The debut TV ad campaign by reusable period wear brand Wuka – funded by the Sky Zero Footprint Fund – has been given the all-clear by the ad watchdog despite 295 complaints that it was degrading, demeaning and likely to cause distress and offence.
The “taboo-busting” ad, which Wuka insists shows “an honest depiction of real period stories in an effort to normalise conversations around menstruation”, features a shot of a blood clot in a shower.
It broke in April on Sky and VOD and, as exclusively revealed in Decision Marketing, was hit by 66 complaints within days of launch; this figure rose to nearly 300 after a week.
It features a voiceover which states: “Wuka loves periods. For the sneezy flows, the trickly flows, gushing, rushing all kinds of flows.” It was accompanied by changing split-screen imagery that included shots of different period underwear, blood and blood clots in a shower. The voiceover continues: “Ditch those pads and tampons” and is accompanied by split-screen scenes that show a female wearing a sanitary pad in her underwear alongside a used tampon being thrown into a waste bin.
Wuka was one of five winners of the Sky Zero Footprint Fund, a £2m initiative which has seen the firms handed free TV advertising spots on Sky Media’s Linear TV and VOD platforms to promote business initiatives that are driving positive behavioural change for a more sustainable world.
The ad was cleared by Clearcast following a six-month creative review process with an ‘ex-kids’ scheduling restriction, which meant it should not be shown in or around programmes made for, or specifically targeted at children.
In response to the Advertising Standards Authority investigation, Wuka said that as a brand it was pro-active in its attempts to represent periods positively, encourage society to talk more openly and promote the benefits of switching to reusable period products.
The firm referenced research from ActionAid UK that it said demonstrated that period stigma continued to exist around the world and that UK women continued to experience anxiety, negative comments and shaming about periods.
It added that said period clots were a common symptom of menstruation that usually occurred during heavy flow, and that they had followed medical guidance about the size and colour to ensure they were an accurate depiction of what was ‘normal’. It considered that depicting periods in that way would normalise attitudes and perceptions, as well as encourage people to take notice of changes to their flow for medical reasons.
Wuka also referenced unprompted positive feedback it had received and said that it highlighted the need for “real” periods to be seen by men and women of all ages to enable society to become period positive. It therefore stood by its decision to include the imagery and did not consider a stronger scheduling restriction was required.
Sky said the ad appeared during A Town Called Malice and that the programme was not made for children, nor did it specifically target them since it was an adult thriller series about a gangster family that contained themes of sex, drugs and violence. Therefore, it believed an ad for a sanitary product seemed unlikely to cause harm or offence to the programme’s intended audience.
In its ruling, the ASA said: “We acknowledged that the imagery, including the blood clots and the used tampon, would have been unfamiliar to very young children and that blood could have connotations of injury.
“However, we understood that the average age menstruation began for most children was around the age of 12 years, but could be as young as 8. Therefore, we considered it was likely that many children would be familiar with, and understand that blood associated with menstruation was normal. In addition, a scheduling restriction had been applied to the ad at the time it was cleared by Clearcast, which meant that it should not be transmitted in or adjacent to programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal to children under 16 years of age.
“For those reasons, whilst we acknowledged that some viewers may have found blood, blood clots and a used tampon distasteful, and that some distress had been caused, we did not consider that the imagery was likely to cause serious or widespread offence, or excessive fear or distress. We therefore concluded the ad did not breach the Codes.”
The watchdog ruled that no further action was necessary.
Following the ruling, Wuka co-founder and CEO Ruby Raut said: “We received multiple reactions of shock and disgust in response to our TV ad which was designed with the intention of normalising periods and encouraging conversations on the topic. The negative feedback only serves to highlight the ever-present stigma around menstruation and provides further proof of the need to normalise it.
“Period stigma deters girls from openly discussing their experiences when it comes to their menstrual health and inflicts an unnecessary and wholly avoidable sense of shame or humiliation on so many, even in today’s society.
“Having our ad cleared by both Clearcast and now the ASA is testimony to our firm belief that these scenes are in no way harmful, but instead, can serve to educate or validate viewers by normalising what is largely an unnecessarily taboo subject.
“An open narrative on periods is crucial if we are to successfully dispel the myths, eradicate fears and shame, empower the menstruating population, and ensure periods do not prevent women and girls from succeeding at any life pursuit and at any level.”
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