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Creative Creative Works Health

Viva la vulva! Creatives share favorite moments from 10 years of Essity and AMV BBDO

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By Amy Houston, Senior Reporter

January 16, 2024 | 9 min read

We look back at a decade of taboo-busting collaboration from the hygiene and health brand and its creative agency.

Woman holding a shell

Viva La Vulva / AMV BBDO

Before Libresse owner Essity teamed up with creative agency AMV BBDO, the period care category was a very different place, full of airbrushed, hairless bodies and a weird blue liquid that was meant to represent menstrual blood. With their now iconic campaigns, such as ‘Bloodnormal,’ ‘Viva la Vulva’ and ‘Wombstories,’ however, this partnership has slowly shifted the narrative.

One of the biggest hurdles faced along the way was when, in 2017, the team was attempting to feature red period ‘blood’ in an ad. Initially, they weren’t even allowed to run ‘Bloodnormal’ across social media, let alone TV, but the furor around the spot was so loud it became one of the most hotly debated topics that year, sparking conversation within the ad industry and across mainstream media.

It was so controversial that when the film was eventually shown in Australia, it received more than 600 complaints – one of the most contested ads of recent times.

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“It made such a big red splash that it had ripple effects everywhere – in the category, the industry and across culture,” says Margaux Revol, strategy partner at AMV BBDO.

“It’s pushed all the competitors to eventually adopt red liquid, the industry to revisit how we portray women’s bodies or express their wants and needs. It has created a wave of positive period representations, it has been quoted in books and has been the main subject of quite a few students and researchers in the academic world.”

Over time, the brand and creative agency have made major strides in busting taboos around periods, menopause, endometriosis and IVF, but it hasn’t been an easy journey.

“Because of all this, it might seem difficult to imagine that, seven years ago, we were made to think we were crazy even to imagine showing red blood, period blood in the shower or a bloody pad in a woman’s underwear,” adds Revol.

“We were made to doubt ourselves, but we were hanging on to the dream that maybe, several years later, the sight of period blood would be so normalized that nobody would actually believe it was even a ‘thing’ to have to fight for it. We had, ironically, made normality revolutionary.”

To mark 10 years of groundbreaking work, we asked top creatives from across the advertising industry to share their favorite spots. Here’s what they had to say.

Womb Stories (2020)

Trevor Robinson, founder and executive creative director, Quiet Storm: “When we were judging this campaign at Cannes Lions 2021, the women on the jury voiced their relief that a brand was finally depicting the truth of life with a womb, while for many of the male judges like me, it was a powerful education on the female experience. This campaign made me think differently and that’s what the best advertising does.

“As well as being beautifully art-directed and illustrated, ‘Womb Stories’ doesn’t pull any punches because it’s entirely informed by women’s insights and experiences. A campaign as smart, insightful and brave as this could never have been made without women in the key decision-making roles on both the client and agency side.”

Blood Normal (2017)

Aidan McClure, founder and chief creative officer, Wonderhood Studios: “What looking at all this work confirms is how tantalizing our job is. It just takes one idea. One idea is to unlock an account and change the fortunes of both clients and agencies. One tiny spark. Land this and it breeds confidence in the agency/client team, unlocks more great thinking and allows the agency to go from strength to strength creatively.

“For me, ‘Blood Normal’ was the unlocker. This was the piece of work that made everyone sit up and take notice. This paved the way for the strongest execution, ‘Viva la Vulva,’ and presumably gave the client the confidence to buy excellent work across other brands, like ‘Pant-tastic’ and ‘Merry Xmess.’ Hat’s off to whoever was the unlocker, the person who had the spark.”

Red Fit (2016)

Vix Jagger, executive creative director, Accenture Song: “This is not a campaign that immediately springs to mind when you think of some of the iconic work from Essity, but it was the first step in the direction that paved the way for iconic work like ‘Blood Normal.’ Until then, the category had been full of smiley women rollerblading and skydiving through their period – happy that the pad between their legs would soak up the blue liquid that we all leak monthly.

“Then, ‘Red Fit’ showed how normal blood is through women’s sports, with bleeding toes on ballet dancers and bloody noses on boxers. It’s not the work that everyone speaks of now but it was the gateway drug to the brave, bold work we continue to see today. That first step is always the hardest; it takes a brave client and should be hugely commended.”

Viva La Vulva (2018)

Owen Lee, chief creative officer, FCB London: “‘Blood Normal’ was brave, new, different and it tore down a taboo that everyone knew needed to be confronted. That should always be applauded, but ‘Viva la Vulva’ was so fresh, original and unexpected that it took the brand to another level.

“The idea is simple, audacious and brilliant, but the craft took it into a different league. It is often said that advertising is not art; it has a commercial purpose and that should never be forgotten. But how wonderful when it unquestionably becomes both. No wonder the Lions rolled in.”

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Last Lonely Menopause (2022)

Tamryn Kerr, chief creative officer, Hijinks: “The strategy of comparing menopause to puberty is really smart. Everyone understands puberty, they understand how a teenager’s hormones can wreak havoc on them and their family. This ad gives a brutally honest account of menopause but also offers a positive ray of hope at the end.

“It reassures women that this is temporary and there’s light at the end of the menopause tunnel. And not to forget it sells a product too. Well written, directed and cast, this is another great example of AMV BBDO and Essity brilliance. Hats off for consistently turning the briefs that nobody wants to work on into something that makes creative departments everywhere jealous.”

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