I’m sorry, we only serve euphemisms around here.
Johnson & Johnson’s Carefree brand has been called before the carpet in Australia to defend the use of the phrase “vaginal discharge” in an advertisement. The Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) tasked with handling consumer complaints says it started receiving angry communiques on the very night the ad started airing, and so it took the next step: contacting the manufacturer for an explanation. Because, you know, you should be obliged to explain the use of anatomically correct terms.
The complaints surround an ad for Acti-Fresh liners in which a lovely woman with a dashing accent1 swans around in a white room filled with flowers (oh, the metaphor) telling viewers to know their bodies. She even points out that the body is pretty amazing, in terms of all the things it does, and that includes, she says, “that bit of discharge in between our period.” The vagina is, as we know, self-cleaning!
She waves a liner around, says it’s designed to help keep you feeling dry and comfortable, and boom. End scene.
Viewers apparently went into a tizzy over the ad because she mentioned the unspeakable vaginal discharge, and she used a naughty word. You can’t go throwing loaded words like “vagina” around in a crowded space, they might explode! Apparently collective horror over anatomical terms is not limited to the United States after all. You’re in good company, New Zealand and Australia. Wait, maybe it’s bad company.
Defending the ad, spokesperson Debbie Selikman says:
It’s the first time a major brand has had the guts to use real words, not euphemisms or diminutive terms...It shows women have nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed about and should be confident of their body.
When the company did some market research to figure out how to position the campaign, what they found was that respondents wanted to hear their anatomy referred to accurately, not in cutesy or demeaning terminology. It’s not down there, your special place, your hoo-ha, or anything between. It’s a vagina.
Apparently they’re as tired as I am of product advertising so euphemistic that you can’t actually tell what the company is trying to sell. An avalanche beacon, perhaps? Some sort of new toilet-cleaning product? Something to get the smell of skunks off your dog? A bacon press? Who knows, and you certainly can’t tell from the language or framing used in the ad, which is so snarled in codewords that even the actors appear confused at times.
I mean really, how are you supposed to connect people walking down a beach listening to the waves to incontinence wear?
It wasn’t that long ago that people were fainting dead away at the thought of someone using “period” in an advertisement for menstrual products. The brouhaha over “vagina” shows that we still have a long way to go, and it’s yet another reminder that people should be ashamed of and grossed out by their bodies. Their anatomy is so disgusting that it can’t even be discussed on primetime television, and vaginal discharge is so unspeakable that it upsets the delicate sensibilities of adult viewers.
This campaign is geared at, well, the polite term would be “selling something many people didn't think they needed”; customers are being encouraged to wear Acti-Fresh liners every day to wick away vaginal discharge2 between periods. The liners are ultrathin because there’s not much to absorb, which means the company can make them extra-flexible, thus making them comfortable enough for every day wear.
For those who do feel a need for products like these, for a variety of reasons, frank advertising seems like the order of the day. Because talking about vaginas and what happens in and around them is so verboten, people with heavier vaginal discharge may not be aware that it’s normal3. If it makes them uncomfortable, especially while active, liners might be useful, and there’s no reason to be embarrassed about that. Discharge happens, you know?
The Carefree ads are not just talking honestly about something that happens, but they’re confronting social attitudes, and they’re talking to their audience. People interested in Carefree products want to hear a vagina called a vagina, and if the television-viewing public in general can’t handle it, I’m rather of the opinion that they’re going to have to suck it up.
There’s a lot about the ad to pick apart, if you want to (and when do I not want to); I’m kind of over the whole “women surrounded by white things in white spaces” meme with ads for vagina supplies, personally. I do rather like that the actress is nude in the ad, showing that she has nothing to hide or be ashamed of, though due to the standards about which bits you can show on television, there are some artfully-placed flowers. I also, and this may surprise you, like the fact that she’s young and conventionally attractive; she’s saying, look, this can happen to everyone, and that includes pretty girls next door.
A pretty girl next door can have a vagina too, and sometimes things come out of it. Deal.
1. Well, I guess if you're Antipodean it’s just a regular accent. Return
2. Try not to faint. Return
3. Unless it has a strong colour or odor, is accompanied with itching or burning sensations, or looks/feels markedly different than usual, in which case it’s doctor o’clock, my friends. Return