I was strolling home through Paddington station the other day when my eye was caught and my gob was well and truly smacked by a colourful little six sheet: ‘VJJ. What do you call yours?’ it read.
What? I looked again, Yes it really was talking about vaginas. And just in case there were any lingering doubts in my mind, there, running along the bottom (of the poster) was a web site address: www.loveyourvagina.com.
What was it? Porn? But surely that would say ‘lovesomeoneelse’svagina.com’. Besides the graphics were too wholesome. A ‘joke’? Not funny. A public health message? Perhaps. It just wasn’t clear. But I was intrigued, so when I got home I logged on to find that the site sells ‘mooncups’ – a new, or rather very, very old form of sanitary protection for women.
So you could argue that it did its job. But I believe this concept is an enormous leap for the average woman to make … even the web site says “I bet you winced when you saw it”, personally I winced when I saw the advertising because it seeks to overly trivialise what could potentially be an interesting move on from tampons.
The homepage was a brilliant and utterly fascinating feature, that is built on the same insight as the ad campaign. It asked visitors to let them know what they call their vaginas. Extraordinarily, there are more than 2,000 different words and phrases used and no clear ‘winner’ among them.
Now you might say that it merely reflects the interests of our society. After all the eskimos reputedly have 40 words for snow. I call my son’s genitals his ‘willy’. But the fact that we have no consensus around what to call to female genitalia suggests that this is an issue that we are afraid to get to grips with. So the insight is good, perhaps the execution is a little trivial or dare I say “easy”.
It’s often a criticism that this kind of communication is developed by men, because the insights seem misplaced or patronising. This at least is a good attempt at being straight talking and open about sanpro but it still smacks of being sensationalised by men in a bid to woo award juries, rather than connect with women.
But what of the Mooncup itself? According to the site, the average woman uses 12,000 sanitary products in her life which can be replaced by one Mooncup. So there’s clearly a major environmental benefit. And don’t forget issues surrounding toxic shock syndrome. So on a rational level an external sanpro product seems a good idea.
But attitudes to sanpro are culturally ingrained. We don’t want to see it, hear about it, talk about it or be reminded of it. The conventional tampon which literally internalises the issue is an apt metaphor for our cultural approach.
I have to say I share that approach. While the ads attempt to be a clever way of highlighting an incredibly sensitive topic in an engaging and controversial way, the product itself is just too strident. Reusing and repeatedly cleaning one of these things is just too much of an adjustment for me to make. Most of us are simply not ready to become earth mothers revelling in our menstrual juices.
And whilst this can be seen as being brave, creative and controversial with an arresting tone of voice, is this really what is required to sell women on an entirely new approach to sanitary protection? I don’t think so.
The travesty of Mooncup is that it’s a really nice idea, but it requires advertising that re-educates women, rather than attempts to titillate with concepts like ‘noo-noo’, ‘gina’, ‘home entertainment centre’ or what ever else you want to call it.