I’ve long been fascinated by the marketing of menstrual products. I got my first period kind of late -- at least, it seemed that way at the time, as I was the last of my friends to do so -- when I was 14, and in the intervening time between the initial expectation of its imminent arrival (the anticipation for which began around 12, thanks to many readings of “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret") I did a lot of thinking about the menstrual products I would eventually use.
Judy Blume’s YA masterpiece provided my first semi-real understanding of the getting-the-period process, but what stuck with me most from it wasn’t the blood or the coming-of-age heaviness -- it was the pads.
In the original edition, the titular Margaret wears pads that require a belt, described -- if I recall correctly -- as being pink and elastic and adjustable, with clips that held the pad in place. Growing up with a single dad, and a tampons-only mom living separately, for a long time I had no idea that pad technology had changed since 1970 when the book was written, and so I dreaded the onset of my period because I was convinced that I would never find a “sanitary belt” to fit me.
Also it sounded really uncomfortable.
As I got older and subscribed to lots of teen-focused magazines and book clubs, I started getting free samples of menstrual products in the mail. I was super relieved to find that pads were now adhesive and belts were no longer necessary. However, having no other use for these samples, I conducted little bathroom-sink experiments to test their absorbency. Like in the ads.
I was such a dorky kid, I can’t even tell you.
Of course, the end result of all this was that when I finally did get my period, I had nothing to bleed on and my dad’s then-girlfriend had to drive me to a 24-hour Walgreens at like 11 o’clock on a Sunday night.
I started with Stayfree, because that’s what we bought that night. As a rule, when it comes to pretty much any other product in the world, I am not a particularly brand-loyal individual -- I usually buy whatever’s on sale.
Menstrual products seem to be the one area in which I am intensely committed to the name on the package though; whether this is owing to having super catastrophic periods and needing to be sure I can rely on whatever I’m bleeding on, or just force of habit, or just personal comfort, I can’t say. But I used Stayfree pads exclusively (first the big pillowy ones, later the “ultra thin” models) for nearly 15 years without a single deviation.
A few years ago I broke the Stayfree spell when I bought a box of Always Infinity pads (yes, I only wear pads -- tampons lack the capacity I require, and whereas with pads I have some notice before I have a bathroom-sink emergency, with tampons by the time I know it’s happening it’s already too late, SAVE YOURSELVES, etc.).
They were sort of terrifying at first -- they’re peppered with tiny holes, for one thing. But I was sold by the promises on the box, and truly, these things are made from some kind of high-tech space-age polymer that makes them seriously the least worrisome pads I’ve ever used. Like these are astronaut pads. Reverse-engineered-from-alien-technology pads. BLESSED BY MAGICAL AND HIGHLY ABSORBENT ELVES pads.
So now my brand loyalty -- still just as fierce -- has shifted to Always Infinity. Except I was at the store a week or so ago and found two kinds of Infinity pads. One was the original, my best menstrual betrothed, and one was.... “Radiant.”
Confusion set in. It says “Infinity,” I thought, but somehow, it must be different! What would Radiant pads do? Would they literally glow for ease of nighttime changes? Would they transform one’s menstrual flow into a secret message from your vag (and/or other involved reproductive organs), invisible-ink style? “Dear Lesley, Everything’s rad down here, you’re doing a great job. Love, Your Uterus”?
The new Radiant branding extends across products to encompass both Infinity pads and Tampax tampons (which I imagine gently pulsating with light like a rod of spent nuclear fuel in “The Simpsons”). But surely there had to be more than just a name, right?
I had a chance to test the difference -- shades of my misspent youth! -- when I got my hands on a free sample, just like the old days. And? They’re exactly the same. Well, the outer wrapper has a different print. And the Radiant pads are “lightly scented” (ew -- no offense to those who like a scented pad, but I say ew). But that is IT. Amazingly, even the Always website admits that the only changes are to the packaging, the scent and the "new backsheet design for an extra feminine touch." WHO KNEW that part of the pad was called the "backsheet"? The things I learn by writing.
So this really is a marketing thing. And as much as I’d like to be all HA HA ALWAYS, YOU SILLY REBRANDERS, I SEE THROUGH YOU, it kind of worked -- ever since I saw the damn “Radiant” box, I was desperately curious to know what was in it. Also I liked that it was pink. I got suckered by a single word and a new color, a supposed “improvement” on a product I already like. Me! Who is hyper-critical of EVERYTHING!
Thus, I am curious about your brand loyalty when it comes to menstrual products. Are you a buy-whatever’s-on-sale person, or would you drag yourself across an Always desert to reach the one last remaining box of Stayfree pads? Have you seen these Radiant pads and were you similarly curious, or am I an idiot? I want to know about it in comments.