The Red Badge of Courage (the other one)

There’s a new trend of–for lack of a better term–period supply delivery services. What are we to make of them and, more specifically, how they’re being marketed to us?

So here we have an online service called Hello Flo. For a monthly subscription, a box will arrive with period supplies and candy for you and your period.

Then there’s The Period Store. It’s a similar site, offering a monthly subscription to pads, tampons, and treats like chocolate and tea. The Period Store has an ad interviewing women about what irritates them about their periods arriving, and the replies include women explaining that “the obstacles I have with my period and living in New York City is just keeping track of it and being prepared”, and reactions to their period, many of which are along the lines of “oh crap I wish I had a tampon right now”.

My main critique regarding the marketing of these monthly-package services is the appearance they give that many women truly are completely ill-prepared for their periods. On one hand, the here is a problem people on the street have, here is a fix approach is a pretty standard marketing technique. On the other hand, this technique makes it appear as though women who presumably have been getting periods for many years still somehow have not figured out their cycles and how to do some basic preparation,1 and are instead living so out-of-tune with their own bodies that they need some assistance from a Higher Power (in this case, The Period Store).

Are we confused women who cannot plan for this routine and must have help, are we girls who are just figuring this all out, or are we simply adults who want to skip the store? I would be far more eager to sign up for a service which targets me not as a Poor Confused Female or as a child but rather as an adult who just wants a slightly more convenient way of obtaining a product I’m already using.

Periods do suck. While they suck more for some than for others, I have yet to meet a real-life person who truly revels in their menstrual cycle. Dwight Schrute, maybe, or perhaps the ladies who dabble in menstrual art,2 but as far as I can tell, these are not your average maxi-pad purchasers. I don’t sit around talking to all my girlfriends about my period while we laugh over salad, and I don’t get chatty poolside about my birth control (or yogurt) for that matter.

Frank talk about menstruation is something we don’t see very often. I’m happy to view a commercial that tries to appeal to a younger demographic and possibly parents who aren’t quite sure how to broach the topic in a way that isn’t full of beach walks and blue dye. The Period Starter Kits even come with talking points for parents and daughters. Slightly problematic is that I’m not entirely convinced the ad is truly meant just for that younger demographic. After all, the site says it’ll ship items to my dorm or office discretely. When it comes to matters like this, where I have some critique but also see the value in the product, I tend to err on the side of the product…

  • Is the product useful? Yes.
  • Does it fill a niche or need? Yes.
  • Is the ad sexist or misogynistic or does it blatantly offend me? No.

It comes down to weighing our choices. Yes, I can try to purchase all of my goods and services from people exactly like me–those who use marketing that I find no fault in whatsoever. But the problem is that while we try to buy from our tribes, sometimes we do have to compromise. The lines are gray, and I have to accept that not everything I buy is going to support a cause I can get behind or a marketing campaign that appealed directly to me. Sure, I can look up businesses to see whether or not they align with my views on places like the Human Rights Campaign Buyer’s Guide. There I can find that Home Depot gets 75, Lowe’s gets 30. Whole Foods gets 75, while Kroger gets an 85. I can even find out that Land O’Lakes has a HRM rating of 90. But what about the guy selling butter at the farmer’s market? What if he’s a person who supports a cause I don’t approve of at all? Should I quiz him on his political beliefs and what causes he donates money to? Should I keep a checklist with me to keep track of where I think it’s OK to shop for certain items, and nix places whose ads I find irritating? I’m sure some people do this. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, but…what about the woman behind the counter where I buy my gas? The barista where I get my coffee? Whose livelihood matters regarding my choices?

Is simply accepting an ad campaign for what it is such a bad thing? I’m not advocating blind acceptance of all advertising messages by any means, but a little shrugging and moving on is sometimes not willful ignorance so much as the way I get through the day without going insane from all the negativity and criticism to be found out there.

I may not 100 percent approve of the marketing techniques of Hello Flo or The Period Store, but neither am I up in arms, ready to funnel my money elsewhere just to be certain I don’t support them. The Atlantic says “there has to be a better way” to market these products, but I’m not entirely convinced that an ad of a woman telling me bluntly “Hey, go buy some pads, you bleed every month, remember?” would be any more appealing to me, even though it’d be more to the point. It’s possible to be a reasonable consumer and accept some so-so with the good. Sometimes, it’s nice to see the positive instead of the negative in an ad campaign. For example, the ad doesn’t make getting a period something to be ashamed or scared of. And when was the last time you saw a period commercial actually use the word “vagina” before Hello Flo came along?

Ultimately, maybe the lesson here is that while we can find something to critique in nearly everything if we look at it from every angle, maybe it’s also OK to think about it, and then simply decide either yes or no, and not judge people too harshly for their own yeas and nays either.

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  1. I just make sure to always have at least one pad in my bag. I cannot be the only one. Likewise, there are apps and tools out there for tracking cycles
  2. If only Regretsy were still around so I could really horrify you. Two words: finger. painting
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Hayley DeRoche

Hayley DeRoche is a librarian with a penchant for cardigans and corduroys. Luckily, her professional life revolves more around technology & information than fashion.

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