At the Marketing Society’s Braver conference last week (read John Kearon’s report here, feminine hygiene brand Bodyform won Brave Brand of The Year for its “Blood Normal” campaign. The work was the first ad for sanitary pads to show actual blood, not generic blue liquid – a breakthrough which has earned Bodyform a rack of awards, including the Cannes Glass Lion Grand Prix this summer.
It’s also resonated strongly with some of its target market. A few months ago, we had the pleasure of working with a paid Marketing intern, Hani Ikar. Hani was working on our Ad Ratings database and we asked her to name an ad that inspired her, a 22-year old beginning their marketing career. “Blood Normal” was the one she picked.
“Blood Normal” is groundbreaking, but as Hani pointed out, it shouldn’t have been. It looks so radical because the category codes around feminine hygiene have been so rigid.
Conventional female hygiene ads have issues. There’s an overuse of euphemisms and metaphors to describe something as natural as periods. Ads provide an unrealistic representation of what women go through during their menstruation, commonly featuring carefree women wearing all white or exercising with a smile on their face. And for decades ads for period pads have featured a blue liquid to test the pads’ absorption performance instead of simply showing blood.
These timid category conventions might be fine if they worked emotionally – but they don’t. Ads which stick to the style Hani outlines end up getting 1-Star in our System1 Ad Ratings tests. The category is one where ads struggle to break through emotionally into the higher Star ratings associated with effectiveness and brand growth.
Something needs to change. For Hani, Bodyform are on the right track.
The truth is periods aren't as glam as most ads portray them to be; they are breakouts, back aches, cramps, mood swings but they are also natural part of being a woman and that is what newer ads like “Blood Normal” aim to portray; the raw, real truth about what over 2 billion women go through every month.
Of course, Bodyform aren’t the only brand to challenge category codes and win awards. P&G’s Always won multiple awards and enormous viral success with its “#LikeAGirl” campaign in 2015 – a 5-Star ad in our tests which was part of a wave of empowering ads with purpose and a social conscience.
By laddering up to turn its adverts into a social campaign around raising the confidence of girls and women, Always was also cleverly sidestepping the euphemistic category codes by almost entirely avoiding mentioning the product – an approach which has hit the spot emotionally.
Hani picked out “Blood Normal” and the most recent Always ad, “Keep Going”, for us to test in the US and UK. It’s a contest of brands and of philosophies. Which would resonate more – the higher social purpose of Always or the aggressive, brave realism of Bodyform?
In the end it wasn’t much of a competition. Always scored a 4-Star result in the US and a 2-Star in the UK, where the mix of inspirational quotes fell flatter. BodyForm, on the other hand, ended up at 1-Star in both countries, with Contempt and Disgust ending up strong emotions. The verbatim comments showed exactly the power of the social convention that BodyForm are taking on: “Some things should remain private”; “It did not need to be graphic”. But Surprise was also strong – “It’s quite realistic compared to similar adverts” – and viewers realised how daring the use of red was.
Being brave implies taking risks. Bodyform took a big one. In terms of awards and acclaim, it paid off. In terms of effectiveness, perhaps not – or at least, not yet. There was enough surprise and positive response to “Blood Normal” to show that Bodyform’s core insight does feel powerful and liberating to some of the audience, and clearly the brand wasn’t trying to please everyone.
For now, Always and its purpose-driven campaign offer a better route out of the category doldrums. But having broken the barriers and created an impact, Bodyform now has the chance to prove that ads which are honest about periods can have wider emotional appeal.
As Hani Ikar puts it:
Blood Normal is more than a campaign, it’s a revolution and a movement to free women from taboos and judgement created by society about a natural part of the female experience. The campaign aims to normalise the normal, something that perhaps should have happened a long time ago. But better late than never?