Dear Kotex: I heart you, but do I really need to feel so "edgy" about my feminine hygiene products?

Bless your souls, Kotex Marketing Team, for keeping third wave feminism alive and well.  As a feminist and firm believer in equal rights for men and women, I should applaud the neo-neo-feminist angle on your U by Kotex marketing campaign.  As Kotex marketing director Aida Flick declared, we need to stop hiding behind "feminine care euphemisms like vajayjay and hooha, the very things that represent the barriers facing young women today."  Yes, I agree.  People, not just men, are entirely too uncomfortable with words like "vagina," "menstruation," and even just "I'm on my period."

My friends and I are guilty as charged, saying things to each other like "I'm exploding right now,"or "My good friend TOM is visiting (Time-Of-the-Month)."  We are in fact the target audience for this campaign.  And I sure loved this super-savvy ad when I first saw it on network TV:
My favorite parts:
  • "I'm a believably attractive 18-24 year old female."
  • "You can relate to me because I'm racially ambiguous."
  • "Don't all these angles make me seem dynamic?"
The thing is, something about the new campaign doesn't sit quite well with me.  Maybe because it's just manipulating me in another direction: trying to make me feel smart, in-the-know, and smug, like part of this cool, hip club.  Not to mention the super cool, hip, and edgy branding and packaging of the product itself: slick black cardboard, housing ultra thin pads wrapped in an array of loud neon plastic.  For anyone who's ever visited the feminine hygiene aisle at their local mass retailer, you'll know this kind of packaging sticks out among the sickly sweet pastels of the other brands.
But what about the product itself?
That's what I really want to know, because honestly, even as a feminist, I have to say all this talk about "empowering women" is getting stale.  It's so 2001 (the year I first saw Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues, which I'll admit changed my life).  And it's starting to sound a lot like whining.  I find it hard to whine about the "glass ceiling" when I work for a company in which 2 of the 3 most powerful people are women - we have a female president and a female Chief Technology Officer.  Let me say that again in plain words: a woman, in charge.  Of like 200 engineers, most of them men.  Do these women complain about "glass ceilings" and "sexism"?  No - they simply get the job done, and produce awesome work while they're at it.  When they say they don't think about gender at my company, I believe them.  If I'm really going to be a feminist, I'm not going to just sit back and object loudly while the men around me work towards their promotions.
Anyway, I saw the U product today at Target.  It was hidden sort of to the side, and I almost missed it, staring at the shelves looking for my usual favorite product.  I bought these today for a few reasons:
  • My usual favorite pads actually are by Kotex.  I remember I was once a victim Always marketing, thinking they were the last word in pads.  One day during college I realized I hated my Always pads because that "Dri-Weave" that was supposed to make them so awesome was actually really uncomfortable.  It was my roommate Wendy who turned me on to Kotex, which I would never have looked at twice otherwise because I'd never heard of them (guess their marketing team wasn't so strong back then).  I remember when I converted - it was like seeing the light, and I have never gone back. 
  • They didn't have my usual favorite pads in stock today.  I guess because Kotex is replacing them with the U line, and I sure as heck wasn't going to give Always another try.
  • I gotta admit I was attracted to the slick packaging. Especially the bright neon colors!  I often judge a book by its cover.
  • I wanted to see what the hullabaloo was all about.  I know it's a fallacy to equate quality of the marketing with quality of the actual product, but I just had to find out what was it about this product that launched a thousand, or at least one very smug, but funny marketing campaign.
Having just finished a cycle, I'll have to wait another 35 days to try these out (yeah, I'm on a 5-week cycle) and see if they live up to the hype.  Poking around YouTube, I found some more interesting videos the Kotex team put out.  
At first I feel lucky to be surrounded by men who are much more enlightened and understanding than the ones in this clip.  But then I realize I don't really like the message this video is shoving down our throats, because objectively speaking, it's kind of unreasonable and obnoxious to expect anyone, men or women, to feel comfortable buying something that a stranger is going to put between her legs.  I mean really, if some dude off the street asked me to buy an equivalent product for him (I dunno guys, a pair of boxers?), I'd think he was downright creepy.
Disclaimer: I should hope this was obvious, but just because I consider myself a feminist does NOT mean that I hate men!  Au contraire, we need more true men in this world.
13 responses
Love this post, Steph. When you buy pads in Japan, they give you two plastic bags--one that is this unlabeled, non-see-through bag, to cover the pads, and the other one that is the normal store bag to hold everything altogether, as if it were a "normal" purchase. Interesting, no?
Thank you Pasta. Did you appreciate my homage to your euphemism? =D
Ha, yes! And I still use it!
This has to be the most entertaining blog post regarding feminism/marketing/TOM(wink,wink) issues I have ever read. : )
Have you tried GladRags or LunaPads?
Um no - are those Asian brands?
@Carlos I'm glad a male reader can appreciate this!
Nice post. Thanks.
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