For World Menstrual Hygeine Day, Stayfree and DDB Mudra uncovered a persistent taboo and created a campaign that had a profound impact on the team working on it, Pallavi Chakravarti tells Laura Swinton
The stigmas and taboos around menstruation have been a hot topic for brands in the feminine hygiene category in recent years as they’ve discovered a role to play in supporting and educating women and girls. But a recent campaign from India, for brand Stayfree, has highlighted an enduring but yet unexplored manifestation of those taboos - and one which will resonate around the world. And that’s the awkwardness and silence that often emerges between fathers and daughters when they start menstruation. For one thing, periods are often considered the domain of mothers - but for another, teenagers can experience a sense of shame and embarrassment, while fathers feel unsure about how or whether to broach the subject.
What the team discovered is that this secrecy can irrevocably change even the closest father-daughter relationship, as the father is absent during a huge life moment. Indeed the emotional profundity of the insight was one that deeply affected the creative team working on the campaign, both male and female. Pallavi Chakravarti creative head - West, DDB Mudra, walks us through the poignant campaign.
LBB> What was the initial brief from the client?
Pallavi> The brief from the client intended to further the brand’s purpose of building a healthy relationship between a young girl and her periods by activating the ecosystem of people, specifically fathers, around her.
LBB> How did the idea about the taboo of discussing periods with fathers come up - was that an insight inspired by research or did it come closer to home?
Pallavi> Stayfree and DDB have been on this specific path for a bit now. It started with ‘It’s Just a Period’ in 2020 and continued with ‘Daughter’s Day’ in 2021.
Fathers and daughters have an incredibly special relationship. Save one specific gap. Fathers tend to ignore menstruation in general and specifically tend to not participate in talking to their daughters when they first start menstruating.
LBB> As you began to explore this complex area in father-daughter relationships, what were the most unexpected insights or conversations that came up?
Pallavi> The breakthrough came when the team started talking about what would have happened if fathers never shied away from talking about menstruation. What would it do to the bond between fathers and daughters? What is the emotional burden that the relationship has to carry?
The starkest part of the conversation was the tiny but potent pinch that was felt when all the fond memories about fathers were contrasted with that one, sudden gap where they were absent.
LBB> I see that the creative team involved a mix of male and female creatives - why was it important to bring both perspectives into the room on this campaign particularly?
Pallavi> The development of this was a cathartic experience in many ways. But even more powerfully, we knew the idea was complete when we realised that fathers – especially those of pre-pubescent daughters – felt not only a pang of dread (will my daughter feel this way about me?) but also a renewed sense of duty after realising the extent of the hurt they inflict by remaining silent.
LBB> This is definitely an issue that I think will resonate with women around the world - the awkwardness or taboo around talking about menstruation with one's father is something that certainly exists where I'm from in the UK and I'm sure in most countries too. But can you tell us a bit about the Indian context and how that frames this particular issue?
Pallavi> In India, girls spend a lifetime making periods invisible, hiding in shame, and coping in silence. But we realised that it all starts with the girl seeing only her mother talk to her about periods. It starts with fathers looking the other way at the mere mention of the subject. It starts with girls learning that they need to hide their periods from men. Stayfree has been saying for a while that normalising periods will remain unattainable if men are excluded. Because if men can talk the talk, then there’s no reason left to hide periods. But involving men is easier said than done when even women talk about menstruation in hushed tones and behind closed doors.
LBB> How did you go about casting the film?
Pallavi> Delicately and sensitively. We did not want to reveal the subject beforehand. A lot of the women in the film were in front of the camera for the first time. We knew that personal experience would play a bigger role. So we asked to them just talk about their fathers during the auditions and then took a punt off the back of that.
LBB> And what did director Gaurav Gupta bring to the film?
Pallavi> Mounting this shoot was a unique challenge. We knew we had one shot at getting the rawest and the most real reactions from both the women. A rough line–up of the women talking had to be engineered so that the fathers had something to react to. The bittersweetness of the piece was captured well by Gaurav and Aman Pant’s light yet potent touch to the background score really elevated the emotions.
LBB> This film feeds into a wider range of resources provided by Stayfree to enable the conversation - can you tell me about the involvement of DDB Mudra/ 22feet Tribal WW in helping develop those tools/platforms?
Pallavi> Stayfree has enabled a partnership with Menstrupedia, a leading resource on menstrual health & hygiene knowledge for some time now. The movement started with last year’s Daughter’s Day campaign, where we saw a 2.5x rise in registrations from parents for a month-long workshop on understanding menstruation.. out of which 25% of registrations were fathers!
This year too, we extended the partnership with Menstrupedia as an emotional call-to-action in our very last frame – leaving fathers with the resources to educate themselves and enable this important conversation with their own daughters.
LBB> And for those working on the campaign who are themselves fathers or daughters, what's been the personal impact of the experience of working on this campaign?
Pallavi> Liberating. It felt to many as if a long hidden away pain was not only revisited but dealt with. A reminder and a renewed conviction to simply talk. After all, it is just a period.