Social Media, Advertising, and … Tampons?

Debbie says:

I read it in Time Magazine, so it must be true. In the business pages, no less.

Procter & Gamble, apparently desperate for a new way to market Tampax, has wandered off into fantasyland. They invented a 16-year-old boy named Zack Johnson. Fictional Zack has a blog and a Twitter account … and a problem.

You see, he woke up one day without his penis (or, as he says, “a super-important body part”). Instead, he has a vagina, and a uterus, and all the things that go with that combination: including menstrual periods.

It happened so fast. C’mon, I just was just dealing with my newly acquired girl parts. And I had no choice. They just showed up. I didn’t even get a 30-day money back guarantee. Then BAM! I get hit by the menstrual express. I didn’t even have time to give my new girl parts a pet name like “Fifi” or “Alexandra.” No, we had to rush right into menstruation.

10 days ago I didn’t even know how to spell “menstruation.”

Belinda Luscombe, writing for Time, says:

… tampon promotion still tends to fall back on two features: protection and comfort. What this has meant in practice is that if you’re looking at an image of a woman in white shorts, a white skirt or a bathing suit, and if she’s displaying particular athleticism or confidence or doing any kind of water sport, you’re in the middle of an advertisement for a lady product. Enjoy.

In some respects, Zack16 is a different beast, much franker in that it mentions the V word and shows him trying to fashion a “manpad” and using an actual tampon dispenser. But the campaign, created by advertising stalwart Leo Burnett Worldwide, also falls back on old clich├ęs. Our hero wears a white suit to the prom, for example. There are lots of reasons not to wear a white suit to the prom, most of them having nothing to do with personal hygiene. He says he feels comfortable because he’s using Tampax.

Neither Procter & Gamble (surprise!) or Luscombe talk about menstruation in the context in which it matters, which is reproduction. “Having your period sucks!” says Zack, blithely unaware of how often young women in his class have cried their eyes out because their period didn’t come, or danced for joy because it did. He’s equally unaware that later in life some of those same women will cry their eyes out when their period does come and cross their fingers with nervous hope when it’s a day or two late. One of the reasons menstruation is a taboo subject and tampons are “a marketing challenge” is that we don’t look at menstruation as a working system in the female body. But, of course, to do that we would have to look at the female body … and that process is reserved for lust and desire, which generally has very little to do with pregnancy, reproduction, or menstruation.

Even in this day of marketing every conceivable product that was historically a “women’s product” to men, from variations on lipstick and eye makeup to plastic surgery and pocketbooks, P&G cannot seriously expect to sell a single box of Tampax to a teenage boy who’s simply curious about the experience. So they must be trying to draw the attention of girls to their product by telling a story about a boy. That’s nothing new: getting girls interested in stories about boys is a time-honored tradition.

This detailed, complex, and surprisingly sweetly executed marketing campaign is just yet another way of making men’s bodies and experiences more important than women’s … to sell things to women.

Thanks to Liz Henry for the pointer.