Only women allowed to advertise sanitary device

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A virtually unknown advertising agency has been awarded a pounds 20m campaign for a revolutionary sanitary protection device - because the team is female.

The choice of Gotham Group, an agency founded and run by women, to dream up a suitable campaign for Ultrafem, the American company that claims to have invented a viable alternative to tampons and sanitary towels, called Instead, has sparked a debate.

Most British agencies were disqualified from the pitch at the outset on the grounds that their teams included individuals who had never experienced period pain in their life. To Lillie Goodrich, of Ultrafem in Connecticut (CRCT), the reasoning is simple. "Only women can communicate the benefits of Instead in a meaningful way," she is reported as saying.

Such an argument may wash in the politically correct world of America, but to many Britons it smacks of pc gone bonkers. If only a woman can advertise all things menstrual, does that mean only an ethnic minority can work on an anti-racist campaign?

On the other hand, perhaps the selection of an all-women team is a perfectly sensible response to the dubious precedents. Those women who cringe every time another naff advertisement for sanitary protection pops up on their television screen may welcome the positive discrimination. Not least, Ali Large, managing director of Gotham. Ms Large argues that 80 per cent of advertising is aimed at women and 80 per cent made by men, and that it is time women were given a chance to work on a product that only they understand. "A lot of existing (sanitary product) advertising with beautiful women driving fast cars to screaming music is fantasy land," she reportedly said.

A clue to why Ultrafem has selected an all-women team lies in the advertisements on the American Internet, where Instead is billed as "Feminine Protection That Only a Woman Could Create". The "soft, disposable cup" can be worn for up to 12 hours on light days and for twice as long as tampons on heavy days, according to the American advertisement. It can even be worn during sexual intercourse.

Since the ban on tampon advertising on British television was lifted in 1992, there have been countless shots of carefree women rollerblading, swimming or skydiving accompanied by slogans such as "They work, you play". Alexandra Taylor, deputy creative director at Saatchi and Saatchi, does not believethat people should be gender-related to the product they are advertising, but in this case she would make an exception. Most ads for sanitary protection are, she says, "like wallpaper". "They are so unmemorable. You sense a man has written them because they haven't got a hold of the problem. The freedom of the product ... That doesn't say anything."

She praised the exception to the rule: An award-winning advertisement by Barbara Nokes, creative director at Grey Advertising. "It said, `The only good thing about a period is knowing that you aren't pregnant.' No man would have come up with that."