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Taboo, boo, boo
©  2016  Rose George

Posted in Blog — 28th July 2016

Earlier this year, Bodyform released a groundbreaking ad. It was groundbreaking because it was about sanitary pads and periods, and because it showed women bleeding. Not menstrual blood, of course, no sanitary pad company is that “brave.”

But still, it is a fabulous ad, showing lots of fierce young woman doing sport, which of course pleases me. I like the tag line too: “no blood should hold us back.” So I publicly saluted Bodyform for it, and asked the company for an interview. The PR wrote back promptly, after I’d explained about my book and what I’ve written about period taboos, and said that her client’s interest had been piqued, and would I send some questions? This is a common practice when you ask for an interview and it can be tricky. I’ve lost months of time by scaring off institutions with questions that are considered in corporate and institutional circles as too “daring.” But I want to be honest. Yes, you can smooth your path into the interview by sending pleasingly vague questions while anticipating asking more difficult ones when you’re face to face. Sometimes I do that. But this time I didn’t. I just asked what I wanted to know, namely:

What was the thinking and inspiration behind the Blood ads?

Bodyform is known for inventive advertising (I’m thinking of the Bodyform responds ad from 2012): what enables Bodyform to be more adventurous than other brands?

How useful is brand personality in period advertising? Does it really influence sales?

Why is so much period advertising still stuck with the “rollerblading woman in white trousers” visual stereotype?

The use of blue liquid to stand in for period blood still persists, yet this is self-policing: the Advertising Standards Authority doesn’t ban menstrual blood on TV. (I wrote about that here: So why won’t anyone show it?

You’ve had a lot of praise for the Blood ads, but also some criticism that the only blood you showed wasn’t menstrual: what’s your response to that?

Why did you decide to focus on sport for the Blood ads? Were any other options explored?

I’d like to know more about again, why the emphasis on sport? what was the trigger for it: was it the publicity around Heather Watson having period pains at Wimbledon? Or This Girl Can?

What kind of outreach does Bodyform do with young women e.g. do you run a public health information platform apart from

Do you do any work in the developing world, or support any initiatives out there? Do you see a market in the developing world?

Your Blood ads were some of the first to take women seriously and realise that they can see through advertising tropes: but why did it take so long?

Do you think there is still a taboo around periods? If so, what does it consist of? And if so, why does it still exist?

Do you think that things have changed during the last couple of years? If so, why?

I sent off the email and waited to be given a date for the interview. A few days later, the PR emailed again. With beautiful PR corporate jargon, she wrote that her clients “have advised that this is an opportunity that they are unable to progress with at this stage.”

And I’m baffled. What did I write that was so terrifying? This is a company that I have publicly and loudly praised. I think they are genuinely making interesting changes in the moribund world of period advertising. I don’t think I asked anything controversial. But progress has been stopped, and a company known for breaking taboos seems to have decided to carry on with some, though I have no idea what or why.

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