Sanitary Products and Periods : The Last 50 Years of Advertising

An Article by Amrisha Sumeran, Marketing Assistant at Triton Hearing

Today, seeing an ad promoting sanitary products is the norm. I was sitting at lunch, flipping through a magazine and bam – an advert of a pad in all its absorbent glory. In the media menstrual brands are trying to compete with each other for the more vibrant, more environmentally friendly, or the more comfortable product on the market. But, advertising wasn’t always this way. I went back through the archives and looked into how advertising for sanitary products and periods have changed over the last 50 years.

The ’60s were a time of peace and love, but while society was reaching a stage where they were beginning to accept other ideas and embrace the unknown, menstrual products were still shunned. Boldly, Tasette, who were the original makers of the menstrual cup, promoted their product on a Times Square billboard using a delicate lily as a metaphor with the words, “Not a tampon, not a napkin. Now, a better way.” Unsurprisingly the ad was not received well, nor were the menstrual cups and so the war for period liberation waged on.

The 1970s saw curiosity around periods grow and the film industry capitalized on this interest. The 1976 movie Carrie was the first film to graphically show menstrual blood with the films’ namesake getting her period in the locker room and her classmates throwing tampons and pads at her. Films weren’t the only medium to express the blossoming interest for menstruation. Books like Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret created a unique view at having your period for the first time, while Our bodies, Ourselves looked at vaginal health and women’s sexuality. Although the presence of periods in the media increased, it was depicted more as a shock factor rather than to normalize it.

While neon clothing and pop songs dominated the 1980’s, advertising of menstrual products took a risqué turn – for the first time, the absorbency of sanitary products were tested and blue dye was used in place of blood in adverts. In a 1985 Tampax ad, Friends star Courtney Cox became the first person to say “period” on screen, breaking down the stigma of menstruation. If someone cool like Courtney can say it, then we can too. Finally, menstruation was being talked about in a public setting and advertisers clung to this wave of keenness that really took off in the ’90s.

Periods were talked about more liberally in films during the 90’s with Cher in Clueless using her period as an excuse for her tardiness. Tampax sought to banish the ‘impure’ stigma associated with using tampons by promoting that you can still be a virgin and use their products. The annual revenue for the USA sanitary product market reached $2.4billion in 1991, almost doubling the amount the industry made in 1985.

The 2000s kept up the momentum for awareness of women’s health and it was discussed more in the media with magazines like Cosmopolitan taking an in-depth view into sex, menstruation and our bodies. For the first time, a revolutionary study in 2004 suggested that migraines were linked to menstruation and are more likely to occur 2 days before they start.

For the last 20 years, blue dye was commonly featured in advertising as a substitute for blood, but for the first time in a 2011 advert, Always Ultra Thin showed a tiny red dot on a pad. This was the first ad to feature blood on its product and was a groundbreaking moment for both feminism and menstruation. The world began to acknowledge that men can get their periods too and brands like Thinx and Lunapads created men’s underwear that feature inbuilt pads. Following the wave of eco products, sanitary brands sought to make their stock more ‘transparent’ by using minimal products and exposing the ingredients that go into producing them. Saathi was the first company to really nail the idea of environmentally friendly sanitary products and made biodegradable compostable pads out of banana fibre. Sanitary brands also ventured into a ‘subscription’ system where the company sends clients menstrual products every month. After a 40-year battle, menstrual cups finally gained popularity and became many females’ preferred choice.

 

It’s incredible to see the evolution of sanitary products and menstruation in advertising. Society goes from the notion that periods should be shunned and that it’s something that isn’t normal, to today, where we can freely talk about our ‘time of the month’. In fact, in many countries, it is encouraged to embrace your period with more education and positivity around it. So next time you see an advert for sanitary products, take a moment to thank the hard-working marketers who broke boundaries and took risks to give us those vibrant and informative adverts that we see today.

 

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