When Modibodi first aired ‘The New Way to Period’ in Australia, it caused quite a stir. Unperturbed by the controversy, however, it is now bringing the spot to the UK. We catch up with the period underwear brand’s chief marketing officer as she reflects on the ad campaign that provoked policy changes at Facebook, and hear about the lessons she’s learned in the process.
You might remember Modibodi from a Twitter storm back in October when Facebook decided to ban its ad for violating the platform‘s guidelines (it had dared to show period blood). “Red (pun intended) hot with rage,” read one reaction on Twitter. “Is its policy ‘ew, girls?’” asked another, aghast at the decision.
The ad in question – ‘The New Way to Period’ – is part of Modibodi’s long-term creative platform, designed to champion confidence, celebrate individual freedom and embrace diversity. “We wanted to show that people who menstruate – of all races, genders and socio-economic backgrounds – that there are alternatives to disposable products,” explains Modibodi’s chief marketing officer, Liana Lorenzato. “People thought we added blood purely for the shock factor, but that was definitely not in the brief.”
Causing quite the stir when it aired, not only was it banned on Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube, the ad was crowned Australia’s second ‘most complained about ad’ of 2020.
This might not come as a surprise, considering just how much people love to complain about period ads. If you recall 2019’s ’Blood Normal’ by Libresse’s Libra (Bodyform in the UK), it garnered over 600 complaints on launch in Australia for showing stained underwear and blood (the highest number of complaints about any ad in 2019), while in August last year the Advertising Standards Authority Ireland (ASAI) had to step in after a Tampax ad received 84 complaints. The ASAI’s decision to cave and ban the ad was widely condemned as ‘ridiculous’ and a ‘disgrace’.
So was Modibodi fussed by the controversy? “I’m disappointed it didn’t get number one,” laughs Lorenzato (that accolade goes to Ultra Tune’s problematic Baywatch recreation, which featured Pamela Anderson and an alarming amount of cleavage). She can laugh it off, she says, because without struggle there would be no progress.
It wasn’t just males who complained, however. “Females were also affronted by it. It had passed all the ad standards and classifications, it was all approved to go live. Some women, while resonating with having a period, didn’t want to see it on their screens. Others complained because they were sat next to their young children and felt uncomfortable opening up that dialogue and discussion with them.”
While the ad was racking up the complaints, it offered Modibodi an opportunity to open up a dialogue with those who felt uncomfortable, says Lorenzato, to help them see why ads like this are necessary to normalize periods.
It also provided her with an opportunity to educate publishers and platforms on why we still stigmatize periods. “We were surprised when Facebook essentially banned the campaign. After we got a general statement that Facebook doesn’t allow blood on its platform, we were then able to speak to its head office in San Francisco directly and we were able to educate them.“
Lorenzato recalls how Facebook asked Modibodi to remove the blood scene before it could let the ad run. “We just explained that we sell reusable period products and that we can’t actually sell our product without showing what the product can do and the benefit it can give to the wearer. That was the day all the media came out about it banning the ads and within 12 hours it had reversed the decision and changed its policy for that case, as did YouTube and Pinterest.”
And so Modibodi’s decision to launch the ad in the UK yesterday (1 March) is a significant move for the brand, signifying to the world that it will normalize periods whatever it takes. “We do believe that we’re always true to Modibodi’s brand essence. It’s important that whatever we do, we’re talking about the environment, which is part of our brand DNA. We’re driving the conversation, we’re normalizing these topics that are still considered taboo in the 21st century.
“That’s why we felt it was important to continue that for the UK. If this will allow those conversations and raise awareness, and in particular give our young people the opportunity to discuss menstruation, then we’re doing a good job. And if it does get banned for whatever reason, we’ll try to open a dialogue with those publishers and those platforms just as we did before. We’ll continue to promote awareness in this space.”
While the TV campaign might cause some complaints, a spokesperson for UK ad watchdog the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) assures us that its rules don’t prohibit the color red to depict period blood in ads for sanitary products. It explains: “Historically, whether advertisers have taken the decision to use blue liquid as a substitute for blood in ads because they were unaware they could use red if they wanted or because they thought consumers would be too squeamish or it was somehow ‘taboo’, the advertising rules haven’t been and aren’t a barrier for real-life depictions.“
While period products were first advertised back in the 1870s, it took until 1985 for the word ‘period’ to be used on TV (by none other than Courtney Cox) and until 2017 for Bodyform to show real period blood. Until that point, the only nod to period blood came via a watery, blue Windex-like liquid that solely illustrated the absorption of pads. So while progress in period advertising is tediously slow, it makes each milestone all the sweeter.
“There will be a point where it won’t be stigmatized,” insists Lorenzato. “I hope we will be reminiscing about this conversation in a year’s time. When we started the brand five years ago, it was really tough from a public relations side to get periods mentioned online. Now you can get an ad showing real blood on TV.”