In developing regions, different roadblocks are at play. In these areas, a large portion of the population is either not using modern feminine hygiene products or using them at a very low rate, according to Svetlana Uduslivaia, head of Home & Tech Americas at Euromonitor. “Most of the time the issue there is the ability to afford and access those products.”
Going forward, this will continue to be a challenge because middle and high-income populations in these markets already have access to and can afford these products. “The unmet potential is among low income women and, when looking for long term growth, the whole subject of how to meet that demand for more affordable products is definitely going to be hot on the agenda,” Uduslivaia explains.
In the developed world, one way brands are attempting to attract new, young customers is through a marketing strategy focused on normalization and breaking the “period taboo.” Gone are the days of tampon commercials with women in white pants. Today’s marketing features active women telling their stories on their first periods, why there’s no need to be ashamed of menstruation and how it’s a natural part of a female’s life. A huge part of this strategy is reaching girls and women on social media with discussions and videos on the topic.
“There’s definitely a stronger shift towards more realistic dialogue and a more realistic portrayal of periods—this kind of message of female empowerment, period normalization and normalization of dialogue,” Uduslivaia says. “This strategy has been working well for the brands and definitely appeals better to women.”
In 2010, Kimberly-Clark aimed to tackle the stigma and stereotypes that exist around menstruation with the launch of U by Kotex. “Human bodies have bodily functions - and we fundamentally need products to manage these functions,” says Kade Applegate, brand manager U by Kotex at Kimberly-Clark. “Traditionally, marketing in this category is played with heavy metaphor and vague references and less so with bold, empathetic, creative and innovative solutions.”
U by Kotex has been trying to foster a healthy dialogue with its consumers about periods and their experiences via social media and other channels. One way the brand has accomplished this was with the launch of “The Period Projects” last year. Applegate says this campaign gave voice to young women passionate about making a change and led to the world’s first ever Period Pop-Up Shop on 5th Avenue in New York City. At the event, women purchased U by Kotex and products from women-owned companies, which provided support to homeless women. At the Period Pop-Up Shop, women also shared their own unique period stories, which were then compiled into a video for U by Kotex’s social channels.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Swedish company Essity (formerly SCA Hygiene) last month launched its #bloodnormal campaign in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and the U.K.
Essity’s Libresse brand debuted a global film that features the experience of periods, and period blood, openly and honestly in an attempt to normalize periods in mainstream culture.
“The campaign tackles the taboo of periods being absent from mainstream culture and conversations and is the first feminine hygiene advertisement showing a blood-red liquid on a pad instead of the ominous blue liquid,” says Tanja Grubner, marketing & communications director Feminine Care, Essity. “It also makes a point that periods are norma—and showing them should be too.”
The #bloodnormal film follows a series of young women in real life scenarios, going about their daily lives while having their period. The film sensitively portrays the everyday journey while women menstruate; demonstrating that periods – in all their forms – are normal and that showing them should be too. Libresse worked with a selection of female and male collaborators, as well as members of the public, to depict periods in a true to life way.
“We believe that like any other taboo, the more people see it, the more normal the subject becomes,” Grubner says. “We want to lead the way with a campaign that tackles the taboo head on by positively showing periods in action in everyday life truthfully and honestly because we feel it’s the right thing to do for society.”
Essity isn’t able to broadcast the film on television without pixelating an everyday bathroom scene of a woman changing her pad, she adds. “We have been told by broadcasters that the sight of period blood is deemed unacceptable,” she continues. “We find this shocking given that we are normalized to seeing blood in scenes of violence, yet we are not able to show blood in one of its most natural forms. One day we hope that we live in a society that accepts periods and allows them to be seen in a natural and positive way. We look forward to tackling this important issue for years to come.”
Meanwhile, Procter and Gamble has continued its strategy of reaching young girls through its #LikeAGirl social media campaign, which aims to keep girls active and confident. Finding that the start of puberty and the first period marked the lowest moment in confidence for girls, Always launched #LikeAGirl in 2014.
The latest Always Confidence & Puberty Survey revealed that half of girls feel paralyzed by the fear of failure during puberty. To embrace failing when it happens and use it as a tool to build their confidence, Always recently partnered with director Lucy Luscombe to show how girls feel about failure, especially during puberty. This resulted in a video that follows a group of girls through a day in their lives at school. The girls were seen in real-life situations that captured how intense the fear of not measuring up can be.
“I remember so many times when I felt afraid to fall short and the lengths I’d go to avoid it, but I was so inspired by the girls we met during filming,” says Luscombe. “It is my goal that this video helps us all re-frame how we think of setbacks and encourage everyone to inspire girls to see these experiences as a way to build their confidence & keep going.”
More recently, Always teamed up with retail giant Target in support of Girls on the Run, a non-profit organization that provides a physical activity-based positive youth development program to girls in third to eighth grades. As part of this partnership, Target and Always are donating $1 million to the organization. This donation will help remove financial barriers and allow thousands more girls nationwide to enroll in Girls on the Run.
“The Always #LikeAGirl mission is to stop the drop in confidence girls experience at puberty, which is why we are so excited to partner with Target on this program,” says Amanda Hill, Always brand director at Procter & Gamble. “We know that the funds will allow more puberty-aged girls to benefit from Girls on the Run, providing them with the necessary tools to help maintain their self-confidence through puberty and beyond.”
Finding the Right Product
Another way brands are trying to attract customers is through product segmentation and offering products that fulfill specific needs. These include active positioning, better comfort and fit, and overnight products, according to Euromonitor’s Uduslivaia.
Kimberly-Clark recently came out with its own line active period products with the launch of U by Kotex Fitness. According to a survey conducted by the brand, three in five women said it’s more difficult to exercise during their period and the majority reported opting for less challenging workouts. The products are designed for women with an active lifestyle, according to Applegate.
U by Kotex Fitness Compact Tampons, Liners and Ultra Thin Pads have specialized features such as a unique pad design, liners with Dual Flex Zones, and tampons with a durable, compact and discreet, FITPAK case. “These differences were designed specifically for bodies in motion and make U by Kotex Fitness products noticeably distinct from other products in market,” he says.
K-C competitor Procter & Gamble, meanwhile, is helping women find a better fit when shopping for menstrual pads. In June, the Always brand introduced a new sizing system called Always My Fit. The Always My Fit range of pads is designed to help the estimated 60% of girls and women who are wearing the wrong size pad, which causes leaks every month. Consumers can now find customized coverage that’s based on their flow and panty size.
By looking at the new Always My Fit sizing chart on the top of the Always pack or on Always.com, girls and women can now find their best fit to help prevent leaks. The Always My Fit chart features a simple sizing grid, with panty size on one axis and flow on the other axis. The chart guides girls and women to find their color-coded Always pad size, which are numerically sized 1 through 5, to easily find the best coverage for both day and night protection.
“Always scientists have spent years researching the most common reasons for pad leaks, and wearing the wrong size pad is one of the leading causes,” says Laura Goodman, senior scientist, P&G. “Research shows that leaks happen the most in the front and the back, so finding the right size for adequate front-to-back coverage is a way to avoid leaks.”
The five sizes in pad protection are available across Always’ Maxi, Ultra, and Infinity sub-brands; three sizes are for daytime protection and two are for night, so that women have the ability to find their right size coverage 24/7. Nighttime options feature a wider back of the pad and wing placement that helps align the pad for most coverage when laying down. “Women who sleep on their stomachs they may opt to flip the pad around so that the wider placement is in the front of the panty,” Goodman explains. “Understanding that coverage needs to be based on panty size and flow, some women might start their period in a size 3 for day and 5 for night, and end their period in a size 2 for day and 4 for night. We want a woman to feel that her period protection is customizable to her flow, and by offering five sizes, we have done just that.”
Outside of menstrual care, Procter & Gamble has continued to expand its line of bladder leak products under the Always Discreet moniker, in hopes of attracting women who use feminine hygiene pads to mask their light incontinence.
Always Discreet, which launched a line of liners, pads and underwear in 2014, recently introduced a new line of fashionable bladder leak underwear called Always Discreet Boutique.
“The new Boutique line was created because there shouldn’t have to be a tradeoff for women who experience bladder leaks between maximum protection and a product that is made beautifully,” Goodman says.
P&G spoke to thousands of women while developing and enhancing Always Discreet Boutique and they felt strongly that bladder leak protection can either be pretty or it can protect, it can’t be both, she adds. “Women have been telling us that bulky bladder leak products can erode their confidence and femininity, and 77% of them said wearing their current bladder leak underwear makes them feel older than they would like to feel. We also learned that younger women feel embarrassed wearing bladder leak underwear. Always Discreet Boutique is on a mission to shift the perception of the bladder leak protection category through the creation of a beautifully designed product that offers maximum protection.”
Worked on by lingerie experts and fashion designers, the new underwear is made with silky-soft fabric and curve-hugging contours that come in a rosé color with delicate lace prints. Inside Always Discreet Boutique is a super-absorbent core with unique RapidDry technology that absorbs leaks in seconds, OdorLock technology that helps neutralize odors instantly and continuously, and Absorbent Gel Material (AGM) that helps lock the fluid deep within the core and away from the body.
Meanwhile, CVS Health has taken the transition from menstrual to light incontinence products a step further with the launch of Confidence pads. The private label pads are the first ultra thin pads with two-in-one technology that is designed to handle both periods and bladder leaks. With seven protective layers, the pads quickly draw in fluids and lock away unwanted odors while their special barrier edges stand up to leaks, according to CVS Health.
Some features of CVS Health Confidence pads are odor-blocking gel technology that helps absorb and lock away odors; soft leak barrier edges that stand up to leaks to protect undergarments; and its ultra thin design looks and feels like a traditional ultra thin maxi. The 2-in-1 products are available exclusively at CVS Pharmacy in four absorbencies: pantiliner light, ultra thin regular-moderate pad, ultra thin super-maximum pads and ultra thin ultimate pad.
The femcare market is also seeing its fair share of expanded organic offerings. In fact, a recent report from market tracker Research and Markets shows that the global organic and natural feminine care market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.09% between this year and 2021.
The perception is that these products are more skin- and environmentally-friendly, and even safer, since they’re made with non-GMO certified organic cotton, which is free from artificial dyes, rayon and fragrances, the report says.
While there is demand out there, organic tampons and pads are still considered very niche products, according to Euromonitor’s Uduslivaia. “They do have their following, but they’re still not as big as mainstream products,” she says. “There’s definitely debate going on currently as to what extent organic products are necessarily better or healthier than the mainstream products. The disposable industry has evolved as well in terms of how the products are produced, what is used in the manufacturing and the manufacturing practices overall. So that’s always open for debate depending on which side you’re on.”
Price is another thing to consider when choosing organic versus mainstream menstrual products since the former are typically much higher priced. “This essentially limits the consumer base—not all women are prepared to pay three or four times more per tampon than the cost of a regular product, and there has to be a strong justification for why it’s all that much healthier. Not everyone is buying into the premise that these products are necessarily better,” she explains.
On the organic femcare side, manufacturers argue that their products are indeed healthier. One of the newcomers to the organic market is Sustain Natural, the brainchild of Jeffrey Hollender, co-founder and former CEO of Seventh Generation, and his daughter Meika Hollender.
“Did you know [the] vagina is one of the most absorbent parts of your body?” Ms. Hollender, the co-founder and co-CEO of Sustain Natural, says. “Yea, let that sink in.”
Launched in June, Sustain Natural’s line of products available via online subscription include organic cotton tampons, organic cotton ultra thin pads with wings and organic cotton ultra thin liners.
“For over a decade women have started to demand healthier products in other categories from skincare to food, so it’s no surprise that women are finally seeking more natural, transparent options for their menstrual health, and that’s in part due to the several brands now making and educating consumers on the benefits of organic cotton,” she says.
While she thinks things are moving in the right direction in this space, she believes much more research and education needs to be done in this product category since mainstream menstrual hygiene brands still monopolize the industry and the FDA doesn’t require tampon brands to disclose their ingredients. “Although it’s great that these small organic femcare companies are coming to the forefront, it’s incredibly important that we demand transparency and legislation on a federal level to require these big brands to list their ingredients,” she adds.
One way that Sustain Natural differentiates itself from other new organic femcare brands on the market is that it is one of just two brands that uses a bio-plastic applicator for its tampons. “The waste from petroleum-based applicators is extensive, and plastic waste in our oceans and landfills is become a defining environmental issue. It’s something manufacturers urgently need to address. We made a plant-based applicator made with 90% sugar cane to do our part in protecting the environment,” Ms. Hollender says.
On the philanthropic side, through its 10% 4Women program, Sustain Natural donates 10% of its pre-tax profits on all of its products to women’s reproductive health organizations like Planned Parenthood, which helps low income women access menstrual hygiene products.
Meanwhile, Corman’s Organyc line of menstrual products first launched in 2009, and includes 100% organic pads, liners and tampons, as well as products for maternity, intimate care, beauty care and baby.
Paola Stevan, marketing manager for Corman SpA, who handles the international marketing strategy for Organyc, says that women are starting to gravitate towards organic femcare products because they have a clearer vision about what is good for them, and they’re more and more interested in knowing what’s inside the products their using every day. “They are doing this with food, cosmetics and household cleaning, so it is a natural step to start evaluating organic feminine hygiene products too.”
Corman isn’t just seeing the trend towards the use of more natural products in the more developed regions—they’re seeing it across the globe. “Quite surprisingly, some developing markets such as India, where feminine hygiene products have a low penetration rate, seem open to jumping to a more natural and organic alternative, bypassing the use of conventional brands—at least this behavior is valid for a niche of its population,” Stevan says.
Back in the U.S., Corman’s U.S. arm recently relaunched its Organyc feminine care line.
“Up until now, there have been no feminine care products that address the sensitive skin needs of nearly 2/3 of women in the U.S.,” Rebecca Rich marketing manager for Corman USA, said at the time of the announcement. “Corman’s been specializing in designing and manufacturing personal care products made from cotton since 1946 and hold a number of patents in this area.”
The relaunch is being issued in conjunction with the release of findings from a longitudinal study that followed over 300 women who suffered from skin irritation in the vaginal area. The study revealed that when the women substituted 100% cotton products like Organyc pads for the brands they were previously using, 90% completely eliminated their skin irritation in three months or less.
According to Organyc, the study was conducted by three leading gynecologists on a sample of 306 women who had self-described moderate to severe skin sensitivity issues with feminine care products. Further, 105 gynecologists participated in the national recruitment of the women. The study claimed that the use of 100% cotton feminine care pads like Organyc reduced skin irritation by 90% within 90 days.