Australian ad turns heads

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It's just liquid, folks. Pixabay

Controversy is in full force against latest Australian menstruation ad

A common theme in ads for feminine products is downplaying the reality of what the product is advertised for. For example, nearly every advertisement for feminine razors shows the model using the razor to “shave” a completely hair-free leg. This doesn’t make much sense when you consider the purpose of demonstrative advertising – to showcase how well the product works – when they’re simply showing how it glides across skin. There’s a similar phenomenon in the advertising of menstrual products that Libra, an Australian menstrual product-producer, recently sought to challenge.

Libra put out an advertisement on early evening television in Australia and the Australian Advertising Standards Board received over 600 complaints. Some claimed the ad vilified or demeaned women; others saw it as offensive, saying that private matters were publicized and now parents have to have conversations with their children they’d have rather put off. So what’s the big deal, the tipping point between average menstrual product ads and the ad that Libra came out with? They were the first to use a red liquid to depict menstruation and show the absorbency of their products instead of the industry-standard blue.

Now for anyone who’s been injured ever, we know blood only appears blue while it’s in our veins. For anyone who menstruates or knows someone who does (so…everybody), we know the liquid expelled is deep red in colour, not blue. Chances are you’ve seen blood on your television regularly, in everything from an action movie to an ad against drunk driving. You’ve probably seen people capable of menstruation on your television too, and sometimes they’re the ones bleeding, yet there’s no blue liquid to be found when they bleed from any other body part.

Research was done through Asaleo Care prior to the ad airing, which showed that there’s more of a taboo around periods than drinking, drugs, mental health, sex, and STIs. Eight out of ten people actively try to hide the fact they’re menstruating out of shame, and 70 per cent of those surveyed said they had more anxiety around their peers knowing they’re menstruating than they’d have about failing a class. This taboo goes back centuries, millennia even, and there’s hundreds of theories as to why. The prevailing attitude traces back to religious-based misogyny; it’s rare for pregnancy to start during menstruation, so if all people are valued for is their ability to reproduce then menstruation removes a person’s value during that time. We can all agree that’s an archaic notion at best, yet the attitude that people function at a lower level while menstruating has been perpetuated through politics, religious influence, and mainstream media tropes alike.

Libra designed the ad in an attempt to destigmatize the process and normalize menstruation. The ad itself shows a male-presenting individual buying period products, a high school student asking a classmate for a pad which is then handed over visibly rather than smuggled in pockets, and an individual showering with a few droplets of menstrual blood dripping down their thigh. For those of us who menstruate, buying or borrowing the products and the bleeding itself are all normal monthly occurrences, yet it’s the “normal” style of the ad is what angered viewers most. A majority of complaints centred on parents having to explain the events in the ad to their children, though those complaints were nowhere to be found in ads involving car crashes due to drunk driving or condom ads to prevent the spread of STIs so it’s apparent the complaints had little to do with blood or sexual activity and much to do with the age-old taboo Libra was fighting.

Australia’s Advertising Standards Board was supportive of the ad, publicly stating that “The panel considered that the depiction of blood in the context of an advertisement for feminine hygiene products is not against prevailing community standards on health. The panel noted that the depiction is an accurate presentation of a real physical occurrence . . . There is no negative language or imagery in the advertisement that implies that . . . women in general should be embarrassed about menstruation or that a woman who is menstruating is a lesser person.”

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