#BloodNormal: One Color Makes The Difference

May 21st – Following the conversation on diversity issues, we would like to dedicate an article to the communication strategy of Essesity Feminine Care. Founded in Sweden, this company actively explores opportunities to improve well-being globally in Italy, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Mexico Colombia, and many other countries. Essity Feminine Care circulates various brands, such as Saba and Nosotras in Southern America, Bodyform in the UK, Libresse in Scandinavia and The Netherlands, Nana in France, and Nuvenia in Italy. They compete with other big brands like Always (P&G), Johnson and Johnson, and Kimberly Clark, which are oftentimes equally committed to female empowerment.

One of the brands that Essesity Feminine Care distributes named Bodyform incorporates a particularly engaging approach. They subverted the “rules” of communication within the feminine hygiene sector, simultaneously creating a precedent that competitors can no longer overlook.

Also see: Mattel and Barbie “the little girl could be anything she wanted to be”.

If it is normal, why not talk about it?

In many countries today, women are still ashamed to talk about menstruation. They consider it inappropriate to discuss the topic with their father, boyfriend, and other men. How can a natural process like the cycle be considered taboo? And how have the companies that advertise menstrual products helped to fuel this taboo?

Nicola Coronado, Marketing Director Bodyform (UK) stated that: “Menstruation is a natural process, but we still live in a society where we hide sanitary pads in our sleeves, where images of bloodstains are removed from social media, and female athletes are reluctant to talk about the impact of menstruation on their performance ”.

Their objective is to generate a conversation on this “uncomfortable” topic and contribute to gender equality by giving women the right to express themselves on a phenomenon that society has always considered “dirty”, “madness”, “hormonal” or “disgusting”. Essity, through the feminine hygiene brands, organized several hygiene campaigns. Combined, their initiatives in 2012, in 2017 named #bloodnormal and Viva la Vulva in 2019 contributed to the fight against gender inequality and promoted the empowerment of women through the normalization of a natural process such as menstruation.

The starting point is simple: women should not feel embarrassed about something that is perfectly natural and happens to every single woman in the world.

Murders, fights, and surgeries are allowed on entertainment screens in all their bloody glory, on almost all channels and mediums. However, when it comes to menstrual blood, censorship is triggered. It wasn’t until 2017 that some red liquid was poured upon the sanitary napkin.

In the blue, painted blue…

Have you ever paid attention to the fact that feminine hygiene brands use an artificial blue liquid in product demonstrations? This ‘self-censorship’ has allowed taboos to prosper. According to research conducted by Libresse, 90% of women try to hide their periods, 42% of women have felt ashamed about it, and 56% of teenage girls around the world say they would rather be bullied than talk with their parents about their cycle.

Libresse publicly challenged this stigma and managed to break the silence. With the #BloodNormal campaign they show the world that the only way to eliminate all taboos on menstruation is to make the invisible visible.

Blood Normal Full Version AD film

The film is directed by Daniel Wolfe, produced by Monika Lenczewska, and written by Nadja and Nick. It features women who shamelessly ask for a tampon at the dinner table, and students who pass tampons to their classmates, without embarrassment.

The censorship strikes again when the video does not respect the cultural sensitivity of the market.

However, other countries like the UK released a different version of the film. Why? In order to ensure that the global campaign respects the “cultural sensitivities” within each market. For that reason, the scene that illustrates a girl wearing a sanitary napkin is censored in the UK. Libresse decided to publicize it anyway, but pixelated, including the offical citation from the authorities: “The sight of menstrual blood is unacceptable”.

Blood Normal Case Study

A couple of years later, the sight of a woman wearing underwear with blood flowing down her legs was considered “offensive” by some Australian viewers. The complaints ranged from bad taste to denigration as well as humiliation of women. These statements included a concern for children viewing the commercial, who were mentioned to be too young to see blood running down a woman’s leg in the shower.

Interestingly, the Advertising Standards Authority declared that the commercial did not violate any code of ethics standards.

The visualization of menstrual blood within a commercial challenged the status quo and initiated a process of normalization. Thanks to the power of representation and the engagement of a mainstream brand, which made it difficult for other players to ignore these incentives.

However, the road to success remains to be an uphill battle. The Viva la Vulva campaign by Bodyform hardly saw the light after its release in 2018.

Viva La Vulva Full Length AD film

“Viva La Vulva,” a “joyful musical ode to vulvas in all their shapes and sizes,” faced many obstacles before being accepted. The first hurdle was winning over Essity’s internal stakeholders: as might be expected, it was difficult to convince management and the board of directors to implement a campaign full of vulvas. Followed by problems with communications regulators: after dealing with bans placed on bloodnormal, alliva, the brand noticed that the approval process eased.

Even social media is implementing censorships

Worst of all was dealing with standards and policies for disseminating sensitive content on social networks: decentralized approval policies of Facebook and Google meant that “Viva la vulva” was banned on social media in all countries where it was launched, and in some cases, the brand was unable to reverse this decision.

At the end, when the launch succeeded, it would be worth it. The communication goals of #bloodnormal were ambitious: to increase levels of brand equity, positive perception, and brand favorability. Choosing a topic that could provoke a ‘shock’ in the audience, and thus, strongly impact customer perception is the exact risk Libresse decided to take with the #bloodnormal campaign, receiving many accolades, including at the Grand Prix at Cannes Lions.

Bloodnormal and Viva La Vulva are not ‘casual campaigns’. Since 2012, in continuity with its mission purpose, the communication strategy has focused on female empowerment. With projects such as “Vagina Varsity,” a fun educational series in which a teenager can learn everything she should know about the vagina. As well as the six new “Femoji” in Unicode’s ‘menstruation’ themed emoji keyboard (from tampons to spotted pants and cramps), the goal is to enable girls to express their feelings in a natural way.

SDGs Goal #5, #6, #12, #13, #15…

It is through its communication strategy that the company is contributing to the achievement of Goal number 5 (Gender Equality) of the SGDs. But Goal #5 is not the only goal to which the company is committed.

In relation to Goal #6, (Clean Water and Sanitation), Essity states that the company has reduced its water consumption by 4.7%. For Goal #12, (Responsible Consumption and Production), they contribute to a circular model, always following sustainable consumption and using safe and environmentally friendly products and services. To achieve Goal #13 (Climate Action), Essity reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 17.9% between 2005 and 2017. For Goal #15 (Life on Earth) they declare a commitment to responsible forest management.

Greenpeace versus SCA (Essity’s sister company)

In 2017 Essity was the subject of a Greenpeace campaign against the partial destruction of the Great Northern Forest in Sweden, Finland, and Russia. With the launch of the report ‘Wiping Away the Boreal’, Greenpeace denounced the Swedish multinational Essity, Europe’s leading tissue producer, also known for its brand named Tempo in Italy. Essity procures its resources from SCA, the company formed by the demerger of the SCA Hygiene Products Spa group into two independent companies: SCA “Europe’s Largest Private Forest Owners” and Essity, which specializes in the production of handkerchiefs, toilet paper, kitchen towels, tampons, and napkins.

In its 2019 report, SCA confirms that it has one of the most competitive fiber production facilities in the world.

“SCA produces market pulp at Östrand pulp mill. The mill was expanded in 2018 to double its capacity. Östrand is now one of the most competitive production facilities for bleached softwood kraft pulp in the world. Together with chemical thermomechanical pulp production, Östrand’s annual capacity amounts to 1 million tonnes. SCA’s pulp has high strength properties, suitable for tissue and specialty paper

Greenpeace is demanding that the company increases the use of 100 percent post-consumer recycled and unbleached paper in its production. Moreover, they question if virgin fibers are necessary, and will prevent that these are from High Conservation Value Forest Landscapes.

Essity’s response is that: “100 percent of the wood fiber has been certified or audited, which means that our suppliers support and safeguard principles on biodiversity and forest conservation.”

Response of Essity Sweden

Overexploitation of natural resources is leading to the depletion of soils and the disappearance of biodiversity.

Truly responsible companies that produce in large industrial quantities, and that achieve growing revenues year after year (SCA sales grew by 4.5 percent while EBITDA increased by 1 percent), should be consistent in maintaining the sustainability of the ecosystem, otherwise any attempt to fight inequalities will be without success.

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