Alex Casey combs through the most furious complaints made to the ASA about sanitary product advertising.
In preparing for the period-themed episode of our webseries On the Rag, I found myself watching a lot of old tampon, pad and liner ads. Remember the one where the lady uses a pad to clean up spilt perfume, and then replaces the perfume with dog piss? Remember when a man uses a pad to patch up his WATERBED and somehow still has sex on said WATERBED and he doesn’t even stick the pad on THE RIGHT WAY? Remember when this good old fashioned dummy boyfriend wasted a whole box of tampons by using them as cat toys?
Ask anyone and they will be able to rattle off the sanitary ads that caused huge amounts of embarrassment as a kid, alleviated anxiety in their adolescence, or even made them laugh as an adult. But there’s also a small portion of New Zealanders who felt another emotion: rage. In fact, their rage has given them cramps. Their rage has given them headaches. Their rage has caused their insides to fall out for 5-7 days a month. Their rage has also led them to make many, many formal complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority over the years.
Here are some of the greatest hits, now with extra slim leakproof wings.
‘Leakage Freakage’ is too much information
The Kotex catchphrase “leakage freakage” has resonated with me much more than their brash beaver friend. I enjoy the playful rhyme that disguises the absolute terror that comes with sitting down in a plane, train or automobile, and suddenly feeling the Dreaded Seep. We’ve all been there, and to hear it addressed on the television does wonders in alleviating a lot of the shame, fear and isolation that comes with bleeding uncontrollably from your body once a month.
One complainant disagreed, citing that the “mental imagery” created by the ad is “disturbing” in their 2013 complaint. “We all know women menstruate but to constantly be bombarded with the implication that they bleed out everywhere all over white furniture puts me off watching TV… Do these women’s sanitary product companies need to be so blatant in their advertising?” The Chairman ruled there were no grounds for the complaint to proceed. The Chairman also ruled that bleeding out on white furniture happens to the best of us. The Chairman, by the way, is me.
I want to know everything about you (just not that)
I couldn’t find the exact ad that ruffled feathers, but the above is from a similar era, the same product, with the same bleeding girlfriend/hapless boyfriend dynamic – a classic of the genre. The ad that caused complaint was for Libra Invisible panty liners and showed a man and a woman canoodling in the bedroom. “I want to know everything there is to know about you,” the man says, inquiring about baffling woman artefacts including an eyelash curler and an exfoliating glove. He holds up a panty liner, and his girlfriend praises the “side leakage barriers.” The man then locks himself in a bathroom and tells her to stop talking.
Instead of taking issue with the weird assumption that men can’t handle bodily fluid chat – which American Pie has taught me is definitely not true – complainant W. Chrisp had a different bone to pick in a 2007 complaint. “I do not feel it is appropriate to run an advert during mealtime that features a sanitary pad that is promoted as having ‘no side leakage’.” Another complainant, J. Davis, agreed. “I did not think ads for period products are in good taste, and certainly not to be welcomed during meal time”. Here’s a tip: if it offends you so much, how about switch off the TV and spend time with your families, ya nerds.
The Chairman ruled there were no grounds for the complaint to proceed.
The offensive robot pad man
The essential ad. The Magnum Opus. The Return of the Pad King. When most people think about pad ads, this is what comes ting-ting-tinging into their heads. Reinvigorating the hapless boyfriend trope – this time with a passion for costume design – Libra changed the game and wasted a lot of pads in the process. Left alone with a pack of hilarious, mysterious pads, the boyfriend begins sticking them all over his body in a perverted Whose Line Is It Anyway improv-inspired moment. First, he’s a superhero, then an action star, then a musician, then a robot. Then his girlfriend comes home with her parents. For shame.
It’s an ad that garnered multiple complaints, none of which acknowledged the flagrant disregard for the economic and environmental price of pads. Complainant M. Rowlands believed the advertisement made out the man who “adorned himself in the sanitary pads as an idiot” and was an offensive portrayal which denigrated men in general. This was supported by D. Poskirtt, who thought the ad demeaned both men and women and pushed the lines of decency in society. Finally, K. Simmons thought the ad made light of a sensitive and personal issue for women, which should be treated with dignity.
The Chairman ruled that there were no grounds to proceed. Ting.
Discharge diss track
Even though it was seven years ago, this panty liner ad still feels pretty revolutionary. Drifting nude through what looks a lot like Freedom Furniture’s idea of heaven, a woman talks us through the wonder of the human body. “How well do you know your body? It’s amazing. It cools us down when we’re too hot. It heats us up when we’re too cold. You know even that bit of discharge in between our period is our body working to keep the vagina healthy.”
Ring the alarm bells, activate the panic stations and call the fucking cops: she just said ‘discharge’.
“I am disgusted that this advertisement is on tv,” wrote complainant K. Spice, who also noted that the use of the words ‘vagina’ and ‘discharge’ were not necessary. “I have a 9-year-old who is up until 8pm-8:30 and he definitely does not need to hear words like that.” Another said that the pairing of a naked woman with the word vagina was overly sexual. The Chairman noted that “she was shown from a distance, no genitalia was visible and that the appearance of the woman was neither salacious nor titillating.”
As for ‘discharge’, the Chairman said “while people may be uncomfortable about the direct way in which the subject matter was discussed, there was nothing wrong with advertising a feminine hygiene product.” The Chairman ruled that there were no grounds to proceed.
I suppose you could say the complaint was discharged without conviction.