For years, we’ve been privy to blood-curdling stories of women across the country practicing menstrual hygiene using sawdust and dry leaves between rags. Most of them aren’t exposed to basic hygiene products like sanitary pads.
There have been several impediments that marketers have had to face from abashed viewers, with regard to advertising of even the bare minimum - the sanitary pad.
Keeping in mind this already existing conundrum, it is worth noticing that several new-age brands have emerged in the recent past, catering to a whole new market of intimate hygiene products like tampons, menstrual cups and panty liners.
Most new-age marketers have managed to strike conversations around these products. However, they steer clear of the mainstream media. Traditional FMCG giants, on the other hand, seldom talk about or advertise these upgraded products at all.
With the average rural woman not having access to a basic sanitary product and a modern woman wanting to switch to products like a tampon or a menstrual cup, how are marketers working up their bloody game to cater to a segment as niche as this?
Reasons why upgraded menstrual products are not heavily advertised
'Bleeding blue' in India is synonymous with cricket. But that also seems to be how the advertising industry portrays menstruation. Leading players in their advertisements have long used the colour blue instead of red while demonstrating how a sanitary napkin works.
A member of the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) shared that mainstream advertising is never overt about such communication, owing to the kind of complaints that come in. “People find it widely offensive to watch ads featuring sanitary pads. We have had people writing to us and telling us how uncomfortable they are to watch such stuff in front of their kids,” the spokesperson said.
With a basic product being as hushed about as is, it is no surprise that products meant for vaginal insertion could cause a furore for one too many reasons. Speaking on the same lines, Deep Bajaj, CEO and co-founder, Sirona, said, “The insertion is what makes women uncomfortable to make the switch. Hence, it becomes difficult for brands like us to reach a greater mass with such taboo-crushing products.”
Sirona is a product innovation brand, which manufactures tampons, menstrual cups and other intimate hygiene products.
Industry honchos also shared how taboos associated with these products extend beyond period hygiene and go as far as losing one’s virginity. “With both tampons and menstrual cups, the category will need to start a whole new chapter in education. This will need a lot of reassurance beyond menstrual hygiene,” said Rahul Mathew, chief creative officer, DDB Mudra Group.
Experts highlight that although pads have been in the market for a very long time, their usage too has been normalised only to some extent.
In such a case, Mathew argued that the upgrade for the majority of women would be sanitary pads and not cups or tampons. “Investment is mostly directed to where the opportunity lies. With 80% of the market still to graduate to a less intimidating option like a sanitary pad, it’s where the advertising buck sees itself heading,” he added.
Digital the first choice?
Traditional FMCG giants like Johnson & Johnson that manufacture tampons under the brand O.B. Tampons do not advertise the product, and the new-age brands that do, stick mainly to digital.
Unicharm India’s brand Sofy, rolled out a campaign #EmbraceTheNew in 2017, showcasing the workings of a tampon. However, this too was a digital campaign.
Nisha Singhania, co-founder and director, Infectious Advertising explained that television can create awareness, but imparting education would require the woman’s time and the marketer’s ability to get her to a level of comfort, where she can view and educate herself at her own pace - which digital allows.
Bajaj too, stated that someone switching to a menstrual cup would want to read about it and consider opinions about the product. He added, “Maybe no one in their immediate network is using it. So, online happens to be the platform where one can gather all the information about a particular product. For a company like us, online shall continue to be a major driver in the years to come.”
However, he suggests that as people come back to the stores, Sirona will follow an omnichannel model of both, online as well as offline.
Tanvi Johri, co-founder and CEO, Carmesi, stated that its audience belongs to the tech-savvy age group of 18-39. “Acquiring consumers on a medium they are familiar with makes sense. With our website, blogs, and Instagram, we speak to the consumer in their language,” she added.
Vidya Damani, principal consultant, brand strategy, chlorophyll brand and communications consultancy, on the other hand, pointed at the fact that brands who market tampons and cups need longer airtime to bust the many myths around it, which is feasible only on digital.
However, Vikas Bagaria, co-founder, Pee Safe, which has a 30% volume share in the menstrual cup market, stated that he talks about its products not only on digital but also offline, via print advertisements and institute collaborations.
Encourage users to make the switch
Johri claimed that women have been conditioned to be more conscious about their beauty, and are never really taught to be conscious about intimate hygiene - something that her company is currently focusing on.
Apart from wanting to make the switch to upgraded products for reasons of personal comfort, experts opine that young women between the age group 18 - 34 years are largely driving the awareness, citing environmental and health concerns around traditionally disposable period products.
Bajaj explained how a cup is reusable, unlike a pad, making it cheaper and better for the environment from a long-term perspective.
However, Singhania argued that there are also a lot of women who have tried to switch to tampons and cups and are still not comfortable. “When it comes to such a personal choice, a woman might want to save the environment in other ways, which do not cause her discomfort.”
Speaking on the same lines, Damani agreed that consumers won’t buy products that are eco-friendly unless they are the best-performing in the category.
She also highlighted the need for brands to start healthier conversations using relevant communication. “Why are no A-list celebrities the face of upgraded menstrual hygiene products? Raho Safe, the sister concern of Pee Safe, is trying to include men in the conversation. Pathbreaking, yet the ad only talks about sanitary napkins.”
Trends in the industry
Unlike the traditional brands, new-age products refrain from showing unrealistic narratives of women merrily jumping around in white pants, when on their periods.
Explaining what the industry is currently witnessing, Bagaria shared that the demand for menstrual cups is topping the list, apart from sanitary pads. “We're seeing more acceptance of influencer marketing these days, and how they want to be a part of the process to raise awareness and gradually overcome the taboos that surround it.”
Johri too, shared that unlike before, many Indians are open to the idea of learning about menstrual cups. “One of the other trends is that people want products that do not make them feel hush-hush about periods.”
Almost everyone in the category has partnered with major e-commerce platforms, according to Bajaj. “The sales of FMCG products, including ours being sold through e-commerce platforms, have seen an exponential increase and we expect this trend to continue. In the past few years, the FMCG category has also been successful in reaching the Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. There is a lot of potential for this sector to boom in semi-urban cities in the coming years.”
Future of the category
The time is ripe and the brand that takes the lead in advertising tampons and menstrual cups, might not face the resistance that sanitary napkins faced, suggested Damani.
Bajaj cited that the market was valued at INR 25.02 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach INR 58.62 billion by 2024, expanding at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of ~14.92%, during the 2019-2024 period.
However, he believed that increasing awareness regarding menstrual health and hygiene and growing female literacy rate, are some of the major factors anticipated to drive this category further.
Speaking about where these products stand in comparison to the good old napkin, Mathew said, “It’s not like tampons aren’t a part of the brand’s current extension. It’s just that the current investment only comprises distribution and product placement. Menstrual cups, however, aren’t a natural extension of a brand’s expertise. Nevertheless, with the whole shift towards sustainability and against wastage, it’s a product that the category may not be able to avoid in the future.”
Taking the overall idea of female menstrual hygiene one notch higher, Damani said, “Maybe marketers need to consider redefining the way they perceive this category to evolve.”
She added, “Why call tampons and menstrual cups ‘upgraded products’? Why does a girl have to start with sanitary napkins and then move to these? With GenZ at the forefront, maybe something eco-friendly and pocket-friendly - like the menstruation cup, could be what they start with.”