On World Menstrual Hygiene Day 2020; Rio Pads by Nobel Hygiene released their ‘stained screen” commercial, which featured brand ambassador and actor Radhika Apte. With its set, upbeat music, and surprise red blood splash at the end, the ad turns the concept of an absorbency test on its head. As part of its effort to de-stigmatize menstrual blood, Rio used red paint in the ad to depict period blood.
The digital advertisement further chastises women for putting up a brave front and recommends they use pads that can handle their flow; the advertisement went on to compare the absorbency abilities of regular sanitary napkins, with that of Rio heavy flow pads. Needless to say, in more ways than one, the advertisement was revolutionary.
Firstly, the PAN India campaign for Nobel Hygiene’s RIO Heavy Flow Pads helped transform Indian advertising by putting an end to the deceptive practice of depicting blue liquid in place of blood, which had been used for decades. Kartik Johari, vice president of marketing and commerce for Nobel Hygiene, stated that the company’s research revealed there was still a lot of misinformation around menstruation in our country. He said they received a lot of questions from little girls who were afraid to ask their parents, and that the “RIO Listens” advertisement was an endeavour to extend support to those who needed it.
Aside from that, the ad worked to raise awareness about common problems such as PCOD and PCOS, which cause excessive blood flow and discomfort. The issue of heavy flow, which may or may not be associated with PCOS or PCOD, affects almost 25% of Indian women today, causing them to change their pads every 2 hours. A deep dive has shown that some women change up to 8–10 pads in a day.
For decades, most advertisements have shied away from using the word “menstruation” or even depicting blood in its natural colour. As actress and brand ambassador Radhika Apte pointed out, “Blood in a fight sequence in a film is fine, but not for periods?”
However, brands have the power to either drive change in our country, or misrepresent periods, misinform teenagers, and perpetuate the stigmatisation of menstruation. Many of these ads completely omit the words “menstruation” or “periods.” Instead, they use cryptic expressions like “un dino” or “during those days.” The majority of Indian advertisements frequently use this model of secrecy, which only serves to make menstruating women feel self-conscious about their bodies.
Menstrual awareness has suffered as a result of the use of an odd, clinical blue gel to make the audience feel less uncomfortable. In a study conducted in India to assess menstrual awareness amongst urban and rural girls between the ages of 13 and 18 years, it was found that only 37.5% of the girls were aware of menstruation prior to the attainment of menarche. Watching these advertisements will give the remaining nearly 70% of girls a distorted perception of reality. The way menstruation is portrayed in these commercials—with women writhing in agony or huddling at an awkward angle while sleeping to avoid stains—and then how they miraculously go out and play sports and do physical labour after using the period products, is not only deceitful and misleading but sets up unrealistic expectations that eventually lead to bitter disappointments.
Additionally, these advertisements are not only harmful to those who menstruate, but also to cis-het males who form false perceptions of what menstruation is and typically regard it as something unclean. Many even believe that using or purchasing menstrual products is scandalous, and they carry this false belief throughout their entire lives.
Nobel Hygiene RIO’s advertisement was not well received in India due to the use of blood. Complaints to the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) were varied but split into three buckets. The advertisement was re-approved for airing after minor revisions were made to make it more palatable for the Indian audience.
The fact that the message was still clear made it count as a victory, and the numerous positive comments that followed were a strong sign that Indian society was beginning to change, albeit slowly. The advertisement's authenticity merits praise, as it was overseen by women and based on their experiences. This made the issue more relatable to the female audience and contributed to their understanding of its gravity.
Despite the commendable progress, the global use of red has only been approved by the advertising watchdogs of two countries. Many MNCs are still resisting implementing change. In India, where only 50% of women have access to female hygiene products, this is a significant and encouraging victory which will spur more discussions, bringing about a revolution in female hygiene.