‘Powerful, relevant and different’: a look back at Tena’s groundbreaking menopause ad
Six months on from ‘Last Lonely Menopause’ first airing on Channel 4, we catch up with the team behind the heart-warming ad to find out more about its lasting impact.
‘Last Lonely Menopause’ is a funny and frank film, told through the lens of a mother-daughter relationship and capturing the realities many women face while going through menopause, including how difficult it can be to speak about. Armed with the stat that 92% of women in the UK feel unprepared for it, Tena and the team at AMV BBDO knew they had an important story to tell.
“Because it was so stigmatized, people just didn’t want to talk about it and it was almost brushed under the carpet as ‘the change’ and that was it,” says Bea Farmelo, a senior strategist at AMV BBDO. “Women are coming into it completely blindsided. The lack of preparation has such far-reaching profound consequences for women, their health and wellbeing.”
In their research, Tena and AMV BBDO found that thousands of women are resigning from their jobs at the height of their careers as a result of not feeling supported at the workplace. Many are also facing the breakdown of marriages and relationships. Lack of communication and understanding is a major factor in each. ”Part of this has been decades of stereotypes, misrepresentations and taboos that surrounded menopause that meant it was very difficult for women to have a positive experience around it,” says Farmelo.
As well as being widely acclaimed (it won the £1m Diversity in Advertising Awards from Channel 4), making the campaign created lots of learning opportunities across the board. “We tend to think of menopause as quite a one-dimensional template experience – just a hot flash,“ says Augustine Cerf, a creative at AMV BBDO. In actual fact, according to GenM, the menopause partner for brands, there are 48 symptoms. “I think people will be very hard-pressed to name even a couple of them,“ says Cerf.
Because of this, Cerf believes that many people don’t even realize they are going through menopause and end up misdiagnosed by a GP. “As women, we internalize a lot of medical gaslighting and think that we are the problem or that something has happened to us. But of course, if we can identify those symptoms then everything changes.”
It was because of this project that the creative realized she hadn’t spoken to her own mother about her experiences. After denying that she had any menopause symptoms, Cerf’s mother said that she’d been to a doctor and had “stumbled over her name and it was embarrassing“ and had felt upset during the appointment. Insight Cerf had gained from making the campaign meant she was able to identify what her mother was experiencing and it sparked an honest conversation between them. “It’s that kind of the empowerment of knowledge that we want to share with people.”
The direct approach was lauded by many and was also one of the only ads about bladder weakness to actually show urine on screen. “We definitely shifted attitudes positively,” said Stefanie Steegs, global brand communication manager at Essity. “The campaign was received as powerful, very relevant and different. It created brand salience as well.”
Changing the perception that Tena is an ‘old lady’ brand was also a huge factor. “Tena struggles because it carries negative connotations,” says Farmelo, who adds that one in three women struggle with bladder weakness. The stigma attached to these issues speaks to the fact that we “live in a sexist and ageist society”.
Challenging misconceptions about Tena was a “real objective“ and the ad had to be “modern, more progressive and show that it really understood women living with bladder weakness and getting older,” concludes the strategist.
Suggested newsletters for you
Of course, this all works because it’s a topic that’s ingrained in the DNA of the brand. “It’s about telling the truth and telling stories, but with huge amounts of empathy with robust research,” notes Cerf. “I don’t think brands can jump into talking about these huge, very emotional, often personal and painful topics, which are extremely complicated and very different. It’s sort of a case-by-case basis.”
Treating subject matter with a mixture of ‘darkness and light’ is crucial. “We had so many women talking about how they actually felt more like themselves on the other side. So that was something we wanted to show – that menopause is not an end, it’s the beginning.”
Aside from the film, a conversation guide was made available to all. “There’s this huge source of knowledge that’s trapped inside people,” Cerf continues. “It’s a joy to read because they [the contributors] were all so brilliant, enlightening and funny. We wanted to make sure that this campaign was not just a film, but was also out in the world and made an impact in a non-clinical, non-dry guide about menopause.”
For all the positives that came from this ad, the team is well aware there is such a long way to go – especially when representing women’s health in advertising. “The menopause is very much still shrouded in stereotypes,” concludes Steegs. “If we talk again in five years, wouldn’t it be fantastic if topics like incontinence and menopause weren’t stigmatized any more? Unfortunately, we are not there yet.”