Bleed Red: How RIO Pads' latest campaign challenged the stigma of period blood
After getting its go-ahead from ASCI, the latest RIO Pads’ TVC is finally on air. Kartik Johari, Vice President, Nobel Hygiene, tells us how this helps normalise conversations on menstruation
Conversations on menstruation have often been in hushed tones, whether it is our own personal discussions or on public platforms. The last few years, however, have started to see a gradual and heartening change when it comes to discussions on periods. Take for instance, the Whisper's 2014 ‘Touch The Pickle’ campaign that focused on breaking myths and taboos around that time of the month! A week ago, Nobel Hygiene’s RIO Pads released a TV commercial that breaks yet another advertising misrepresentation – using a strange blue fluid to depict period blood. In its endeavour to normalise conversations around periods and period blood, RIO also addresses issues that advertising for menstrual hygiene products typically overlook such as heavy flow and period cramps.
But are Indian consumers willing to finally see period-like red blood shown in commercials? The brand did face some resistance initially as consumers were quick to send complaints to the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI). Kartik Johari – Vice President, Nobel Hygiene, explains, “The challenges with our campaign came in many forms; from the complaints from early viewers, to channels not willing to show our creative. To manoeuvre through the ASCI processes and working on the appeal during COVID was a challenge in itself; but we always believed in our product and took assurance from the excellent reviews that were coming in. We always knew that we are solving a deep seated, unaddressed problem.” After a go-ahead from ASCI, the commercial is now on air finally, and Johari tells us that it has already seen resonance with lakhs of women.
The campaign has been created by The Womb and a largely female crew. “It was all women as much as possible; obviously not all the way. But critically, we wanted a woman director to ensure we are being respectful and are packaging our creative with finesse. The scriptwriter in our agency, Bhasha, suffered from heavy flow herself, and thus completely understood the angst that women go through. Our research agency Ormax, while being headed by an awesome woman, obviously sent women into the field along with representatives from my team and The Womb’s team; and there were times when they all came back surprised and shocked.” The entire process helped everyone on the project, and the men in particular, grow in their understanding of menstruation.
The brand opted to go with Radhika Apte as the face of the campaign, though initially Johari didn’t intend to have a celebrity face for its new messaging.
“Radhika’s unconventional approach, and unapologetic and authentic style is exactly what the brand stands for. We thought that it would be only her, and if not, then we’ll go with a non-celebrity. We are glad that she was excited about the product as well, and together we could make the kind of start we all imagined,” he says. The campaign, which will be split evenly across TV and Digital, will also enlist other influencers to spread the message.
So what has the consumer response to the campaign been like? Johari says we still have a long way to go in ending the stigma on period talk but he remains optimistic. “Taboos are not overrun overnight. We of course still face condemnation and intolerance online. There are channels who still deny us a primetime slot and consumers who still belittle us for being opportunistic or crass. None of those are true obviously, and we are committed to educating the populace about the need for an open dialogue. We take great pride in the overwhelmingly positive opinions that are coming in, and try to converse with the naysayers,” says Johari.
The brand’s focus for now is to address the heavy flow concerns that millions of Indian women face, something that has not been talked on public platforms. So is RIO looking at introducing any other products like tampons and menstrual cups soon? “No plans for the future as of now,” responds Johari. “We’ve kept our eyes open, and will do whatever adds more value to our consumers.”
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