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by Jarrah Hodge
I was at least a little out-of-place in my Writing Creative Copy class last term. The course, part of a local college Marketing program, was taught by a kind but easily-distractable woman in her fifties with extensive experience in the ad industry.
Now the industry isn’t exactly like Mad Men anymore, but there’s still a lot of pretty bad advertising produced, including all those racist political ads that came out in the States last year, and just reams of sexist ads promoting anything from fast food to high fashion.
So how do you switch hats to go from being a feminist cultural critic, who spends a lot of her spare time analyzing and writing about sexist advertising, to being a trainee ad copywriter who is trying to learn some new skills and pass a class?
Turns out it was possible to do and have fun. It helped that the philosophy of the instructor and the course was to emphasize creativity. If your jokes and images and concepts came straight out ads you’d already seen, you had a problem. You couldn’t just stick in a picture of a sexy, half-naked woman and expect to get a good grade.
But I still had a bit of a block; a discomfort with writing even fake ads for products I didn’t think people should buy.
So when it came time to develop a radio ad campaign for our mid-term assignment, I sat down and I went through all the products I use on a regular basis. I wanted to find something I could fake sell without feeling like it compromised my ethics.
I picked the Diva Cup.
Now I’ve used the Diva Cup (a small, internally-worn menstrual cup made of silicone) with Lunapads’ washable cloth menstrual pads for backup for about five years. To me it’s no big deal. I learned about the cup from a friend in university and it just made sense. Why was I using these bleached, scented, drying menstrual products instead of this cheaper (up to $150 cheaper per year) and more eco-friendly option.
A couple weeks before the project was due other students started talking about the products they’d chosen for the assignment. The guy who sat next to me in class was doing Blenz matcha tea. Another girl was doing Fright Nights at the PNE. The response I got when I told people what I was doing was uniform:
“Sorry, the what?”
“The Diva Cup. It’s a menstrual cup.”
The other person would then get a look on their face about half-way between uncertainty and disgust.
“So…you put it inside you?”
“Yup!” I’d say brightly, trying to show that I thought the idea totally normal.
“Yup. It’s silicone. You can get a wash for it or just use a light soap and water. You only have to change it in the morning and at night, so it’s not a big hassle,” I’d reply. By this point the expression was pretty clearly one of disgust.
I had encountered “the ick factor”.
I quickly realized that was going to be my biggest challenge writing these fake ads. I had to get people to see, without lecturing at them, that menstrual cups are a totally reasonable option for handling your period.
That’s where the Museum of Menstruation came in.
I’d discovered MoM when I was doing an undergrad women’s studies project and though its design is really out-of-date it has some great content. I remembered they had a list of hundreds of different euphemisms and expressions people use for menstruation. I decided to equate those ridiculous, outdated terms with what I see as outdated approaches to menstruation.
My “Aunt Flo” campaign featured three ads about a young-ish (early 20s) woman joking with the women in her life (co-workers and her mother) who use terms like “Aunt Flo” to talk about their period. Here’s one of the ad scripts, just so you get an idea:
SFX (:04) RUNNING TAP, PAPER TOWEL DISPENSER, RIP OF PAPER TOWEL.
SFX (:02) BATHROOM STALL DOOR OPENING AND CLOSING.
AMY: Hey, are you okay?
WORKER: I…(whispering) have a leaky basement
AMY: (pretends she doesn’t understand) Oh no, does your insurance cover that?
WORKER: It’s the red tide.
SFX: (:04, HOLD IN B.G.) RUNNING TAP, TAP TURNS OFF, THEN PAPER TOWEL DISPENSER.
WORKER: (more exasperated but still whispering) It’s the curse, you know?
AMY: (fake surprise) You’re a werewolf?
WORKER: (begins)No… (she gets cut off)
AMY: Seriously, you don’t have to whisper about your period here. Take control of it.
ANNC: Easy and eco-friendly. The Diva Cup: for comfortable periods. Divacup.com.
When it came time to read examples in class, I have to say I was a little nervous. But when it came to my turn people were laughing, at I at least hoped it wasn’t just all because they were trying to relieve the awkwardness.
At break time a few more classmates wanted to ask me the same questions I’d had before, which showed they were still processing the whole internal/reusable idea.
I left class that night feeling like I’d at least had fun, even if I hadn’t changed anyone’s mind.
But a couple of weeks later one of the young women in the class came up to me and said she’d been doing some research on the Diva Cup online. She said she was going travelling and thought it might be a more convenient option than carrying a whole box of tampons with her.
“I was on their website and they had this cost comparison and it’s just so much cheaper,” she added.
Then during the break another woman asked quietly if I used the Diva Cup. I said yes and, without getting too excited, told her about what I thought the major benefits were. She didn’t say she was thinking of switching but I could see on her face that she was open to the possibility.
In the end I got a B. The prof loved the ads but felt the product was too difficult to advertise and possibly not appropriate for a radio audience. I thought that was pretty silly but I didn’t fight it. I figured overall the whole thing had gone pretty well.
(above photo is in the Public Domain)