News / Opinion

(Period) blood, sweat and tears: the fight to break an advertising taboo

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Anaïs Albar / Elodie Daguin / Dessù

Last week, AMV BBDO’s #BloodNormal campaign for Bodyform and Libresse fought to break a longstanding taboo in advertising – showing period blood. Here, the creative partners behind the ad, Nadja Lossgott and Nicholas Hulley, write for It’s Nice That about making the film, and their shock when it was banned worldwide.

BloodNormal started with the thought that periods are largely invisible in culture and society. On the rare occasions they’re talked about, it’s usually to demean.
 
And this invisibility is at the heart of the toxic shame. It’s probably why in a global survey of 10,000, 56% of teens would rather be bullied than talk to their parents about their periods. If you are a young girl and the most significant thing that happens to you – blood starts spouting from your body – and no one is openly talking about or showing it, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was something shameful, something taboo.
 
And so we wanted to push back, declare that periods are normal, and that showing them should be too. If the message was coming from a mainstream global brand and it was showing period blood and honestly saying, “periods are an emotional roller coaster, blood is blood and it’s ok to talk about”, it could have an incredibly positive effect on young women’s lives. And it would make it easier for anyone else trying to tackle the stigma.
 
We wanted to create a campaign containing a wave of cool, positive period stunts that could be pushed into culture: embroidered period lingerie available to buy; a badass graphic novel and striking illustrations featuring periods; a stand-up comic of 12, writing period jokes to perform; an inflatable pad lilo used at beaches and pools. All of those things and more culminating in a film that made periods seem normal and, most of all, beautiful.
 
It was ambitious. But before we even started making it, it came back to blood.
 
Even discussing what we wanted to do, provoked a reaction. Many people told us, “yeah we get it, but you wouldn’t show poo or urine”. The fact that people reach for an analogy of excrement when a closer analogy exists – other blood – seems to prove the scale and depth of the taboo and what women are up against. All we were asking is that period blood be treated like any other blood routinely shown on screen.
 
Starting to produce the campaign was a herculean effort from Edwina Dennison at AMV BBDO and Lou Hake and Sally Llewellyn from Somesuch to find influencers and artists from all over the world who were willing to stick their neck out for something they believed in. It took lots of letters and late nights.
 
Making the film took us into uncharted territory. We all had a strong belief that we didn’t want to shock for the sake of it, as that would completely undermine our argument that periods are normal.
  
How do you break a taboo and make it feel normal? You have no reference for what’s too provocative for people, and what isn’t. It’s all entirely subjective. One person’s too far is another’s too safe.
 
But by the time we edited the film with director Daniel Wolfe and DOP Monika Lenczewska, the team had managed to make the act of breaking taboos feel like the most normal thing in the world. An electro track had no business being on a pad ad until now.
 
So we were shocked, to say the least, when pretty much everything was banned, across the world, on all kinds of platforms. It’s like we’d touched a third rail. It makes you outraged. We’d get feedback from media governing bodies saying: “We understand what you’re doing… but can you cut out this, this, this, this and that.” Even embroidered period lingerie was deemed offensive because of “blood”. That’s when you begin to appreciate the sheer weirdness of the taboo.
 
The whole team at AMV and Libresse fought back over many months, scene by scene, by scene. We showed governing bodies like-for-like shots that are never a problem: existing lingerie ads, blood trickling down the legs of sports people, suggestions of sex way more extreme than ours, on and on and on. But to naysayers, as soon as there is an insinuation that it’s not “normal” blood, but period blood, a totally different morality takes over. We won almost every battle.
 
When it became clear that seeing the blood on the pad was not going to happen, we all felt really defeated, but the pixilation is also powerful. The sadness at the heart of the film is that it beguiles you into thinking periods are normal. That women can unashamedly call for a pad across a dinner table. That schoolboys can pass sanitary towels to schoolgirls. That real period pain doesn’t have to be suffered in silence just to spare the blushes of men.
 
It shows you the way the world should be. But the banning, at the end, makes you realise that unfortunately it is not the way the world is. In 2017, the sight of period blood is still unacceptable. Or said another way, the sight of a fundamental life-giving force and something half the population sees every month is unacceptable.
 
For such a long time we’ve lived in a society that has made women feel disgusting and men disgusted about periods. We and all the other women and men that worked tirelessly to make this campaign possible, are proud that we tried, however hard it was, to push back against it.

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AMV BBDO: #BloodNormal

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AMV BBDO: #BloodNormal

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AMV BBDO: #BloodNormal

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AMV BBDO: #BloodNormal

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Kate Moross for AMV BBDO: #BloodNormal