To end a taboo, break it.
As a maker of feminine hygiene products, Libresse must navigate a popular culture where menstruation is almost never discussed, and advertising restrictions ban an accurate visual depiction of both menstruation and its product. #BloodNormal threw down the gauntlet for the normalization of women’s periods through a groundbreaking film and series of PR-driven activations that are establishing the brand throughout Europe as a champion of women and agent of change.
Only through PR could we prove the taboo, defy the ban, and create a new platform to demonstrate how empathy kills shame.
In 2017, global feminine hygiene brand Libresse – maker of Bodyform products —recognized a huge issue: there’s virtually no mention of menstruation in popular culture, period. A simple fact of life for half the people on Earth, menstrual periods are ignored by mainstream media and absent in the depiction of female characters in TV and film. (And in the rare occasions it is mentioned, it’s usually to humiliate women).
The silence and shaming of periods has allowed cultural stigmas about periods to perpetuate, leaving women feeling disgusting and men disgusted. Libresse wanted to challenge the silence on behalf of women everywhere.
Controversy comes naturally for a brand whose motto is “Live Fearless.” The Libresse/Bodyform attitude encourages women to be true to themselves and overcome self-doubt and insecurities.
The brand’s communication goal was equally ambitious: to boost brand equity levels, positive perceptions, and affinity/loyalty to the brand among women.
Describe the creative idea
Murder, fights and surgical operations, in all their bloody glory, are allowed on entertainment screens in nearly every channel and medium. Yet when it comes to period blood, censorship is in order. Even feminine hygiene brands use an artificial blue liquid in product demonstrations. These restrictions have allowed taboos to thrive. 90% of women attempt to hide their period; 42% of women have been period-shamed; and 56% of global teens say they’d rather be bullied than talk to their parents about their periods.
Enough was enough. The only way you make periods normal is by showing them as normal. Through an online film we would boldly show period blood for the first time. We’d end the era of the “blue liquid,” and show period pain, intimacy, and even include men in the conversation. Each scene would provide a springboard for a PR activation that would continue spreading the message.
Describe the strategy
Libresse sells products used during the menstrual cycle, so it is appropriate that the brand lead by example. A company ashamed of the biology it profits from will become a relic as young women question the unjust stigmas of the world they’ve inherited.
Conversely, the power of a mainstream brand to challenge these taboos — to acknowledge that periods are normal and show them in action — could have a hugely positive effect on women and young girls.
To reach women and girls, we decided to defy broadcaster bans, ignore hate, and redefine the feminine care products category. The bans themselves became a strategic weapon for our campaign. Using a provocative film to demonstrate the menstrual blood taboo, we could prove our point while generating massive earned media headlines. More importantly, we would begin to “normalize periods” by visibly injecting their discussion into mainstream media and social conversation.
Describe the execution
Empathy kills shame.
Libresse collaborated with fashion bloggers, models, artists, dancers, comedians and other cultural influencers to incorporate menstrual periods into their work. They became part of “#BloodNormal,” a short film depicting periods with unprecedented candor and honesty. In a taboo-busting first, we turned the infamous blue liquid into period-blood red and showed period blood on film.
Just as the film makes a compelling case for “normal,” it becomes pixilated, an abrupt reminder of current broadcast restrictions.
PR carefully crafted and tested messaging ensuring the sensitive topic was well received. Media toolkits anticipated press questions and drove coverage and views of the film. Key stakeholders were approached, including potentially unreceptive male journalists. Media exclusives and branded social platforms were synchronized for the global media launch. Post-launch PR activations used designer underwear, a graphic novel, playful GIFs, school workshops and even hate mail to drive conversation and coverage.
List the results
“#BloodNormal” has launched in four countries and spread virally to 32 -- even where the brand isn’t sold -- fueling an earned social media reach of 116.2 million, with 56.4k reactions and growing.
PR has generated 4.5 billion+ impressions and 510 stories in global news media, including Teen Vogue, Pop Sugar, Elle, Huffington Post US, Bustle, Glamour, Cosmo, The Guardian, Metro, Daily Mail, BBC News, Loose Women, Vice, Sante, Grazia, and Marie Claire.
Especially satisfying: PR has enabled Libresse/Bodyform to appear on the same broadcast television stations that banned us.
The campaign has provided a springboard for change. Every scene in “#BloodNormal” contained an activation designed to further our PR message. Style blogger Julian Hernandez and French activist Victoire Dauxerre spread our message through their social platforms. We sold our designer-embroidered period underwear through French fashion house Dessu. Spread a graphic novel on tumblr, and 3 bursary films are now in production. We also harnessed the visceral hate that #BloodNormal received to further fight the stigma on social media.
There’s been a 72% positive response with women and men taking up the debate on social media, answering critics on our behalf.
In addition, 80% of women across five countries “liked or loved” the film, with a majority declaring feeling understood, inspired or moved, and 83% feeling more likely to recommend the brand. In another survey, 65% wanted to buy the brand and had a better opinion of it, upon watching the film.