Tampons and Dildos: Menstruation in Advertising Campaigns by Ángela Lavilla Cañedo

Since I decided to collaborate with this blog I have kept my eyes peeled for something relevant to my thesis which could be the subject of an interesting blog post. Some weeks ago, while on the bus, I thought that perhaps the best way to tackle such an endeavor would be to write about precisely that – the absence and the scant attention paid to my topic in the public domain.

My thesis focuses on exploring representations of menstruation in contemporary Hispanic literature and visual culture, and despite finding a fertile ground to explore this topic in novels, I cannot say the same in other contexts such as everyday life or the news. In this sense, the lack of representation of menses is representative of it as a silenced experience.

Advertising campaigns for tampons and pads are usually the more visible and mainstream representations of menstruation in the public sphere, at least in Spain. Nevertheless, most of the time the adverts seem to be a puzzle or riddle unconnected with menstrual blood itself. Recurrent techniques include the use of euphemisms and expressions such as ‘for those days’, menstrual blood as a blue liquid, energetic physical activity in incredibly short shorts, and the idea of hygiene and purity, whiteness and odorless spaces (a very famous campaign in the 90s in Spain was famous for its phrase ‘what do clouds smell of?).

I came across one of the latest campaigns of tampons in Spain this summer and after initial shock I was left with a mixture of astonishment and amusement. It contains classic clichés, however what it is remarkable are its unprecedented changes, such as the use of male characters (though depicted as complete idiots) and an ambiguous discourse mixed with erotic aesthetics, which is very unusual at least in these contexts.

To summarise the plot: the protagonist, a well-known actress called Amaia Salamanca, is sunbathing. A guy approaches her and steals a tampon from her handbag. Amaia feels that the guy needs a masterclass about tampons and uses his hand to simulate a vagina – or another orifice because bodily names are not used at all. Her flirty explanation and the ‘introduction’ of his first tampon leaves him, and the rest of the crowd, highly satisfied, before she jumps into the water.

The translation of Amaia’s lines would be: ‘Look, a tampon has never been so easy to insert… You see, until here… and a tampon has never been so easy to stick in the right place… This way you can’t feel anything…’. The right place? Who does not feel anything? Ambiguity, the taboo of naming vaginas and the fear of somebody noticing menstruation are present. The last phase could be translated as ‘Take the plunge!’, and is even more ambiguous. Not only could it be addressed to women that normally don’t use tampons or that don’t swim in their periods, but it also can be read as an invitation to initiative and creativity. The introduction of sexual innuendo is not usual in these adverts. Of course, sexualisation is a well-known and common marketing strategy, but it’s interesting that menstruation is (perhaps coincidentally) linked to eroticism here.

The ad itself seems to parody itself and it could have been a counter-campaign due to its aesthetics and artifice. It offers the possibility to read the advert in a different way: the tampon here could be seen as a dildo. In fact, apart from heated debates in the social media there have been some parodies, including a feminist version which turns it into an advert for anal sex, destabilising the implied gender roles in the original.

The original advert is so surreal that it stands out from others which advertise tampons – precisely what a marketing campaign is for. It served to renew the periodic debate in social media about menstruation and gender in adverts, which can only be a good thing.

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2 Responses to Tampons and Dildos: Menstruation in Advertising Campaigns by Ángela Lavilla Cañedo

  1. Annie Littlewood says:

    I am sure you have already seen Bodyform’s response to a message left by a man on their Facebook page – hilarious and exposes many of the patronising symbolism you mention above:


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