from the usual sexist stuff, it’s probably better not to use any ablist language either. Then again, the phrase came from Tampon Crew, among several insults, so I guess they could’ve been making a complicated point about tampon companies being bullies by giving them certain language? I’m not sure now. Could’ve been lazy writing, could’ve been super clever subtext.

“Anyway. I also loved that Mooncup were honest about loving the earth in the face of being called tree-hugging hippies and whatever else. The Mooncup Crew clearly don’t care what people think in this rap battle, which is ace. In a rap battle, if the other person can’t insult you, you win! I prefer this ad over other femcare ads. I actually started mentally blocking ads for tampons and sanitary towels years ago, but this ad is totally honest, clever and genuine – it uses words like “menstrual” which I’m not sure I’ve even heard in an ad for tampons!”

Regarding mental/lentils: In real life, the intersectionality of oppression means avoiding the word ‘mental’ to challenge mental health stigmas at the same time as challenging the menstrual ones. Examining all of Tampon’s lines, though, I think Kate may be right about the super clever subtext.

Throughout the rap, here’s what Tampon is says about herself:

  • She is criminally dismissive of outer space
  • She has no qualms about repeated name calling and putdowns
  • She uses the phrase tree hugging hippies, so she stereotypes people
  • She does not believe in global warming and equates it with herbal remedies (which, David McCandless style, can go both ways).
  • She uses the word mental when describing her own escalating emotional state after considering the implications of reusable femcare gaining in popularirty and stubbing her out once and for all.

This is a clever way of alienating Tampon from the audience, it’s a little bit Brechtian, and works in Mooncup’s favour. Kate’s right: In rap battles, blatantly ignoring a dis and coming back with a better one is in keeping with the genre. But maybe next time they could try to find another rhyme or have Mooncup use counterspeech to call her on it within the ad. After all, most people watch viral videos and move on – there’s not a lot of time for deeper analysis.

To round off all that food for thought, I asked the University of Sheffield’s slam team captain, for balance. He’s a good guy, when we’re not in direct competition on stage. He thought the battle format was essential for allowing a reusables company to challenge the disposable femcare industry. Here’s Jack Mann, captain of Dead Beats Poetry Society:

“Rap as a medium for advertising always seems cheesy, however I didn’t know about Mooncups, and so I followed the link to see what they were. As such, the ‘cheese’ was necessary for awareness and, in such an ephemeral zone as online media, worked exactly to spark intrigue. It’s a parody, soI knows that it isn’t to be taken seriously as a medium, however as a poem in that sense is spot on ! it pits them as equals, as if that’s assumed.”

I point out that the Tampon and the Mooncup don’t have equal time – that after the first round, Mooncup actually has two extra lines per round to make its point and subtly influence the viewer: not only do Tampon’s excuses seem shorter and whinier, but Mooncup grows more articulate as each round continues.

Back to Jack:

“Because [Mooncup] want to usurp the grip of the tampon without seeming like upstarts, the only way to do that is to forget that they aren’t on the same level and then use the language behind the established leader to assert that the tampon is not just (relatively) silly but no longer on the same level. In a live battle she would potentially be scored down for exceeding the time limit, but because of crowd reaction would invariably score higher – same as with slams – if a poet pleases the crowd, the crowd then usually influences the judges who then want to please the crowd also.”

These guys all took my questions seriously, scored the Mooncup rap as if there were weighing in after a battle or judging a slam, and answered my slightly tongue-in-cheek queries about the battle rules honestly. It looked overall, whether they thought the rhymes were cheesy or not, that this worked.

I asked Erica Mitchell Packington, social media tech consultant and Chair of Sheffield Steel Rollergirls why it works.

“I think it’s clever, funny, the rhythms work and its factual as well as being kind of kitch and knowing. I guess if I was properly going critique it, I’d recognise the ‘cat fight in the toilets’ thing, but it comes across more strongly as a rap battle that situates the choice in the place that it’ll be enacted and the Mooncup character role models ignoring insults and using stats to fight back against bullying.

“If people don’t know what a Mooncup is, it might prompt them to look them up. I love the way they deal with the whole hippie aspect of it. It’s ridiculous, but I felt a bit sorry for the tampon woman at the end. But rap battles are battles and someone has to lose, I suppose. Might have been better if the victory was softened by her taking a Mooncup or something, but I doubt that fits with the practice of rap battles!

“From a social media perspective, they have really tried to honour the conventions of the rap battle. In the past, advertisers might have been able to get away with a vague approximation of an art form or subculture, but now it’s much easier for the audience to check. The access to the ‘real’ (or at least the real that is shared) means marketers have to quite finely balance the tone.”

Details in this ad are very well observed, and the tongue-in-cheek nod to rap battle as product showdown, despite the initial cringe-factor, is satisfyingly executed. So? Does the battle complement Mooncup’s game plan?

Harry summed it up well:

“On the whole I like the ad because it gets its message across without insulting women, which is a lot more than you can say for many femcare ads and many rap battles.”

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Shameless. Or, How To Make An Ethical Femcare Ad.

I saw a femcare ad that I actually liked.

I know, right? I don’t even know who I am anymore.

I’m kidding. I’m exactly the same person. It’s the ad that’s different.

Now. I don’t promote individual femcare companies. I do ad analysis. As long as femcare adverts remain the loudest voice in the menstrual discourse, I’ll keep encouraging people to use social media to create a two-way conversation and to increase their advertising literacy. Since I started this project, though, I’ve longed to see an ad that was period positive: that didn’t use shame to sell or use humour at the expense of menstruators. This is the first one I’ve ever seen.

It’s a viral video that’s been put out this week by Mooncup UK, a small (but growing), ethical company producing reusable, medical grade silicone menstrual cups. The ad directly challenges the current market leaders and promotes their own product without once dipping into the fear/embarrassment/secrecy triumvirate used throughout the history of femcare.

Here’s the ad:

And here’s the analysis:

Like a number of femcare ads that have made news over the past couple of years, it’s funny, viral, and sends itself up.

Where previous ads by bigger brands have gotten it wrong, though, it’s usually been because there were still echoes of the history of shame, fear and manufactured problems that could all be solved by the product. Ads for disposables somehow never seeming to mention the inconvenient truth (thanks, Al) about landfills and waste.

But the Mooncup ad works because:

They have a massively on-message USP. The unique selling point is that it’s reusable for years. Those who prefer tampons to pads could be persuaded to make the switch. I know many people who have sung their praises for ages, and while I’ve been doing the Adventures in Menstruating project, their company’s reach has grown far beyond its Brighton offices, and awareness around menstrual cups generally (a number of companies produce silicone and latex menstrual cups around the world), has spread, mostly by word of mouth, small distributors, and a few clever ad campaigns.

Brand loyalty for products that you don’t need to replace often is built through trust, reliability, and integrity. It’s a classic advertising model, but it’s usually applied to big ticket items like cars. Gives a whole new meaning to Think Small.

I’m aware that there are very different business models working with a one off purchase vs. repeat purchase disposables. If tampon companies respond, it’d be refreshing if they used what I like to call the Ocean Breeze Soap model. (Tampons are convenient in a pinch. Just like other disposable products are handy for the same reason. It would be way better for the environment if we used fewer convenience products, but if you do choose to use a disposable product of any kind, we hope you’ll choose ours.) Disposable femcare companies can’t deny their carbon footprint, but they frequently take the lazy option and distract consumers with shame and fear.

Shame is out of the equation. Its persuasive powers aren’t tainted by the classic canon of leakage fear, invisibility, euphemisms like ‘comfort’ or ‘freshness’, or that mysterious blue liquid. (Okay seriously – what IS that stuff? Do they use water with food colouring? Wildberry fruit punch? What?) They don’t need to use shame – no femcare company does.

They have a convincing argument backed up by statistics (that they are willing to share and which you are welcome to read and critique further). This ad lists the reasons why menstrual cups are better in a direct product comparison: better for your body, better value financially, and better for the environment than disposables. (In the style of a rap battle. But I’ll come back to that in my next post next week.)

I emailed Mooncup and requested data to back up the claims, and they, impressively, sent it straight over:

Source: no of tampons (22 per period)

Source: tampons absorb “everything”

Source: Mooncups hold 3x as much as a tampon

PLEASE NOTE: Gram to millilitre conversion:15 g= 15 ml.

Mooncup A (2011) contains 29.3 ml

Mooncup B (2011) contains 28.8 ml

See pg 6 of the AHPMA UK Code of Practice for Tampon Manufacturers & Distributors 2010 for tampon absorbency figures.

The ad works on two levels. Like Sesame Street. Sticking with the childhood metaphors for a minute here, femcare product users are kinda like belly buttons: there are innies and outies. Some menstruators prefer insertion methods of catching menstrual blood while it’s still inside the body, like disposable tampons or reusable menstrual cups. Others prefer to use external pads (disposable or reusable, including a few designs that are built into trendy underwear). There are also a few outliers – a small number of menstruators who choose to use nothing at all. (A couple of contributors to Adventures in Menstruating #6 product tested Nothing, with interesting results.)

The target audience for this ad – on the surface – is the innies: people who are not squeamish about blood or tampons, don’t mind insertion methods and would be more likely to consider swapping to a menstrual cup than pad users (although the ad briefly mentions pads at the end…on the off chance).

What it’s doing on another level, though, is sending a shout out to fans. With knowing puns and stereotypical send-ups of early-adopters, the jokes are inclusive and validate consumers’ brand loyalty and lifestyles. The video also provides a toolkit for encouraging others; the ad itself is a blueprint for increasing word of mouth advertising, complete with setting, arguments and strategies. Oh no…is it…

Is it 2CK? Is it 2PFPINAB (two personified femcare products in a bathroom)?

No. This could have mirrored the kind of print ad you saw fifty or sixty years ago: two ‘housewives’ in the kitchen worrying about how to stay ‘dainty’ for their husbands. But here, the viewers are not voyeurs, and this is not an overheard conversation – the camera angles cast us alternatively as the Tampon and the Mooncup.

It’s a very clever mash up of a reclaimed and reconstructed 2CK and a blatant product comparison ad. It’s well acted and directed, and the production values are high. Viewers aren’t patronised. We’re included.

Can advertising be ethical?

If you tell the truth about your product, use inclusive language, back up your stats, place adverts appropriately, and don’t use shame or patronise the intelligence of the viewer? Then… yeah. I mean…if we’re trying to build a better world and all that, I don’t think it’s too much to ask. Advertising may depict an alternative universe, but it shouldn’t be exempt from treating people with respect.

I contacted Kath Clements, who is Mooncup’s Campaigns and Marketing manager and the person who had sent the statistical data over as soon as I requested it. She was happy to answer all the questions I asked. I felt a bit spoilt – like I was monopolising her time. Obviously it’s in her interest if I spend time talking about and telling others about her company, but I really wanted to know about the marketing side, and she was really open about it. It made me think I could approach other femcare companies and see if they’d speak to me as well. Worst they can do is say no, right?

I asked her about the ethics of advertising. (As in, are there any? I mean…this ad seems so ethical! And funny! And not shaming! I’m not used to getting all three in one ad.)

She replied:

“When I started, my job description was that we don’t do push marketing. My role was getting editorial, facilitating word of mouth and education. It’s evolved. Maybe in order to be seen we need to ‘play the game’ but it still comes from the same place of trying to be conscious of what we do. We don’t want to make women feel bad; we want women to know that they have a choice.”

I also asked for a bit more info about those stats. The data comes predominantly from the AHPMA – the Absorbent Hygiene Products Manufacturing Association, which I didn’t know was a thing. AHPMA seems to regulate industry standards for absorption measures etc. using patented absorption measuring devices that are kind of a hoot.

I feel like this is secret information – like this level of transparency is something I shouldn’t be sharing. But actually, it makes me respect a company that appears to have a business strategy as ethical as its product.

In terms of promotion, I know that when corporations use viral ads, they’re usually not going viral spontaneously – they’re seeded by professionals who get the word out through traditional PR routes and get the hit numbers up. Don’t think flu. Think 12 Monkeys.

So it was back to Kath:

“Our last viral reached 380,000 views without any seeding. As with the Love Your Vagina song, the battle is gaining views naturally through shares by Mooncup users (Facebook, Twitter, blogs etc.) as well as viewers who just like (or don’t like!) the content choosing to share it. As before, as the concept’s groundbreaking, we’re also getting editorial coverage which is growing its reach. Beyond that, for the first time, we’re also using a company called 7th Chamber who are seeding it for us, and supporting its positioning across several sites. We’ll be doing MPUs on some mainstream websites, and putting them against content that’s a bit incongruent to make it stand out.”

I had to ask what MPUs meant – they’re multipurpose units – the square ads on websites. I assumed that kind of thing could break the bank, and asked her how much something like that was worth.

She couldn’t tell me all the figures, but said that seeding wasn’t that expensive when compared to other aspects like the film production and the usage costs (the actors will receive payments that are like set-fee royalties while the ad is online), and that it was all far, far cheaper than a television ad. If the femcare ads on television were produced with this aesthetic, though, we’d have a totally different discourse.

I had to ask her how she and the Mooncup team were able to make ethical choices. Like…what was it about them helped them to keep femcare stereotypes out of their marketing.

“We’re aware that advertising has the power to tap into people’s void and make people want to buy things they don’t need or make people uncomfortable. Our choices about what we commission are informed by the whole team of us, each keeping an eye to the impact that any of our advertising may have on the viewer. We work to make sure that what we create aligns with our ethics both as a business, and as individuals.”

Final Verdict:

Reusables have entered the ring as a marketable commercial alternative to tampons. A new standard has been set for shame-free advertising and now disposables need to keep up. Definitely period positive.

Stay tuned to the blog next week for Rap Battle analysis!

Why, thank you.

I’ve just had a very cool review from Olga Wolstenholme’s sex positive blog! Woohoo and thank you! 

Incidentally – it was quite heartening to read about Olga’s positive responses when she wrote about her diva cup (she refers to this in the post). One bad comment (also mentioned)  really can spoil the whole bunch at first, but I find visceral responses like that point up a lot of shame behind the knee-jerk reaction of a nasty remark. Which means there’s all the more reason to put period positive stuff out there – those taboos clearly need breaking. I quite like her (mostly in jest) disclaimer: ”As long as you’re not being ignorant or oppressive, you can go right ahead and think blood is gross.” 

A very good point. Nice one, Olga.

Hate ‘moisture’? You’ll love these.

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.

Doctor Trev:

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.

Happy Earth Day!

Just found this cloth pad wiki and thought it’d be nice to share a reusables resource for Earth Day.

We went to a cloth pad workshop in Edinburgh and learned how to make a few different styles. I sew about as well as I cook, but I gave it a good old go.

It was a vision in red stars and flannel. Actually, there were a lot of colours available, but I went red pattern crazy.

That’s not a recent affectation, by the way.

This was my favourite book when I was little.