Why we won't see red
A hygiene brand's fight over a recent sanitary pad commercial brings up the curious case of why Indians don't like acknowledging that blood is red
IN 2018, Nobel Hygiene, India's largest manufacturer of adult and baby diapers, started researching the sanitary napkin market to address a hush-hush subject: heavy menstrual bleeding. Their findings were unsettling. "Heavy period flow is often considered a personal complication and not a medical problem, which is why it goes undiagnosed," says Manisha Sain, strategy planner, The Womb Communication, who was part of the research team.
Losing 80 ml or more blood in each period cycle, or/and a cycle that lasts beyond seven days constitutes heavy menstrual bleeding. The cause is often attributed to fibroids or non-cancerous growths that develop in or around the womb and can cause heavy or painful periods, endometriosis, where the tissue that lines the womb (endometrium) is found outside the womb, or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition that affects the functioning of the ovaries. "Heavy menstruation affects 25 per cent women in India and requires them to change their pads every two hours," she adds. The team came across case studies, where women would try not to sit on a sofa or sleep on a bed during their period due to the fear of soiling, aside from experiencing agonising pain. With these insights, the team created a product aimed to absorb heavy flow and called it Rio pad.
In February this year, when they launched a TVC on a pan-India level, they faced criticism. Complaints were filed with the ASCI (Advertising Standards Council of India) because they had chosen to depict the real colour of menstrual blood, red, instead of the usual blue. "We were surprised that a lot of complainants were from women. While some said it makes them queasy and uncomfortable, others said they can't watch this with family," says Kartik Johari, vice president, Nobel Hygiene. The brand was forced to press pause. "We had to file our reply to the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC), but that's when the lockdown happened, so there was a delay." They later submitted research documents to back their insights related to heavy menstrual flow. "We were presented with the option of changing the colour to blue. We refused because conversations will begin only after acknowledging reality, and we are keen this happens on a mass scale. Showing the first true and honest representation of periods is the first step." Johari says the creative script was based on real narratives from women, directed and shot by a woman, and marketed by a team of women. "We pointed out excerpts from the menstrual hygiene manual of the Government of India to drive home our point," he says.
After deliberations with ASCI and an independent review, the complaints were quashed and the team has been allowed to air the advertisement with minor modifications in the second phase of the launch. Globally, the advertising watchdogs of only two countries, Australia and the UK, have allowed showing red in TV commercials.
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