The ad shows how absorbent the pad is with the help of a red liquid, instead of the usual blue one.
Whisper’s new ad is a step forward in the portrayal of menstruation in advertising. The ad for Whisper Ultra Clean opens with a shot of a woman handing out food to children. She admits that to do what she loves during her periods, she needs unlimited hygiene and, hence, she uses the product, which also claims to contain drops of ‘herbal’ oil.
In the graphic portrayal of the absorption power of the pad, we see a red liquid descend on it and then disappear. Normally, this is the part of the ad where the viewers would see a blue gel-like liquid, but Whisper is finally taking a step to acknowledge the audience its products are meant for.
In 2020, Nobel Hygiene’s Rio Pads launched a campaign with two ad films featuring actress Radhika Apte. The first ad had jarring visuals of blood, stains, pads, and pain and cramping – which were previously unseen in ads for menstrual products.
We couldn't help but notice the obvious dig at other sanitary napkin brands, such as Whisper and Stayfree, with the 'slim trim napkin' line. These brands have been marketing their products on the back of ultra-slimness for a while now.
We spoke to two industry experts about the Whisper ad, and this is what they had to say.
Nisha Sampath, a brand marketing consultant with 20-plus years of experience (also managing partner at Bright Angles Consulting – a consumer insight led consultancy firm), believes that brands are increasingly realising the need to break taboos and introduce more honest conversations around periods.
“This is not new territory for Whisper. From the days of ‘cloth is for curtains’ and ‘don’t touch the pickle’, it has walked this path. So, this is a logical progression. It’s interesting that while it has shown red blood and the tagline is ‘my life, my rules’, this ad is not particularly rebellious.”
She opines that for a mass market brand like Whisper, the ad talks to women across the pop strata. It’s still a pretty bold step. She explains that there are households where periods often remain a taboo topic to the extent that one tends to switch TV channels as soon as a sanitary napkin ad appears.
“I am sure it (Whisper) tested the ad with its consumers. If they are okay about seeing such scenes with their families on TV, it represents a big shift in thinking. I am happy about it. When a big brand like Whisper, which represents the category, changes such a fundamental category code, it becomes a sign for other brands to start normalising this too – and that’s a good thing.”
Sampath also questions what the ad achieves by showing red blood – since some women themselves are squeamish at the sight of blood. “It will create some buzz, but will it achieve more?”
She adds that there is so much more to ‘period activism’ that brands can explore – starting with why they need to be sold wrapped in newspaper, to having conversations with men about periods. That it’s okay to rest if you don’t feel okay.
“Women tend to suffer from not having honest conversations with others. A big brand can bring a real and valuable impact in women’s lives by opening them up. I feel young people are ready to start having these conversations.”
She finds the claim of using herbal oil a bit strange and new to the category. “I suspect that it is related to growing user concerns around chemicals in pads, which are believed to lead to rashes and itching during periods. Maybe, Whisper seeks to allay these fears. Herbal oils are often believed to have anti-bacterial and soothing qualities too. Whether users will believe it, is something else. I wonder if the brand will also include a natural/herbal fragrance to increase credibility.”
Sampath also adds that a small, affluent section of consumers are moving beyond mass market sanitary napkin brands to smaller, online-first brands, like Nua, Carmesi, etc., which offer more eco-friendly, or 'organic' pads.
“Till date, I don’t think the big brands are trying to talk to these consumers. But when it starts growing bigger, I am sure they will.”
On the use of the red colour in the ad’s visual language, Anupama Ramaswamy, managing partner and national creative director, Dentsu Impact, says, “It’s high time, don’t you agree?”
She adds that it may gross out a few people, but overall, she doesn’t really see any other issue with it. “It is time we stop getting embarrassed about it. It is a monthly ordeal. And everyone should learn to deal with it.”