For the longest time, sanitary napkin ads in India have revolved around the same tropes. Blood was blue, women loved to wear white pants, and once they saw how beneficial the advertised pad was, they could then go on to leap hurdles and take on any challenge. The visual imagery of the ads was 'sanitised'. But, new ads from Nobel Hygiene are challenging these stereotypical visuals.
In the ads for Nobel Hygiene's heavy duty pad RIO, the emphasis on unsanitised visual imagery is explicit. The ads break free from the template most sanitary napkin commercials use. A first for India, perhaps. Back in 2017, Bodyform, a UK company, had said it will feature sanitary pads stained with red colour, instead of blue, in its commercials.
The opening sequence of the first ad shows a trail of blood drops – a clear differentiator from other sanitary napkin ads which desist from showing the colour (red). We then see brand ambassador and actress Radhika Apte asking if you feel uncomfortable seeing the blood drops, and how it is considerably more during heavy bleeding.
We then see visuals previously unseen for sanitary napkin ads such as pads being adjusted in the underwear, blood being washed off, and that feeling of pain women experience every month.
The second ad follows a similar line of visual communication where the blood plays the protagonist, along with a red balloon, which seems to be a symbolic representation of the uterus. The premise of the ad being that blood flow is different (for different women) and to soak it all, you don't need a 'slim trim napkin', but a heavy duty pad, which, in this case, is RIO.
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 slim-ness for a while now.
The visual imagery of the two ads got us thinking on the degree of desensitisation we've been through. In a post 'Game of Thrones' world, shocking visuals on the screen is no big deal and anyone hardly bats an eyelid about it now. The same can be said about horror and psychological thrillers, too. Take Netflix's Ghost Stories, for instance. In the Anurag Kashyap-directed segment, there's a scene in which actress Sobhita Dhulipala is seated on the commode, inspecting a bloody underwear. Few years ago, this kind of imagery would have been shocking, in any kind of serial or movie, let alone in an ad film. But not anymore.
In the case of the RIO ads, the brand made a breakthrough and turned the so-called 'sanitised' template of such ads on its head, but was there a limit on the new rules they'd set?
Kartik Johari, VP, Nobel Hygiene, doesn't think so because after talking to several women who experienced heavy flow, he realised they had to be direct in their communication. Using real blood was not a conversation, but a mandate. "It was less from the perspective of being clutter-breaking, or the first time anyone is going to attempt to do this in India. We felt we had to be true to the situation of heavy flow women, what they were going through," he stated.
He also spoke against the age-old tropes of daffodils, cycling with jeans, and the communication that 'don't let periods stop you'. According to Johari, the conversation needs to be real and people should converse about how there isn't a product tailor-made for this specific requirement.
Talking about how the entire category is driven around the need for a thin pad, Johari said that for women over 30 years of age (RIO spoke to them in their research), "It is not about how thin it is, but how functional it is".
He also spoke about the red balloon, which is more than just a visual and is one of the defining visual elements that the brand will carry through for the next couple of years. "We want it to symbolise the problem of heavy flow and make it stand apart from regular period conversations."
Navin Talreja, founding partner at The Womb Communications, the creative agency behind the ads, agreed with Johari on the fact that the visual imagery was necessary. It was not primarily meant for disruption, but for the women who face the issue of heavy flow. "Whatever I show has to be in the realm of reality. Anything exaggerated or unreal is not what we want to show because then you don't get the empathy of the audience," he said.
On how far they were willing to go, or set the boundaries in terms of the visual aspect, he said that the only boundary they set for themselves was to keep it authentic. On the balloon in the second ad, Talreja said that it was a symbol of solidarity with women who suffer heavy flow. He capped off the conversation by saying that the campaign will run on digital, TV, social, and at the retail level.