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In 2010 Kotex launched a campaign in an effort to change the conversation around vaginal health. Equipped with an online study done in 2009 they set out to help women understand and feel comfortable in their bodies and empower them to take control of the issue. By using appeals to ethos, pathos, and the need for autonomy their campaign served as a catalyst for change in a time when the modern feminist movement is influencing the lives of their audience.
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Most, if not all, women would agree that their period is awful. They would also agree that the stigma surrounding it is worse. A woman’s menstrual cycle is a topic that is aggressively avoided by everyone, even women, and that has been the case for many years. Women have been conditioned in many ways to hide any evidence of their periods, and one of those ways is through advertising. Since the creation of feminine care products the avoidance has been evident right down to the linguistics with use of euphemisms such as “sanitary napkins”. It wasn’t until recently that a company, Kimberly-Clark’s Kotex brand, challenged that mindset in an introspective way with their Apology campaign. Previously, Kotex had perpetuated the shame associated with periods with light, unassuming, and bland colors as well as commercials that illustrate a false idea of menstruation. Launched in 2010, U by Kotex’s “Apology” campaign rebelled against the historically evasive nature of feminine care ads. Their commercials and print ads targeted the ethos and pathos of their viewers to appeal to their need for autonomy and they did so with a refreshingly holistic approach.
One method of persuasion as established by Aristotle long ago is the ethos, or ethical, appeal, and it is a key appeal in Kotex’s Apology campaign. Crucial to the ethos appeal is establishing credibility and as a well established and trusted brand that has been in the business of feminine care products since 1920 there is an inherent level of such for them in the world of feminine health. To enhance that inherent credibility Kotex had an online study conducted in 2009 of “more than 1600 American women aged 14-35” (Kimberly-Clark, 2010) where “7 in 10 believe that it is time for society to change how it talks about vaginal health, yet less than half (45%) feel empowered to make a difference.” (Kimberly-Clark, 2010) It is with this research that Kotex defined its goal of empowering women to take control of the conversation around vaginal health. In taking this approach Kotex is able to effectively forego employing typical advertising techniques such as promoting technical information about the products as well as criticizing competitors. Alternatively, Kotex criticize themselves in a way that challenges the conditioning that women have been subjected to for decades and encourages and empowers them to think critically about the information being espoused to them from various sources; consequently, bolstering the ethos appeal. This message is reinforced in a statement from the brand’s press release, “For the past 50 years, advertisers – Kotex included – have been perpetuating this cultural stigma by emphasizing that the best menstrual period is one that is ignored.” (Kimberly-Clark, 2010). “The way the Kotex brand will be positioned in the future will be very different. We are changing our brand equity to stand for truth, transparency and progressive vagina care. Moving forward the tone of the Kotex brand’s marketing will adhere to its new tagline – “Break the Cycle”.” (Kimberly-Clark, 2010). The rhetoric used is powerful and exhibits an understanding and rejection of the cultural stigma women bear the brunt of resulting in a caring quality that resonates with the ethos appeal to the audience.
Everyone knows that politics is a contentious subject full of controversial topics that can evoke strong emotions in people, and the political nature of Kotex’s Apology campaign attempts to do exactly that with the pathos appeal. One print advertisement features a woman’s arm carrying a clear purse containing many items that might be found in a woman’s purse, but it also contains a black box of U by Kotex tampons that also has bold contrasting colors. The ad says “If I had something to hide, I’d carry a safe.” It speaks to the dated notion that all things menstruation should be hidden and it’s conversational nature helps facilitate the change in conversation by making women feel like they don’t need to be ashamed of it. Women then feel emancipated and supported thus successfully achieving the pathos appeal. “Break the Cycle”, the campaign’s slogan also gives women the push to take control. It comes at the end or bottom of a commercial or print ad that tells them not to be ashamed and empowers them to take that control. After decades of being told to hide, the feeling of empowerment, especially among an audience invested in the modern feminist movement, is a powerful one.
The Need for Autonomy.
Changing the conversation around vaginal health means empowering women, and by encouraging this change Kotex is appealing to the need for autonomy. Fowles’ says “The focus here is upon the independence and integrity of the individual..” (p.562) and giving women their independence and restoring their integrity from the years of a repressive society is in fact the main goal. The language alone is enough to appeal to the need for autonomy, but the brand takes even more steps to get there. First, all of the commercials in this campaign make use of the tricky stylistic feature humor. They show clips from previous commercials that epitomize the ridiculous ways they made the world view the menstrual cycle, and satirical commentary to ridicule those clips. Second, the product itself is bright colors, which stick out in the bland sea of the tampon aisle. Lastly, regardless of the medium, every advertisement features bold font on a black background with a colorful emphasis on powerful words. Picture a print ad with a woman carrying a clear purse clearly showing a black box of U by Kotex tampon, bold bright colors on the black box, and the phrase “If I had something to hide, I’d carry a safe.” (Kimberly- Clark, 2010). The latter of the statement in a bright yellow, gender neutral color. If you’re a woman you might feel the freedom you’ve longed for, and if you’re a man you may feel like it’s not so bad to have to pick these up because they’re stylish and cool.
In 2010 Kotex set out to tackle the stigma surrounding vaginal health with an ad campaign that appeals to its audience’s ethos, pathos and need for autonomy. This campaign was successful in that it inspired women across the country to communicate openly and honestly about their periods. It sparked a change that furthered the cause and is now encouraging women, as well as men, to be as educated as they can be about the female body. The main thing to take away from this campaign is that women’s health is important, and we shouldn’t continue to shut out the issue because it makes people uncomfortable.
- Kimberly- Clark (2010) Press Release: Kimberly-Clark Introduces U by Kotex Product Line. Retrieved from https://investor.kimberly-clark.com/news-releases/news-release-details/kimberly-clark-introduces-u-kotex-product-line
- Kimberly-Clark (2010) U by Kotex "Apology" Campaign. Retrieved from http://www.menstruationresearch.org/2012/10/09/mortification-wars/
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