Bleed blue?

If you are old enough to wonder about such things, I’m reasonably sure you would have wondered why ads for menstrual hygiene products (like sanitary pads or tampons) use blue-colored liquid instead of red to demonstrate the product efficacy.

The color and the overall ways the products are positioned and promoted has evoked so much discussion in the past. The MOST outstanding commentary on it came from Bodyform, that responded to a Facebook comment with an incredibly well-written and funny counter, back in 2012, featuring a fake CEO! This was conceived by the agency Carat and produced (scripted and filmed) by the agency Rubber Republic.

If this effort used humor effectively to break the taboo, BBDO San Francisco helped promote the first National (in the US) Period Day on October 19th, 2019 using a stark, in-your-face film. The operative color is red, and you’d be very surprised how it is used.

I have searched pretty hard for some nuanced reason, but couldn’t find any. The broad reasons seem to be 2 – one very obvious and the other, less obvious.

Obvious: most people are scared/disgusted (at least according to market research done by the products or agencies) to see red-colored blood in these ads.

Less-obvious: the blue color, used so very often in cleaning products, is a subtle nudge to offer the sense of ‘clean’ during periods which are historically associated with ‘dirty’! That’s psychology at work, in advertising.

But, many brands in the space have been gradually pushing the envelope when it comes to replacing the blue with red in their communication.

What is particularly interesting is that the brands (at least the bigger ones that have significant impact and visibility, and media budgets) are switching to red, from blue, in their ads very, very recently.

How recently?

UK – Bodyform’s ad uses red for the first time, in October 2017.

Australia – Libra (Bodyform’s brand in the country) uses red for the first time, in September 2019.

Kotex – Kotex uses red for the first time, in January 2020!

India – RIO uses red for the first time, in March 2020!

It’s possible that this change is not necessarily mandated by thoughts of being more real; it’s also possible that shock-vertising is in vogue – anything out of the ordinary is bound to shock viewers into noticing and remembering the message. The irony is that showing what is actually natural is shocking only because the industry historically refused to make periods seem real, and chose a different color to depict them.

The other reason could also the changes in media consumption habits. When TV viewing was a joint/family affair, with just one TV per home, menstrual hygiene products ads were considered ‘awkward’ to be watched in front of kids. But now, with increasingly isolated/individual viewing of content in multiple TVs or mobile devices, there may not be any awkwardness since every viewer is immersed in their own viewing.

Blood, in other contexts, has become so very common, across movies, video games and other forms of content. But menstrual blood continues to be an anomaly.

Some countries like Australia and India have, while pushing for the change from blue to red, seen backlash, pressure or complaints for showing what is real.

So, the next time you stumble on a menstrual hygiene product’s advertising, remember to notice the color used!



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