The team behind taboo-busting campaign on why blue water just won’t cut it anymore
Blue water and svelte gym bunnies in pristine white shorts – advertising for women’s sanitary products has traditionally been packed with clichés and euphemisms. Nervous brands pussyfooting (yup) around the realities of menstruation have been a symptom of society’s collective awkwardness. Now, though, advertising and marketing is leading rather than following, breaking taboos and talking to women like grown-ups.
So far we’ve had the likes of Hello Flow’s acerbic humour, BBDO India’s ‘Touch the Pickle’ for P&G (which tackled India’s very extreme version of the stigma that women all around the world suffer) and the Kids’ Guide to Feminism of Always’ ‘Like a Girl’. But a new campaign for Bodyform has gone where no brand has gone before – it’s crunchy, tough, gritty…
…and it shows blood.
Gone are the pastel tones and overly bright jingles. Instead the spot, directed by Stink directing duo Jones + Tino, is dark, dripping with determination. It follows female athletes, dancers and skateboarders enjoying a bit of rough and tumble – inspired by research by UCL into the impact of menstruation on spot.
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with AMV BBDO creatives Caio Giannella and Diego de Oliveira to find out more.
LBB> Bodyform has, well, form in challenging the clichés of sanitary pad advertising with the cheeky online film that went viral a couple of years ago… why is it important for the brand to be doing this?
C+D> There are so many taboos around periods that it felt like all the brands were trying to hide in plain sight. Maybe all these clichés were created to avoid any sort of controversy. But it’s just weird and patronizing. We didn’t set out to challenge clichés, but just to just treat periods like they should be treated. With respect and intelligence. Because if you don’t, people will call bullshit on you.
LBB> Bodyform has been partnering with UCL to research the impact of menstruation on sport and exercise – from an advertising point of view, why do you think this research and the sport angle will resonate with the target audience?
C+D> In assessing existing research, it highlighted a significant under representation of women included in sports and exercise medicine research studies. In addition, when surveyed, 41.7% of exercising women reported that their menstrual cycle had a negative impact on their training and exercise performance. That’s a huge number of women, whose ability to keep fit is being affected every month. Through this dedicated research, we can learn more about the female body and how we can help keep women active and exercising throughout their menstrual cycle. Informed by our research findings the Red.fit hub is then our online portal designed to arm women with the nutritional recipes, exercise classes and motivational tips to help them keep active.
LBB> Featuring blood and sports-related scrapes is a really bold move – when did the idea to actually feature blood come up? And why do you think it’s so important (both creatively and strategically) to feature the red stuff? What sorts of conversations were you having with the client? Were there any concerns or worries along the way?
C+D> The strategy was to help women exercise through their period. From there, it struck us that blood is a natural part of sport, so we made the connection to menstrual blood. Showing blood is the whole idea. It wouldn’t work without it. So when we presented to the client, everyone jumped on board. Some markets are naturally more conservative, but this film was made for the internet. Everyone understood we had to be bold to stand out and to get people talking.
LBB> With the Bodyform viral and the ‘Hello Flo’ work in the States, it feels like maybe brands and the media might be becoming a little less awkward about it – but this takes it up a level and is a full on statement of intent. Is menstruation becoming less of a taboo? Is this the end of the blue water?
C+D> We don’t think this campaign would have been possible years ago. Society is changing and the industry needs to change with it. Otherwise we lose touch and become irrelevant.
LBB> Last year in adland, ‘Always Like a Girl’ was a very big story, and while it was very worthy and uplifting... this is full on ‘GRRRRR!’ and definitely differentiates the brand! Was the thought that you had to get as far away from the gentle documentary style of Always something you were quite conscious of?
C+D> For us is always very important to create something that feels genuine for the brand. Otherwise people can see through you. They will know you don’t mean it.
Obviously we all saw Always Like a Girl. It was inevitable. But since we started Red.Fit from a completely different angle, it’s only natural we would end up in a completely different place.
LBB> I was really interested to see that the creative team and the directing team are male! Traditionally it’s the sort of product female creatives are shunted onto so I think this is really interesting. Guys, what sort of preparation did you do to understand the target demographic and their experience of menstruation? And did you feel you had to overcome any personal hang ups along the way?
C+D> Sometimes creatives get cast for certain briefs. But we are dead against it. If you always get the same type of people working on the same types of briefs, you will always get the same type of answers. It’s important to have people from different backgrounds and different voices working on everything. It makes the conversation richer.
As soon as we got the brief we started asking questions of all the women we know. Inside the agency and outside. People in restaurants would look at us wondering, ‘why in hell are you guys talking about this?!’
We come from families that are very open talking about stuff. So we asked and asked and asked. It was interesting to see that within each conversation people became more comfortable and open the more they spoke about it. The issue in society became very apparent. We just need to start talking about it.
J+T> We felt very honoured to make this film as non-menstruating individuals! We wanted to make sure we told it how it really it, and we researched real experiences, our wives, sisters and mothers. Periods are a fundamental part of a woman’s world, so if we could get to the core of this natural cycle we hoped we could talk with all women around the world.
LBB> What was the creative ‘aha!’ moment?
C+D> After having a bunch of ideas we were stuck. Then one of us said “isn’t it weird that people find it normal to see blood in sports but not when it comes to periods?” It wasn’t really an idea, more a throw away comment. We remained in silence for a few seconds, still stuck. Then it kicked in. The idea kind wrote itself after that.
LBB> What did Jones + Tino, the directors, bring to the script? What was it about their treatment that made you think ‘yep, they’ve got it’?
C+D> We wrote a very simple narrative but the film is all about heart. Jones + Tino have that rare ability to make you feel something, even at the treatment stage.
When we saw their vision and approach our concern about creating a true representation of modern and empowered women disappeared. We know straight away that they got it. .
At very end of the film, Joan of Arc comes in. We were sold.
LBB> Jones + Tino, when you first saw the script what were your immediate thoughts?
J+T> A mix of excitement and fear. A step in a very delicate territory.
LBB> Why did you want to work on this spot?
J+T> We waited a few days to read the script again, and we then understood the potential of the idea we fell in love. This story is not about periods but about inner strength.
Women in the past have been portrayed as a weaker gender, or as victims. But they are not. They are strong, daring and powerful.
LBB> And what was the production itself like? What were the biggest challenges? Where was it shot and how long did you have?
C+D> We had a small budget for the scale of film we were shooting, which presented challenges, and the weather didn’t help. We had a big snowstorm and roads had to be shut down. We had to change some locations and adapt some scenes. We were running around, on a mission, to get this off the ground so there was loads of drama. You get tense and worried some shot won’t make it. But looking back, the snow made the Joan of Arc scene much more epic.
J+T> We spent 20 days in Romania, scouting, casting, testing and planning the whole production. The production was hard but everything flowed smoothly. We were lucky to assemble a great crew. We shot one day in Bucharest and one day in Brasov. We also shot half day at the Black Sea in Constanta.
LBB> The sound design really adds to the overall vibe too – who did you work with on that?
C+D> Music and sound design can make or break a film. In this case we’ve used sound to add texture and really heighten what you feel. You want to bring people you in and give them goose bumps. As always, Sam Ashwell at 750mph did this wonderfully.
J+T> It was Sam Ashwell @ 750mph. The sound track is powerful and brings a modern tribal feeling to the spot. Native Puppy Love - The Tribe Called Red.
LBB> There are some really unflinching and gory moments in there – the shot of the dancers’ feet was definitely a ‘yowch’ moment for me! – were there any shots where you thought ‘is this too much?’
C+D> From the start, we knew it had to be a bold and uncompromising film. But we were also very aware that we couldn’t create something that puts people off. It was important to find that balance.
From a technical point of view, blood is tricky. Sometimes the camera shows too much, other times too little. There were a number of times where Diego and I would arrive saying “more more more” … we would go back saying “less less less”.
LBB> I love the ‘Brienne of Tarth’ style warrior woman – why did you want to include her among all the athletes and dancers?
C+D> There’s a physical element but also a physiological one. Our intention was to show women’s inner warrior. It’s Joan of Arc.
J+T> She represents the strength of the feminine spirit. A character that could symbolise all women, even the one who were not into the sports or dance world.
LBB> This ad has been really popular and seems to have gotten a great response already… why do you think it is resonating?
J+T> The reactions are pretty cool. We fell very happy with the repercussion and bringing this “taboo” to the table as a natural fact of life that makes woman even stronger.
LBB> And were you conscious at the time that you were working on something really different and powerful?
J+T> No and you never know when you start a project, we just work to put our visual conceptions and beliefs on the screen.
It's great when our work breaks out of the advertising world and connects to people on a personal level.