I Was There: turning 'smart tampon dispenser' Hooha from bloody good idea to reality

The name Hooha – slang for commotion or fuss – was picked straight out of the gate to differentiate the brand

“A colleague of mine was at SXSW two years ago and was walking around the showroom floor looking at all of this amazing technology and innovation. She went to the restroom to get a tampon and was greeted by two out-of-order dispensers. She was like ‘I just walked by a robot that knows how to fry an egg, and I can’t find a tampon in Austin’.”

Kristen Guiliano was working as associate creative director at Huge when her friend and colleague Steph Loffredo returned to her desk with this story. Her experience will be familiar for any woman whose period has sprung on them at an importune moment.

However, against the backdrop of one of the biggest interactive conferences this particular ‘sorry for the inconvenience’ sign, and broken coin slot, served as a stark reminder that for the advancements in tech women’s basic needs were being left behind.

The encounter prompted Loffredo to build a team (backed by Huge) to modernise the sad, outdated army of dispensers that occupy women’s bathrooms everywhere. Guiliano – now associate creative director at The Many – was appointed to lead creative.

The result was Hooha: a “smart tampon dispenser” women can text to receive a free (yes, free) tampon in a bathroom emergency. It’s simple, frictionless and solves the issue without asking people to download an app or subscribe.

'Tampon dispensers: the Mom jeans of tech'

Guiliano recounted her role in developing the product at The Drum Arms pop-up in New York last month, during the the ‘I Was There’ panel which explores the stories behind impactful advertising and ideas.

“For those not familiar with the tampon dispenser they are coin operated, no one carries a stash of quarters anymore,” Guiliano explained. “They’re also usually windowless. It’s the only example of a vending machine I can think of where you don’t see what you’re buying before you put your money in and most importantly, they almost never dispense tampons.”

In response, the design team created a product with a transparent pane so people could see whether a machine was stocked or not. Smart sensors were also developed to let suppliers know when the machine was running low on stock.

Highlighting how the language around periods is often softened because it’s seen as taboo to mention “blood,” tampons,” or “pads,” Guiliano said the next step after “reinventing” the appliance itself was to combat taboos with a bold branding and creative.

The name Hooha – slang for commotion or fuss – was picked straight out of the gate to differentiate the brand and a tampon unapologetically took centre stage in the logo.

Guiliano was also keen to avoid a pastel or floral palette: “there’s so much flowery, water colour stuff that gets thrown at women every day, so we wanted it to feel different,” she explained.

Next, she set about developing the brand’s tone of voice, coming up with a series of cheeky taglines: ‘Tech So Old it Should Know Better’; ‘Tampon Dispensers, the Mom Jeans of Tech’; and ‘Designed by Men, No Wonder it Never Fufills Your Needs’; and ‘A Bloody Smart Idea’ were just some of the bold statements written to underscore the brand.

Guiliano’s team created a short video to share on social introducing Hooha, telling Loffredo’s story. The product was unveiled on International Women’s Day this year at SXSW, receiving international media coverage.

Busting taboos

Unsurprisingly, the men who worked with Loffredo and Guiliano on the project had some difficulty understanding what the issue was.

“We had to do a lot of education. I had to have a conversation with one of the men I was working with who thought women only needed to use one tampon per-day. I realised we had to take a step back and talk about what menstrual cycles actually are.

“It wasn’t that man’s fault, it’s just something we never really talk about and so no one knows it’s a problem,” she said. “It was about educating people and once they understood there was an equal amount of outrage between genders about what was happening.”

Hooha is still in beta and on the hunt for partners to adopt it widely in their venues. Guiliano revealed it’s in conversations with a major “new NBA stadium” to kit out its bathrooms.

When it comes to breaking taboos, there’ still work to be done too. The brand reached out to the Unicode Consortium (which owns the official emoji keyboard) to develop a pad or a tampon emoji, but it’s appeal has been refused twice because Unicode is readying the release of a ‘blood drop’ symbol which it feels will represent the cause.

Guiliano explained: “So even in the new age modern way we communicate with each other, people are still afraid to share a picture of tampon.”

Taking the temperature of the team at Huge who worked on the project, however, has shown that taboos have been broken in a way much closer to home.

“One thing I’ll say is in the Huge office we had men and women working on the project. Three months in everyone was pretty comfortable talking about tampons and periods.

"Six months in, people were having ‘tampon fights’ in the office, it become the most normal thing – I really think like that was a good sign of the taboos this can break on a much larger scale.”

Each Wednesday, The Drum will be publishing stories from I Was There – revealing the moments that produced iconic brands and advertising moments.

Stay tuned this month for more untold tales from Bruno Bertelli, global chief creative officer, Publicis Worldwide and Maclean Jackson, senior copywriter and creative director at Johannes Leonardo.

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