They don't seem to be angry -- much less revolted and offended to the core as TV networks have assumed for four decades -- but they're finally seeing the color red in advertisements for a feminine hygiene product. Two commercials for the latest Kotex sanitary pad at long last invoke nature's palette, among other hitherto taboo devices, to communicate the sometimes cruel reality of menstruation.
"If a period is supposed to come at the end of a sentence," says the voice-over in one of two spots from Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, "how come Mother Nature puts it wherever she wants -- like, say, right in the middle of your beach vacation?"
The visuals -- vividly animated by Charlex, New York -- consist of black type jiggling and jiving on a white background, punctuated by a bright red period. Yes, a period.
"Luckily, there's new Kotex with wings and body fit, a whole new profile in pads. When you move [animated demo here], it curves and conforms to your body to fit closer. So, while we can't promise it won't show up in the middle of a hot date, odds are it won't show up in another bad place."
The tagline: "Kotex fits. Period!"
Or, put another way: Kotex. Full stop.
It's not just that this commercial frankly addresses the occasional nasty collateral damage of a perfectly normal physiological function. It's not just that the little play on words -- a hoary punchline if there ever was one -- was never previously imaginable on network TV. It isn't even that the preposterous blue fluids that have served as a visual euphemism for 40 years seem finally to have been flushed into oblivion.
The triumph of this campaign is that it finally permits women to be worried about the side effects of menstruation -- stained pants, let's say -- without implying some sort of irredeemable Original Sin in their feminine selves. The historical coyness, indirection and stilted euphemism of feminine hygiene ads may have been nobly intended by the networks to protect viewers' tender sensibilities, but the implication was always that the subject was too disgusting, too dirty, too immoral to openly discuss.
The unease transcended mere queasiness about bodily functions; constipation and diarrhea, after all, have enjoyed explicit treatment for at least 15 years. Meanwhile, the enduring circumlocutions about menstruation have continued to perpetuate women's sense of menstrual guilt. That guilt is nonsensical, of course. It's like feeling guilty about peristalsis, but there you are.
More strident critics may complain that this campaign still unfairly exploits women's insecurity -- i.e., the Madison-Avenue-invents-things-for-us-to-worry-about school of advertising contempt. But, of course, Madison Avenue generally doesn't invent things to be insecure about. It finds out what consumers are insecure about, then cheerfully invents things to mitigate them.
While research shows that many women feel in control during their periods, and even revel in their mastery of their cycles, others genuinely feel victimized by the monthly tyranny of cramping, mood swings, absurdly heavy flow and so forth. These commercials are aimed at them.
"You've been there," the second spots begins. "We've all been there. Your monthly friend drops into your life and suddenly your emotions are playing evil, mean-spirited games with you. Enough already!"
Kotex doesn't offer itself as an antidote, but "it protects you better so you feel better -- more secure, a comforting thought when emotions hang on by little more than a thin thread."
We suppose that's a little anti-tampon joke for good measure, and why not? This is all about leaving the house without fearing a mortifying incident. All the stilted talk about "freshness" and all the blue-dye demos in the world fail to get to the point. By the same token, any more graphic use of the color red probably would be too much to stomach. So, in the realm of venturing into new frontiers, the colored punctuation mark is precisely far enough.