Last week, the Scottish Government made a historic move, pledging £5m to ensure that free period products will be available to pupils and students across all schools, colleges and universities in Scotland.
There’s been widespread support for this move but, alas, with a heavy uterus I can also report plenty of push back from people who a) want to know why the men folk don’t get free razors b) simply don’t believe that there are women who can’t afford period products c) think this money should tackle something else.
Here’s what I think about those opinions. There’re not simply sparked by a new policy decision. In large part, they’ve come about because women have been misrepresented for far too long. And the marketing industry has played its part in helping to create this bloody big issue.
Women will have around 450 periods in a lifetime. I’m on roughly number 302 right now. And as I type, I’m tanked up on ibuprofen and chocolate because menstruation also has multiple problematic side hustles; cramps, PMS, bloating, bleed-throughs, insomnia, cravings. But there’s one period problem I’m lucky not to face – and that’s period poverty.
Across the UK, one in 10 women have gone without menstrual products because they couldn’t afford them. In Scotland, it’s one in five. What does this mean in reality? As demonstrated brilliantly in an advert by our friends, Hey Girls last month, it means women use alternative ‘solutions’, including newspapers, rags and socks. Ever chosen to stuff any of those down your pants, then roller-skate down the beach, Bodyform-style? Thought not.
Their use leads to embarrassment, staining, smell, sometimes infection, and even truancy - 49% of girls who are affected skip school. They’re missing education and opportunity over something as simple as a tampon, a pad or a mooncup. Boys aren’t bunking off because of blunt razors. Anyone who thinks they are, needs to go straight in the bin – and take the newspapers, rags and socks along with them.
“Period Poverty is a nonsense. Makes you wonder how women managed throughout time until tampons were invented,” commented one male, middle-age social media user when the Scottish Government made their announcement. Beyond this charming chap’s obvious lack of experience (and empathy), let’s take a moment to acknowledge the scepticism that surrounds period poverty. It exists because, for a long time, women (and our basic biological functions) haven’t been represented honestly or openly. Menstrual products have been positioned as ‘sanitary wear’; our blood’s been shown as blue, bleach-like fluid. Periods have been made to feel like a dirty little secret for too long.
That’s why we started the Bloody Big Brunch – a social good campaign that was cooked up by our agency to bring periods to the mainstream, help remove their stigma and make a difference to period poverty.
The idea is simple. Take something that’s a weekend luxury (brunch) and use it to highlight what should be a basic essential (period products). We hold weekend events throughout the country, pouring Bloody Marys for all to enjoy – but there’s one string attached. And it’s firmly at the end of a tampon.
Our cocktails are paid for with period products, which are then distributed to women in need, almost 4,000 so far. Another positive consequence of the Bloody Big Brunch though, is the creation of a feel-good, inclusive space where people feel comfortable to ask about the reality of periods, without being made to feel daft. One guy who came along wondered whether you ‘do your period’ in one go when you go to the toilet (spoiler alert - we don’t).
We’ve generated amazing media coverage, lots of social noise and joined up with the very best of partners – the excellent social enterprise, Hey Girls (as mentioned earlier), Smirnoff, without whom we couldn’t raise any vodka-filled glasses to the cause, and the marvellous Stacey Solomon, our first official ambassador, who will be joining us at our next event in Manchester on 8th September.
Their support – and the overwhelming engagement we’ve had from the public – shows that the Bloody Big Brunch isn’t niche, it isn’t just for us committed feminists. It demonstrates that there’s a wide appetite for women-centred marketing that’s loud, proud and unafraid to show things as they really are.
It also shows that we as marketeers have an opportunity to air our laundry (complete with bloody bed linen) and move the conversation on. There’s been a huge awakening amongst women, particularly in the last eighteen months, and representation has never mattered more. Women are sick of being patronised – or encouraged to stay quiet.
So, if women are important to you and your brand (and they will be, given they make or influence almost all household buying decisions) then it’s time to ask yourself whether you’re doing enough to include how we really look, what we really say or what we really care about in your campaigns. Can you help to solve the problem of there being twice as many male characters in adverts than female? Or the fact that one in ten female characters are shown in sexually revealing clothing, which is six times more than men? Can you show different body types? Different ethnicities? Or can you bake into your brand a purpose that matters to women, like sexual harassment, building the confidence of young women, post-natal depression, supporting working mums or encouraging female entrepreneurs?
This isn’t just nice stuff to do. It’s one of the few ways left to build and nurture loyalty. People gravitate towards representations they can connect with. And that means being real, nothing sanitised, no backwards-looking cliches. Bottom-line? Inclusive, honest brands are also able to benefit their bottom-line. Ask Fenty, ask Diageo, ask Nike.
At WIre , we’ve a diversity board that keeps these conversations front-of-mind in all we do. Because we believe that no brand can afford to ignore consumer’s changing expectations of us. And because we believe it can make a real difference to world.
That’s why we’re proud to raise a Bloody Mary to the Scottish Government – and why we’ll keep putting Bloody Big Brunches on the table until the rest of the UK follows their lead in making period products – and the conversation surrounding periods – open to all.
Pam Scobbie is a director at Wire, an agency that builds great ideas and puts them in the right places. The next Bloody Big Brunch takes place Saturday 8 September at TriBeCa, 50 Sackville Street, in Manchester.