Slate’s DoubleXX recently hosted a discussion entitled ‘That Not So Fresh Feeling: Marketing Embarrassing Products To Women’ in which they analyzed adverts for tampons and sanitary towels, and the profiteering exploits of the feminine hygiene industry. Target Women writer and performer Sarah Haskins commented, ‘Ever since we were borne of Adam’s rib we have been flawed, and the only things that will fix us will be sold to us as we watch Project Runway.’ I recently argued in a post that hormonal contraceptives are the new tampons - the logical progression from hiding periods away, to getting rid of them altogether. It’s no wonder, then, that these contraceptives are marketed to us using the same tried and true lady-vertising tactics as their feminine hygiene predecessors.
One particular Pill brand has been promoted through a pervasive television and magazine ad campaign under the banner ‘Beyond Birth Control.’ In November 2009 The New York Times said that Yaz ‘owes much of its popularity to multimillion-dollar ads that have promoted the drug as a quality-of-life treatment.’ This piece includes an interview with a Yaz user who says, ‘I asked my doctor about Yaz because I had seen the commercial and it mentioned helping control your period symptoms and acne, which was very attractive to me.’
Initially Yaz was claimed to alleviate all elements of PMS, cure acne and aid weight loss – the drug’s use for birth control was a secondary thought. In a landmark move, the FDA ordered the pharmaceutical company to send out a retraction campaign to counter what it saw as misleading overstatements of the drug’s effect on ‘period symptoms.’
Full disclosure: I took Yaz for two years. I too was drawn in by their marketing as – although direct advertising of pharmaceuticals is illegal in the UK (my home at the time), as it is in most of the world – the skin-clearing, weight-loss abilities of the drug endeared it to women’s magazines. Never before had a Pill been named in the pages of Cosmopolitan, but Yaz sounded too good for them to resist. Word of mouth did the rest of the work. I had a bad experience, but I won’t bore you with the details – suffice to say, the brand is one of the most complained-about drugs on the web.
So, after watching the video of DoubleXX’s forum I decided to see how Yaz was holding up after a lot of bad publicity. The website now contains the YazXpress area - ‘Get with the program!’ it exclaims - which allows you to sign up for an ‘insider’s guide to Yaz, fashion, music and style.’ During the forum the speakers discussed extensively how the feminine hygiene industry attached their products to ideas of ‘glamor’ and aspirational living. They argued this stemmed from the fact that when first released only rich women were able to afford such luxuries.
Now here Yaz presents an interview with designer Kate Spade, tips on hair styling and the hottest trends to feature in the New York Spring 2010 fashion shows, alongside a piece on ‘Getting the most from Yaz’ and a ‘Body Diary.’ In signing up to YazXpress women interested in (read: taking or soon to take) Yaz are allowed access to information presented as the secrets of glamor and glamorous living. These articles are co-created by Elle and Cosmopolitan - the pages of these magazines in the US have frequently featured Yaz adverts, but now they’ve gone a far step further in their endorsement, thereby increasing the number of women who hear about Yaz over another brand. The Yaz campaign, and new website, work just like the marketing of feminine hygiene products - by associating the Pill with more glamorous way of life.
Of course for this advertising technique to have the greatest impact, periods and ‘period symptom’s must simultaneously be portrayed negatively. The ‘Body Diary’ asks women to track their emotional state every day of the month, but the options only range from feeling ‘worthless and guilty’ to feeling ‘overwhelmed and unable to cope’ and other entirely negative experiences. There is an option to rate the statements as not applicable to you, but the ‘Body Diary’ does not continue to track if you choose to say that you feel okay or great. Yaz was criticized by the FDA for claiming it could cure PMS symptoms and now promotes its impact on the, as yet not officially diagnosed, problem of PMDD.
With menstruation products from pads to tampons and now to hormonal contraceptives being marketed to us as a shortcut to a glamorous lifestyle free of “annoying” periods, it’s all the more important for us to do our homework.