Explore how international startups and major brands alike are modernizing period design and de-stigmatizing honest branding for menstrual products.
Despite the fact that more than a quarter* of the world’s
population experience monthly periods, the quality of menstrual products and
the marketing of them has been seriously lacking until very recently.
To increase the desirability and visibility of these products, designers have radically reshaped the template for menstrual branding and packaging. From using cutting-edge graphics and typography to crafting stylish yet discreet carriers and boxes, these products are intended to be shown and shared, not shamefully concealed.
Contemporary period products, such as those sold by Athena Club, are marketed on social media using stylish, engaging campaigns and trend-led branding and packaging.
With many consumers now actively sharing their period kits on social media platforms, it’s clear that a new age has dawned for the branding of menstruation-focused products. About time, too.
Read on to discover how designers are rebranding and remarketing sanitary products, and helping to foster a frank and open dialogue about hygiene and health in the process.
*Source: According to UNICEF, 26% of the world’s population are women of reproductive age.
Period underwear retailer Thinx uses witty, trend-driven brand imagery to help connect to their millennial audience.
A Neglected Industry Lacking Brand Diversity
In many parts of the world, menstruation is still deeply stigmatized. Women and girls are sometimes subjected to isolation from family and medical professionals, and from receiving adequate health advice and products as a result. In extreme cases, taboos lead to period-related illnesses, such as anaemia, urinary tract infections, and reproductive-related diseases.
Made With Hope, which aims to eradicate period poverty through education and sanitation in Tanzania, notes that taboos are exacerbated by a lack of education about menstruation, contributing to a cycle of period poverty in many communities.
The stigma surrounding menstruation is not limited to the third world. In 2010, a commercial for tampon brand Kotex was banned in the US for featuring the word “vagina.” From the use of blue liquid in place of blood in advertising demos, to tampons disguised as lipsticks (lest, god forbid, one falls out of your purse in public), the emphasis of period branding in the 20th and early 21st centuries was to disguise the reality—that around half of women worldwide experience menstrual bleeding.
Remember this? The old blue liquid trick is a common feature of sanitary towel advertising. It is designed to make women’s periods appear less graphic and more clinical than the real deal. Image by contributor Antonio Gravante.
The design of menstrual products and the branding of them has been overwhelmingly stifled and standardized, taking their cues from pharmaceutical and medical branding. Because these products have in the past designed to be discreet at best and hidden at worst, it’s clear that the period product market has been neglected with regards to design and creativity.
Inspired by the branding styles used in the pharmaceutical industry, most period packaging abides to a standardized design formula, with clean white type set against a generic backdrop of pastel blue, pink, and purple. Image by contributor monticello.
Overcoming Taboo Through Marketing and Design
Thankfully, this picture is starting to change. With feminism now a more overt lifestyle choice and outlook adopted by both women and men, as well as the context of the digital age and startup culture, a number of often female-led businesses are redefining how menstrual products are branded. In the process, they are also redesigning the social perception of periods.
Packaging and brand identity design for period kit brand trivia by Vallivana Gallart.
Historically, most consumers accessed period products via a limited range of channels. Products sold on the basis of word-of-mouth or accessibility, meaning that most women traditionally stuck to the brand their mothers, siblings, or friends used. Or, they instead opted for the most prominent or best-value brands in local pharmacies or supermarkets. Advertisements in magazines and TV commercials also allowed bigger brands like Always and Kotex to reach new audiences and persuade consumers to switch brands.
Today, the landscape of advertising has changed dramatically with the wide use of the internet and e-commerce. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the sanitation sector was relatively late to the table. The first wave of change can perhaps be traced back to #LikeAGirl, a 2015 multi-channel campaign by Always which aimed to overturn traditional stereotypes about women.
The campaign was hugely successful, connecting Always with a social media audience who in the past would perhaps have been less eager to share content related to period products.
With social media driving the movement towards a more frank and open dialogue around periods, the demand for better products and improved branding began to build. If a tampon or towel is no longer shameful, why does it have to look “appropriate” or even discreet?
Redesigning Periods for the Instagram Age
Blogs, Instagram, and other social media platforms are a launchpad for a range of diverse brands looking to offer something different in the period product market. Brands like TOTM, Thinx, and Dame combine social media strategy with other more traditional channels, such commercials and print advertising.
Aimed at adolescent women, Thinx (BTWN) is the teen-focused sister brand of period underwear manufacturer Thinx.
At the focus of these marketing campaigns is the radically rebranded product contained in ultra-stylish packaging that takes inspiration from the cosmetic and food sectors rather than medical items. Vibrant graphics, trending typefaces, and vivid color palettes are hallmarks of these new players.
The ultra-bright, loud-and-proud packaging of TOTM‘s organic menstrual products.
The differentiating properties of these Insta-friendly kits, tampons, and cups, such as organic, bio-degradable materials or reusability, are showcased and celebrated. DAME‘s slogan “Bleed Red. Think Green” reflects the chic design of its dark-green reusable tampon applicator.
Founded by British entrepreneurs Celia Pool and Alec Mills, the concept behind DAME was to offer a sustainable tampon product. The design of the packaging is also remarkably different to traditional sanitary products, with stylish reusable tins and pouches intended for display on the bathroom shelf.
These products are more aspirational and beautiful than their ancestors, with consumers actively sharing their purchases on Instagram. Often accompanied by personal accounts of difficulties with menstruation and healthcare tips, the more aesthetically pleasing designs help foster a more open culture surrounding periods.
Although the design of these products alone can not be credited with the disassembly of social stigma, it’s certainly facilitating it. It reflects a general movement towards frankness and honesty when it comes to menstruation.
LOVE this photo of the #PeriodPowerful @katyjjo showing off her switch kit Our switch kits are essentially our sample packs! They contain a mix of tampons, pads and liners in different absorbencies for you to try See what Katy has to say "They are brilliant because they offer a variety of products in a range of absorbencies – perfect for those who want to give the switch a go for one cycle! – and for people with #endo who experience irregular bleeding." #SwitchStories #PeriodPowerful
The Global Implications of a Diverse Product Market
With 26% of the world’s population experiencing menstruation, the potential market for period products is huge. And, as more startup challengers emerge to a market share traditionally enjoyed by mainstream brands, the design and branding of period products will only continue to evolve and improve.
Brand identity designed by Siddhi Agarwal for Mahina, an NGO which aims to promote menstrual hygiene and de-stigmatize taboos in India.
While this article has largely focused on the developments in the market in the US and Europe, a demand for better-designed products is emerging in other regions such as Africa and India. While many businesses rely on imported products, a number of entrepreneurial startups are manufacturing and marketing products in-situ.
Tanzanian-based enterprise Hedhi Cup uses fun and quirky illustrations and diagrams to promote their products, de-stigmatize menstruation, and share health advice. Meanwhile Nairobi-based Grace Cup, founded by model and entrepreneur Ebby Weyime, aims to promote elegantly-branded menstrual cups as a reusable and economic alternative to traditionally-used pads and rags.
Wanawake na wasichana wengi wamekuwa wakipata madhara mbali mbali pale watumiapo taulo za kike (pedi) Hiyo ni kutokana na KEMIKALI zilizopo kwenye taulo za kike na nyingi kuwa hazina UBORA na tulikuwa tukikosa mbadala wa nini cha kufanya ili kuepukana na madhara na kero za kutumia taulo za kike Mimi pia ni shuhuda wa madhara na kero nyingine nyingi zitokanazo na taulo za kike hayo lakini toka nilipogundua MENSTRUAL CUP sitaki na siwezi kabisa kurudi kwenye kutumia taulo za kike Nakushauri wewe mwanamke/msichana mwenzangu Fanya maamuzi sahihi sasa ili uweze kusave pesa zako,mazingira yako na afya yako kwa ujumla #anzaupyanahedhicup
What’s Next for Period Branding?
The landscape of period products has changed astronomically in the last few years. A decade ago, mainstream brands would have gone unchallenged, and the design of their products, branding and packaging reflected this, with a standardized, medical-inspired style dominating supermarket shelves.
Today, startup culture and the increased accessibility of social media platforms allows creative entrepreneurs to not only de-stigmatize periods and solve core problems relating to sustainability and comfort, but also to completely rebrand the period market.
These emerging brands are trend-led, stylish, and aspirational, with marketing campaigns that appeal to enlightened and contemporary women and girls. The effect is global, and with such a huge market audience it seems likely that this sector will grow and diversify further.
“Fresh Start Period Kit” by Thinx (BTWN).
Cover image by contributor HappyAprilBoy.
Discover more about the changing landscape of woman-focused design.
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