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'It's not copy, it's just conversation' - CEO of Thinx Miki Agrawal on the brand's clever subway marketing

Ads for menstrual products have been getting a bad rap for a while. They’re often criticized for their tendency to gloss over the realities that women face once a month, instead opting for shots of women zip-lining or swimming that cut to demos of blue liquid being absorbed by a tampon.

Over the past few years, the category has made some strides. Kotex recently rolled out a lighthearted video series called 'Please More Snacks' that features recipes for “cravings when Auntie Flo’s in town,” while Always and its ongoing ‘Like A Girl’ campaign has been widely praised for its feminist message.

But Thinx, maker of “period-proof underwear,” hasn’t only brought a new product to the menstrual market – it’s also shaking up the feminine hygiene category up with its frank and honest advertising that doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to discussing what is still a taboo topic.

The company first made headlines last fall when Outfront Media, the firm that manages advertising within the New York City subway system, considered not running Thinx’s out-of-home ads because they used the word “period” and included “suggestive” imagery, like photos of a grapefruit and a runny egg that are in reference to parts of the female anatomy.

Thinx’s ads were eventually approved and went up in three subway stations throughout New York City, including bustling Grand Central and Williamsburg’s Bedford Avenue stop. CEO and co-founder of Thinx Miki Agrawal told The Drum that the clash with Outfront ultimately helped Thinx’s business because it “went viral internationally and really helped champion the [period] conversation.”

“It put the conversation to the forefront,” she said. “Why are periods taboo? Why is the conversation taboo? And how is it possible that it’s still taboo in arguably the most progressive city in the world, New York City?” she said.

Last month, the brand unveiled the second installment of its campaign throughout the New York City subway system, and now one out of every ten cars is filled with Thinx ads.

With statements like “Period-proof underwear that won't leak through your Tinder date (or Bumble or Grindr or Farmers Only). #NotAnAd #Ad," the posters take the brand’s cheeky sense of humor up another notch.

“It’s not copy, it’s just conversation,” Agrawal said of the ads. “We always try to write the way we speak. My team consists of mostly millennials, so that helps too.”

Agrawal, who also serves as Thinx’s chief creative officer, said that all of the company’s ads are created in-house by a team of creatives and that she has no plans to enlist the help of an agency anytime soon.

“I review everything before it goes out and I want to keep it that way,” she said.

When Agrawal and her team were initially brainstorming ideas for Thinx’s subway ads, she said she wanted to create a campaign that would not only be a “showstopper” but would also look artful, tasteful, and educational “in a way that makes you kind of smile or laugh.”

“We’re trying to make you stop in your tracks and look at the product,” she said. “The thing I thing I love to say to my team is, ‘is this fridge-worthy? Will this make the small real-estate on your fridge?'”

But the ads aren’t all about just grabbing eyeballs. Agrawal said the strategy behind the tongue-in-cheek campaign is to accurately portray how women truly think and feel when they are on their periods.

“Girls just prancing in a field with a big smile on their face, which is what most period ads are, is just not accurate to what women truly feel,” she said.

When asked what advice she’d give marketers who are trying to resonate with the ever-elusive millennial, Agrawal said to simply just “pretend like you’re texting your friends.”

“How would you say things and how would you write things? What are the hashtags that you would use that are funny? It has to be just colloquial. It shouldn’t feel like an ad,” she said.

Last year, DigitasLBi's international chief marketing officer Fern Miller wrote about how feminine hygiene brands including Thinx are reinventing the space with honest ad creative and product innovation that benefits women.

Minda Smiley

Minda Smiley is The Drum's US advertising reporter, covering how brands and agencies are using today's platforms, technologies and innovations to connect with consumers.

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