Work & Wellbeing Brand Purpose Brand Safety

Is Elvie’s ‘Leaks Happen’ ad missing the magic?

By Lolly Morris | Head of design

April 26, 2022 | 6 min read

Femtech has always been a pioneer of brands interacting with women authentically, and creating communities where women feel they are being candidly represented. However, designer Lolly Morris feels some brands have taken this movement too far, and in their quest for authentic representation have ended up trivializing serious medical issues.


Elvie and Don’t Cry Wolf PR challenged themselves to create a ‘peeing’ billboard to raise awareness of female incontinence / Elvie

Elvie mounted a billboard in London with a 28-year-old mother of two, Megan Burns, in a squat position peeing on the streets of London. They claimed it was to tackle the taboo of incontinence with a big, wet out-of-home (WOOH) activation that aimed to create an open dialogue about the topic, while also wiping the floor with social media companies that feel the issue should be censored online – TikTok, I’m looking at you.

Elvie is a brand that is at the forefront of pushing important issues affecting women. The entire purpose of the brand is to give women the tools they need to let their bodies do their thing while sparking important conversations around taboo subjects associated with women’s health.

One of my favorite Elvie ads is the ‘Pumping. Unplugged’ campaign that it released for the launch of its iconic silent breast pumps, where they compared breastfeeding to milking cows. Not only was it funny, but it also tapped into a shared feeling that many of us have had when breastfeeding and, in the process, united us with the shared story of motherhood.

How far is too far?

So it left me feeling a tad deflated when I saw its recent ‘Leaks Happen’ campaign. While I admire the attempt, what could have been another humorous take on the female experience turned out to be an awkward portrayal of an already awkward issue for many women.

The advertising of women’s sensitive products has evolved over the years. Brands like Elvie have helped women go from being embarrassed about having periods or having to breastfeed in public to being more open about it and creating spaces for these types of conversations outside of their usual target audience. From Elvie’s multiple breast pump ads making it cool to pump breast milk at work to Bodyform’s period ads, these brands are getting to the heart of what matters: periods and breastfeeding – and every other bodily function, for that matter – are normal.

But the conversations we want to be having should be more about how women make sacrifices to bring life into the world and the bodily trials it takes to do that. So, when a campaign emerges that places shock value over celebration, it leaves me with the question: who was this ad really for? The creatives or the consumer?

Messaging v interpretation

It surprises me that Elvie missed the mark. It’s a brand that is celebrated for its ability to market intimate products in engaging ways and at scale.

Elvie has been very instrumental in championing the smartness of women’s bodies. Its brand ethos is to take ’women’s tech out of the dark ages’ and spotlight the amazing biological complexity of women – beyond aesthetic values, across every phase of their life.

Yet, with the strength of women being reverted back to activities through a male lens, it felt as if we’d stepped backward toward those dark ages. Can’t women be seen as strong in their own everyday experiences? Do we really need to ‘pee’ on pedestrians as they walk by to raise awareness?

I’d love to have seen this campaign go beyond this initial activation. Perhaps if they’d done a takeover of other OOH billboards where other more representative models were shown like they’d wet themselves, it could emphasize the point that leaks can happen at any time to anyone – the issue can be an age thing, or a post-birth issue, or maybe you just pee when you laugh. It’s not just when you’re a weightlifter mid 50kg squat.

Representation matters

I can’t help but think that the teams on both sides didn’t have the right people in the room to ensure representation was a driving force behind the campaign. Having the right representation of the people you’re making an ad for is so important in creating a sounding board – and this applies to both agency and client-side.

I would hope that having women share their experiences could offer perspectives that show incontinence isn’t something to turn into a gimmick. The last thing we want is to be feeling more uncomfortable than we already are.

Being provocative doesn’t have to mean pursuing the shock factor. Elvie knows that, as it is a brand that can deliver it well through a much more uniting perspective. With a little step back, and letting go of the belief that the most shocking ad wins the right attention, Elvie can get back to doing what it does best – celebrating how awesome women are.

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