It’s rare that a piece of advertising comes along that completely dismantles the conventions of a category. Blood Normal, the campaign for Libresse (the brand is known as Bodyform in the UK), challenged the taboos surrounding menstruation – in particular the depiction of menstrual blood. For decades, enthusiastic roller skaters in white shorts and the dreaded blue liquid product demos were staples of the feminine hygiene sector. (And even that term is… a very weird euphemism.)
For many women those old conventions were totally irrelevant – the emotion, practicalities and, yes, pain of periods were nowhere to be seen. And we’re pretty sure that no one has ever expelled blue water whilst menstruating.
That’s why the jury of the inaugural Immortal Awards believed it was such an important – and yes ‘immortal’ - piece of work. It not only put the brand itself at the centre of a huge media conversation, it has allowed the competitor brand to steal a march on its rivals and completely change the rules.
Wayne Deakin, chief creative officer at Huge London, was also on the judging panel and he sees the campaign as not only a game-changer but a true team effort. From creative, strategy and media planning to every aspect of production and post production, it’s a project that has been executed to the highest level.
“Advertising today is too often just pure wallpaper and meaningless nonsense. This piece does the opposite. It is a true category challenger. It turns the established approach and creates a piece of authenticity and celebration. Both beautiful and meaningful,” says Wayne. “The imagery, its sound design, the deconstruction of elements, to its crafted direction and editing - it is modern and will become iconic, in time, for reinventing the category.”
The creative agency behind the concept was, of course, AMV BBDO. It’s an evolution of a strategy that has seen the brand push to a grittier, bloodier place over the past two-and-a-half years – but while previous iterations featured the red stuff in the context of sporting injuries
, Blood Normal tackled menstrual blood specifically.
The creative team of Nicholas Hulley and Nadja Lossgott ought to be familiar names – not only have they pushed the public to grow the f**k up about periods, their credits can be found on other stellar pieces of work. They also were creative directors on another piece that performed well at the Immortal Awards – Trash Isles was won of 12 pieces of work to receive a commendation from the judges.
And while the creative and strategy team behind the idea deserve their praise, perhaps it’s the department that’s most often overlooked in creative awards that really deserves some props on Blood Normal. The concept of confronting the stigma of menstrual blood was always going to be a tough sell, both from agency to client – and from client to the rest of the team at Essity, which owns the Bodyform and Libresse brands. It’s a piece of ‘immortal’ creativity that would never have happened without the determination of Sarah Douglas, Tamara Klemich, Sara Abaza, Sarah Hore-Lacy at AMV BBDO’s account management team – but also the marketing team including Martina Poulopati (global brand communication manager), Tanja Grubner (marketing & comms director) and Traci Baxter (UK marketing manager), especially in an age when clients come under such flack for not buying creative bravery. And a shout out to the Margaux Revol, the day-to-day planner on the campaign who reportedly put an insane amount of effort and brains into it.
While AMV BBDO took the lead on the idea, a team of agencies were involved in getting it out there, for example PR agency Ketchum and media agency Zenith. This project provided a unique set of challenges – as a taboo-buster the media planners were keen to hit an audience beyond the already large segment of menstruating women, explains head of strategy on Essity, Judith Zaremba.
“Usually we are more narrowly targeted about who we want to reach, but in this case we went broader in order to have the impact on society,” says Judith. “We are talking to menstruating women but we went broader because our purpose was to break taboos.”
From a production perspective the project involved a lot of moving parts. The central hero film spun off to several different activations – from sites selling the featured sanitary towel-shaped lilos to a range of beautifully-embroidered period pants. As Somesuch executive producer Lou Hake explains, that meant that the teams at AMV BBDO and Somesuch had to collaborate extensively before they were ready to even commit to celluloid (and more of the celluloid later).
“There was a long pre-production period where there was a huge overlap between creative development and pre-production,” says Lou. “Both AMV and Somesuch were reaching out to huge numbers of collaborators to try and find combinations that would work. And then it was a case of re-writing the script, re-presenting, re-budgeting... it was a relentless but really important part of the process.”
The director on the project was Daniel Wolfe. He says that he was at first surprised when he was sent the project and that a female director friend had declined to take part – but perhaps in the age of Free the Bid, and given the message behind the campaign, it’s important that both men and women engage in the issue. Both, after all, are required to break the taboo.
“As with anything universal, there is no singular male or female view point ... we wanted to create something that provided a platform for discussion rather than trying to tell people what to think. And we hopefully made a film which isn’t defined by the gender of its director. A film which both women and men will take something from, hopefully helping instil the idea of a new normal,” says Daniel, who reflects that he has often seen periods reflected in culture as ‘shameful’.
As both Lou and Daniel explain, they were keen to create a non-judgemental ‘alternate reality’ rather than telling people what to think. That meant exploring, and depicting, women and girls’ manifold, nuanced experiences. In turn, capturing all of those perspectives meant that the production was hugely ambitious, so the team at production service company Radioaktive Film in Kiev had a lot to juggle.
“The discussions were really proactive which showed how there really is no singular female point of view… it’s nuanced and personal. Practically, the budget was really tight for the scale of what we were trying to achieve. Without the incredible work of the Radioaktive Film team we would never have come close to showing the wide-ranging scenarios we were able to achieve which were essential to nail the concept,” says Lou.
One of the most striking elements of the film is the sensitive cinematography from DOP Monika Lenczewska. Daniel talks admiringly of her ‘empathetic yet questioning eye’. And from an aesthetic point of view, Monika helped to create a particularly distinctive look by working with 35mm film.
The team at Cinelab, the film processing company that worked on two of the Immortal-winning spots (they also had a hand in Nike 'Nothing Beats a Londoner'
, are understandably thrilled that celluloid is back. “Blood Normal was a thought-provoking and controversial spot designed to break taboos around periods. There was a clear aesthetic that everyone involved wanted to achieve. Shooting on 35mm gave it an honest and sympathetic feel. In the end a sensitive yet groundbreaking film was achieved that everyone should be proud of.”
Ultimately, as Wayne points out, the success of the project is a team effort. Every detail, from the synthy soundtrack from Felt Music, to the powerful narrative created in the edit by Trim’s Tom Lindsay contributes. And the spirit of collaboration is palpable.
“I can honestly say that the brand and all the agencies we worked with are the most exceptional team I have ever worked with in 15 years. Somehow we wanted to work together. There was not a process in place or a set up to force us to work together – we really wanted to work together and we live and breathe what we do,” says Judith from Zenith. She describes how the agencies get together to share blood-coloured cookies, make genital-shaped origami and head to Oktoberfest. “We all love to work on this brand and sell these products. And it is the purpose that makes all the difference. Making a difference in society is what makes us pull together.”
The next iteration of AMV BBDO and Essity’s Libresse collaboration is, we understand, just round the corner. But while we wait to see what comes next, we’ll leave you with the words of Immortal Awards juror, Lauren Connolly, ECD at BBDO New York:
"Blood Normal changed society.
It changed the category.
It changed storytelling.
It changed integration.
It changed production.
And nothing about it felt like an ad, but like a giant leap forward."
Check out the full list of Immortal winners and commendations here.
GLOBAL BRAND COMMUNICATION MANAGER: Martina Poulopati
Marketing & COMMS DIRECTOR: Tanja Grubner
UK MARKETING MANAGER: Traci Baxter
CREATIVE AGENCY: Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO
CREATIVE DIRECTORS: Toby Allen and Jim Hilson
COPYWRITER: Nicholas Hulley
ART DIRECTOR: Nadja Lossgott
PLANNER: Bridget Angear, Rebecca Fleming, Margaux Revol
EXECUTIVE CREATIVE DIRECTOR: Alex Grieve, Adrian Rossi
TV PRODUCER: Edwina Dennison
ACCOUNT MANAGEMENT: Sarah Douglas, Tamara Klemich, Sara Abaza, Sarah Hore-Lacy
ART PRODUCER: Kirstie Johnstone
PROJECT MANAGER: Leonie Chaudhry
MEDIA AGENCY: Zenith Media
MEDIA PLANNER: Alanna Bishop, Eloi Casali, Ekaterina Syromolotova, Linda Tan
PR AGENCY: Ketchum (Global), Myriad (Local)
ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR: Alexandra Marsh (Ketchum)
ACCOUNT DIRECTOR: Charlotte Wood (Ketchum)
PARTNER, DIRECTOR OF INSIGHTS & STRATEGY: Ruth Yearley (Ketchum)
DIGITAL DESIGN: Pole London
PRODUCTION COMPANY: Somesuch
DIRECTOR: Daniel Wolfe
DOP: Monika Lenczewska
PRODUCER: Lou Hake / Sally Llewellyn / Tim Nash
PRODUCTION SERVICE: Radioaktive Film
EDIT COMPANY: Trim
EDITOR: Tom Lindsay
POST PRODUCTION / VFX
POST PRODUCTION COMPANY: The Mill / Framestore
FILM LAB: Cinelab London
FILM LAB COMMERCIALS PRODUCER: Aarti Mahtani
MUSIC SUPERVISION: Felt Music
AUDIO POST PRODUCTION: Sam Ashwell @ 750mph