Why wouldn’t some channels air Nobel Hygiene’s RIO Pads ad?

The ad-makers share how conversations with women who had heavy periods inspired the bold commercial and why it didn’t sit well with certain media gatekeepers

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Mar 27, 2020 3:08 PM
Radhika Apte

The advertising world may have progressed by leaps and bounds. But the same cannot be said about for sanitary pad ads. For years, these commercials – mostly Indian-- have shown a bizarre blue liquid, representing menstrual blood, being squirted onto a pad by someone in a lab coat.

 But a new menstrual hygiene product has been breaking new ground, especially in the way menstrual blood has been portrayed. The recent ad for Nobel Hygiene RIO sanitary pads, featuring Radhika Apte, has dared to show menstrual blood the way it is – in red. 

Ad-makers Kawal Shoor and Navin Talreja, Founding Partners of The Womb revealed that the ads have been aired in South India, but a couple of channels refused to air the commercials. The ad which shows red blood instead of blue didn’t muster with certain media gatekeepers. 

Kawal Shoor and Navin Talreja, Founding Partners of The Womb

The spot shows a trail of blood dropping. Brand ambassador, actress Radhika Apte asks the viewers if the blood made them feel uncomfortable. She also adds that it’s considerably more during heavy bleeding. 

Think: Pads being adjusted in the underwear, blood being washed off, and women writhing in pain. Everything that challenges the conventional period advertising shown over the years was brought out in the ad. It brings out the problems of heavy flow without mincing any words and striking imagery. 

“Different channels had different ways of accepting it. Some channels that claim to be progressive didn’t want to run these ads. They need to wake up and smell the coffee that women want to see reality in ads,” said Talreja.   

Shoor indicated that the starting point of the ad was a conversation around PCOD and PCOS. “As men, we didn’t know much about these issues but our naiveness made us ask questions,” he said. 

After a conversation with women from their team, the duo realised that 3-4 women working in their own agency were suffering from these conditions. This ignited it and Talreja and Shoor decided to delve deeper into it. “We wanted to bring to light not just the physiology of it but also the pain associated with it,” asserted Shoor. 

Another learning that struck them was that many women were thinking that it's just them going through it. A deep-dive reflected that 10-15% of women encounter the symptomatic issue of extremely heavy flow. “Our client too conducted research and confirmed these learnings,” he said. 

However, for the duo, it meant not just dishing creative commutation but actually reaching out to women from different walks of life to try Rio pads. Shoor signalled that there was a clear need in the market for a product that with its efficiency solves problems associated with heavy flow. “We were able to get different feedback from the experiment and realised that all women want during these times is something that can help them go through the rough days. There was honesty in the strategy, a substantive solution to women seeking it. The biggest learning was that people around don’t understand it,” he shared.

 According to Talreja, the challenge was around showing it how it is and keeping it real while not grossing out viewers. “The challenge was how do you do something that’s never been done before, at least back here in India. It was about how do we show the red and yet stay within the norms of what people will accept on television”  

The idea of using the red balloon, Shoor said, came from the need to have a metaphor to depict heavy flow. “Bhasha from the team cracked the idea. After multiple iterations, we knew we had to go with it as we wanted to bring heavy flow to life,” he asserted. 

Talreja and Shoor opine that advertising has a job to lead popular culture.

“Brands that show the blue and not red seem okay to us but we as a society refuse to accept an ad that shows it how it is: red blood,” Talreja asserted. 

However, the duo is clear that it’s not a gimmick and nor did they go with red blood merely to break clutter. “People need to see it how it is. We had over 500 comments on the brand’s page of women saying that we don’t bleed blue, we bleed red,” he remarked. They shared that the dialogues used in the spot come straight from consumers who go through these conditions. 


 More work to do.

 Industry thought leaders laud the taboo-challenging work while signalling that more such work should be rolled out to break the deep socially-ingrained stigmas around menstruation and its depiction in ads. The women in ad-land establish that it’s time to embrace the raw and real rather than the stereotypical when creating work around the topic. 

 Pallavi Chakravarti, Executive Creative Director, Taproot Dentsu finds it admirable that an ad has chosen to be as real as menstruation is. “The no-nonsense take definitely made an impact on me. I’d be very interested in knowing how the ad performs. In theory, the country SHOULD be ready for a conversation like this. In reality, I’m not sure it is. It’s a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. If one steps out and tells it like it is, there is a chance that the men and women of conservative India will blush all shades of blue, pink and purple and say, ‘Arre, arre, aise kaise?’; conversely, if bold moves aren’t made, we will forever be hemming, hawing and beating around the bush when it comes to talking about an important issue like menstrual hygiene. So, in a nutshell, my view is ‘much-needed, brave and risky,” Chakravarti asserts. 

 Meanwhile Priya Gurnani, Senior Creative Director, Publicis Worldwide, Mumbai says that it is a relief to finally see blood as it is supposed to be and not the blue ambiguous liquid we have been conditioned to see for years. “It’s definitely a bold piece of work. The beauty of this ad is that it shows a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle as it is and very unapologetically. The brand is trying to break stereotype advertising for the category and for that they deserve applause. They are on point for the choice of celebrity. We all know of Radhika Apte to be bold and she is not shy from owing the truths of femininity,” she remarks. 

 However, Gurnani adds, “The question is, we are a country, where when the family is together for tele time, and if a commercial of a sanitary napkin plays, the channels are still changed. It is high time the narrative changes but again are we ready for it? We have a long way to go.” 

 Says Anusheela Saha, Group Creative Director, FCB Ulka, “When Bodyform broke period taboos and showed period blood the normal way, it was path-breaking. It was like a movement. Advertising has become more empowering. Today - we are moving in the direction of flaunting scars with brands like Titan Raga. After all, life shouldn't stop when periods start as Carmesi Sanitary Pads puts it.”


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