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Finally An Ad That Breaks Silence Around Periods With Women Bleeding Red, Not Blue!

Posted: July 28, 2020

The RIO sanitary pads ad is breaking the taboo by showing period blood as red, not blue. But is Indian society ready for this change?

A sanitary napkin brand RIO Heavy Flow Pads by Nobel Hygiene is breaking norms and stereotypes around menstruation, and cutting through period taboo and the silence around women’s bodily functions. The brand is all set to change the face of Indian advertising by launching their TVC with a pan India campaign as reported by Exchange4media.

The RIO sanitary pads ad making waves

These RIO sanitary pads ads starring actress Radhika Apte shows the capacity of the product to handle a heavy flow. Now heavy flow ads are not new. Almost all sanitary napkin brands have ads to market their ‘XL Sanitary Napkin’ range. What makes this ad different is the portrayal of periods in its truest forms.

The ad shows red blood, getting rid of the ‘blue blood’ concept which is used in the Indian sanitary napkin ad industry since it’s inception. Apart from this, the ad also talks about the issues that women go through during periods. Something very relevant but still missing in all sanitary napkin ads.

But why is this ad is so real and yet so ‘unconventional’?

Sanitary napkins ads in India

Sanitary napkin ads in India run around the concept of ‘selling the product’ hence they stick to showing what is comfortable to the eyes of the viewers.

These ads begin with a ‘dukhiyari ladki’ (helpless woman) who is sad because she has got her periods. Now she won’t be able to fulfil her dreams. Then enters her messiah the XYZ Sanitary Napkin in her life. By using XYZ Sanitary Napkin, the girl is seen jumping around, dancing, nailing office presentations, doing social work and even mountain climbing (without any skills or context to skills), all in clean white pants. Then the magical absorbing powers of the XYZ pad are shown with drops of blue liquid being dropped on it.

They also use words like ‘un dino’ (those days) to represent periods. Remember the classic Renuka Shahane ad where she was talking about periods for a sanitary napkin brand as if she has just killed someone? There’s another sanitary napkin ad where girls talk about periods in code words. Reminds me of the stand-up comedy act by Aditi Mittal in this post.

Why are these ads problematic?

Now, these ads sell the product very well using the technique of ‘need’. But in this, they nurture the patriarchal beliefs around Periods.

The problem with these advertisements is that by showing periods as an evil that prevents girls from living their dreams, they rebuild the misconception that periods are a disease. Or they go the other extreme and show girls doing every conceivable activity during periods with those white pants on. Either way, they reinforce stereotypes and give out misinformation.

The actual reason why most women are hesitant about doing heavy work during periods is because of the pain and the societal taboo around periods. A taboo that makes us buy pads wrapped in newspapers like a nuclear bomb. Which makes many girls drop out of school when they get their first period. The taboo that makes period blood something which is impure and just not comfortable.

We don’t bleed blue!

Although it can be said that many women do dance around and do heavy work during their periods, one thing that all of us have in common is that no menstrual blood is blue. We all bleed red!

RIO Heavy Flow Pads is trying to break this stereotype by showing blood as red.

This RIO sanitary pads ad is made by ad-makers Kawal Shoor and Navin Talreja, Founding Partners of The Womb. Their ad campaign includes two TVC ads and 10 short bytes ‘The Bloody Secrets’ where women from all across the country talk about their experiences of heavy flow and period stains.

It’s really strange that when the reality of periods is shown as it is, then it’s considered as path-breaking. For years period blood has been shown as blue because it’s comfortable for the viewers.

But was this shift to reality and red blood by Rio Pads accepted by the masses?

The backlash to the RIO sanitary pads ad

Exchange4Media reported that the RIO sanitary pads ad, in the beginning, was aired in South India, but a couple of channels refused to air the commercials. The reason given for this was usage of ‘red blood’ instead of the traditional ‘blue blood’ in the advertisement. These channels felt that this unconventional nature of the advertisement will not sit well with the comfort of their viewers.

Many consumers even reached out to Advertising Standards Council India (ASCI) and complained about the usage of red blood shown in the commercial (As reported by Business Insider).

Putting light on this Kartik Johari, Vice-President, Nobel Hygiene told Business Insider that the complaints varied in nature. A set of people argued that “How are we going to explain this AD to our children?’. Interestingly many women also complained against the ad stating that “we don’t even discuss our lingerie size in public, how can we show something so intimate on TV?”

Owing to this the ad had to make a few minor modifications.

This mentality that made people complain against the RIO Heavy Flow Pads advertisements stems out of internalised misogyny. Women are often told that their periods are something shameful that they should hide. Men,… well men are not even told about menstruation in many cases. Which in turn makes them feel disgust when red blood is shown – never mind that they willingly watch bloodshed in action movies, but are turned off by a period stain. Not just period blood, in real life people can’t even bear seeing a sanitary pad. Even today, several women hide their pads, tampons or sanitary napkins from the others.

Accept periods as they are

Menstruation is a normal body phenomenon that women go through. Still, our society makes us think as if it is a shameful thing. RIO Heavy Flow Pads is trying to break the silence around menstruation. The ad reinforces the idea of taking periods as normal. 

We ‘whisper’ to our friends when we need a pad. Or we hide them in closets, away from the ‘delicate’ eyes of boys and men. We smuggle them to washrooms, just because it shouldn’t be obvious to people that you are carrying a pad. There’s also the ‘Log Kya Kahenge Syndrome’. It’s illogical, it’s frustrating, but sadly it’s the truth.

Menstrual hygiene has always been neglected in all its aspects. Even the famous Swacch Bharat Abhiyan doesn’t include menstrual hygiene as such in its guidelines. Both men and women in our society are asked to censor menstruation. We change channels on TV, go hush in the presence of men, and hide this very normal fact. This invisibility of something so common also had our policymakers forget to include sanitary napkins in essentials at the beginning of lockdown.

How can this mentality change?

Things will change only when menstruation becomes a mainstream topic. When people proudly and freely carry sanitary napkins in their hands rather than just doing it for the sake of some challenge. We need to start talking about them in the presence of male members of our family because it’s natural.

Men should stop being awkward or reacting weirdly when they see women carrying sanitary napkins. Mothers need to talk about periods not only with their daughters but also with their sons. Yes, there’s the conversation that has been started by popular films like Padman, but there’s still a long way to go.

Lastly, women on their periods should stop behaving like ‘Laga chunari mai daag, chuapau kaise?’ (There’s a stain, how do I hide it?) Periods are not just something of a monthly inconvenience, they are natural, and should be treated like that.

The advertisement industry has gone through a huge change in our country. We see path-breaking ads which break cultural and social stereotypes. It’s high time that now ads should be used as a tool to break the awkwardness and taboo around menstruation.

Thankfully the first step towards this has been taken by telling the world that women don’t bleed blue.

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