Tampax debuted a new television ad campaign dubbed “Tampons and Tea” in the United Kingdom and Ireland this spring. The ad aims to educate tampon users on how to safely and correctly insert a tampon.
It opens with the host of a fictional daytime talk show asking, “So, tell me, how many of you ever feel your tampon?” After a young woman sitting on the couch raises her hand to show she has, the host informs her that might mean the tampon “is not in far enough.”
She then says, “You gotta get ‘em up there, girls!”
The ad is straightforward and free of the menstrual advertising tropes that we are so used to. There are no euphemisms, no dancing around the subject matter at hand, no blue liquid. Just clear, simple directions designed to improve the experiences of using tampons.
The ad was inspired by Tampax research, which found that 42 percent of tampon applicator users were not inserting tampons correctly with that figure climbing to 58 percent among those aged between 18 to 24.
But on May 18, Liveline, Ireland’s most popular call-in radio show, took a number of calls from listeners who found the ad “vulgar” and objected to the slogan. One woman described it as “brash and disgusting and unnecessary” and threatened to not pay her television license fee next year. Another said the ad “crossed the line of decency.” On social media, people complained about the ad airing during family-friendly television shows like “Britain’s Got Talent.”
Earlier this month, the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI) said that it had reviewed the ad after receiving 84 complaints. Complainants argued that the ad was demeaning to women, unsuitable for children and laden with sexual innuendo.
The organization’s Complaints Committee found the ad had caused “widespread” offense and ruled that the advertisement “should not run in the same format again” while also acknowledging it “provided factual information in a manner that was neither explicit nor graphic.”
Tampax confirmed that the ad will no longer air on Irish television.
“We will cease to show this advert now in Ireland in line with the authority’s decision,” a spokesperson said.
Many say the move simply reinforces the stigma around menstruation. Others have drawn parallels to 1944 when Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, a Catholic figure known for exerting influence over many Irish governments, noted his disapproval of “unmarried persons” using tampons.
Fiona Tyrrell, chair of the Irish Family Planning Association, described the ASAI as being “shockingly out of step with prevailing attitudes to sexuality in Ireland.”
“For the ASAI to accede to the demands of the squeamish few and ban this ad is simply unacceptable,” she said. “Censorship of information on sexuality and reproduction belongs in the past.”
The ASAI has since noted that while the investigation was instigated after 84 complaints, it received a total of 150 complaints. It said that the complaint levels were “significantly higher to those normally received” and that the volume of complaints could be indicative of broader consumer sentiment to the ad.
When asked if it had received much correspondence from those who disagreed with the ruling, the agency said that it is “not our practice to comment on the number of correspondence received after the publication of a ruling.”
Charlotte Amrouche, who hosts menstrual education workshops around Ireland, said she found the ASAI’s decision “disappointing and hugely frustrating.”
“To ban the ad on the ruling of ‘general offence’ suggests that vaginas, periods and period products, are all offensive,” she said.
She added that there is a lack of knowledge around how to safely use menstrual products due to inadequate education around sexual and reproductive health in Irish schools.
“I received so many messages and comments from people who said that the message of this advert — insert your tampon high up — would have been helpful for them as a teen or would be helpful to them now,” Amrouche said.
A spokesperson for Tampax said the brand has been “overwhelmed by the subsequent support we’ve seen by the Irish public.”
“Our advert was designed to address a very common usage question and to help educate how to use the tampon correctly in a straight-talking way. ... We will continue in our efforts to normalise periods and help end period stigma.”