Why underwear brand Thinx had to adjust its TV ad before some networks accepted it
Media gatekeepers are uncomfortable with some of the taboo-challenging ads of today’s modern brands
As feminine care brands like Thinx ramp up marketing with taboo-challenging campaigns, TV networks and digital platforms are giving them more intense scrutiny.
As feminine care brands get more vocal and creative in their marketing, they are coming under more intense scrutiny by TV networks and digital platforms. One recent example is Thinx, the New York-based maker of underwear that women can wear while menstruating. The brand recently debuted its first TV campaign, which envisioned a world in which men, as well as women, get periods. The lengthy spot shows imagery such as a blood stain on a bed, and a tampon string hanging out of a man's underwear. About half of the TV networks had a problem with the tampon string and asked for another version of the ad that excluded it, according to a Thinx spokeswoman, who added that Thinx complied by creating an alternative version. None of the TV networks allowed blood in the ad, she says.
While Thinx also says CBS delayed accepting the ad, the network is currently running it, according to a CBS spokeswoman. BBDO New York, which created Thinx’s campaign, referred inquiries back to its client. The Thinx ads were scheduled to begin airing Wednesday.
“We didn’t anticipate that our ad would be censored for showing a tampon string, but given our experience with censorship of our ads, it's hard to say this was truly surprising either,” said Maria Molland, CEO of Thinx, in a statement. She noted how blood is often replaced by a blue liquid in TV commercials. “These are deeply ingrained social stigmas, and given that, it makes sense that some television networks were afraid of featuring our ad that boldly talks about the everyday experiences that people with periods know all too well.”
A similar issue arose earlier this summer for Billie, a direct-to-consumer seller of women’s razors. The brand ran a provocative campaign ahead of swimsuit season; in the video, many women sported pubic hair. Facebook declined to run the ads because a focus on a body part was non-compliant, says Georgina Gooley, co-founder of Billie.
To break stigmas, she says such campaigns need to shine a light on things like body hair, and networks and publishers must look at the larger purpose and not be caught up in technicalities. They “need to re-evaluate their policies so that they take into account the overall intention of the campaign and not disapprove ads simply because there’s a scene or two that violates their ad policies on a technical level,” Gooley says.
While such ads are designed to break long-held taboos about what is socially acceptable, they’re having a tough time passing muster with networks. Yet as advertising by brands like Thinx, Billie and other feminine care brands ramps up, the tension will continue to arise.
With women gaining more power and equality, it’s no surprise we’re seeing more realistic advertising, according to Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist, who notes that “change is always uncomfortable.”
Yarrow adds that such discomfort will persist in the near future. “The bro culture of Silicon Valley, many of whom are the keepers of our digital world, is not particularly progressive when it comes to unplucked and unpolished women. And network TV is obviously concerned about offending viewers,” Yarrow says. “What we find ‘offensive’ is often determined by media gatekeepers, but today’s vocal consumers have more power to change and expand perceptions.”
But as younger generations become more socially aware and accepting of things like menstruation and pubic hair, brands will have an easier time airing such ads, experts say.
“Younger people are seeing more of this, it’s already becoming a more normal part of their life,” says Erica Fite, co-founder and co-chief creative officer at creative agency Fancy. “That will make it become easier for future advertisers.”