April 02, 2010

“They call it light bladder leakage, but I call it the spritz"

Commercials for feminine hygiene products are known for their abundant use of euphemisms, such as "feminine hygiene" (and of blue liquids). Brands like Poise and are now trying to change this, but how far can you go? Poise itself avoids the term "incontinence" and has coined the term “light bladder leakage" instead (what about "bladder dysfunction"?).
“Women want clarity in their communication and for us to be open and honest,” Ms. Jones said. “But they also want to identify with a term that doesn’t make them feel like they’re incontinent, a term that is attached to their fear of aging. That’s why we felt it was important to position this category out of incontinence and relabel it light bladder leakage.”
While Poise is only poised to go as far as "light bladder leakage," it picked a spokesperson who is not known for discreet language: Whoopi Goldberg.
The first day of shooting, we said the brand talks about light bladder leakage, and she said, ‘It’s not a leak, it’s a spritz. I talked to my mom the other night and she said it’s a spritz. We both think it’s a spritz.’ The spritz language is all Whoopi.
Meanwhile, Tena, a competitor, refers vaguely to "bladder protection" and has created a silly advertisement, in which Tena pads are likened to fashion accessories:
In a current commercial for Tena, by Zig, Toronto, part of MDC Partners, an actress in Victorian garb steps out a bedroom as she pulls off her powdered wig and dress, revealing her own hair in a bun and slightly more modern ball gown. As she walks through the house, she keeps pulling off outfits to reveal more modern ones, from a flapper style dress to a poodle skirt until she finally is wearing a contemporary satin dress. As the camera zooms to her abdomen, which shows no outline of any product, screen text declares, “Fashion has evolved. Shouldn’t bladder protection?” A voiceover says Tena represents “the evolution of bladder protection.”
The same problem -- overuse of euphemisms -- also occurs in commercials for menstrual products, which usually involve pictures of serene women dressed in white clothes on white horses or beaches.
“Fem-care advertising is so sterilized and so removed from what a period is,” said Elissa Stein, co-author (with Susan Kim) of the book “Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation.” “You never see a bathroom, you never see a woman using a product. They never show someone having cramps or her face breaking out or tearful — it’s always happy, playful, sporty women.”
The brand Kotex is now trying to change this and to introduce more direct language in its "U by Kotex" commercials (a line that caters to young women). However, it turned out that the networks weren't quite ready to go there. According to an article in the NYT, the word "vagina" was not considered acceptable, nor was the euphemism "down there." Perhaps they should turn to Ms. Goldberg for inspiration.

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