Talking Taboo in Emerging Markets
Posted: August 20, 2012 | 12:30 ET by Nick Parish
After last month’s serious, stern talk about how we should be adding value in advertising, here’s a look at something a little more mischievous. We’re going to look at work from three brands seeking to talk to empowered young women in ways they’re not used to hearing from corporations. All three campaigns are from emerging markets, two from China and one from Brazil, and deal with feminine hygiene products, notably an anti-fungal cream, sanitary pads and tampons and a liquid soap.
And, interestingly, they’re all about code, or talking about things in ways that aren’t overt, ways that maybe parents or teachers wouldn’t quite be able to follow. The intimacy of product application links to the intimacy of discussion, in different ways.
Personifying the most personal /
For over a decade in China Johnson & Johnson has been promoting Gyno-Daktarin, which is an anti-fungal cream used to treat vaginal infections, based on its functional merits. However, the brand was keen to reach out to its young female target on a more emotional and personal level.
So, along with Ogilvy, Beijing, the brand created a diary written from the perspective of a woman’s most intimate body part. The 'Little V' diary was available both online and in print and included content on dating and sex, fashion, travel, and health. The passages also included product messaging and Gyno Daktarin intimate care tips. The brand promoted the book with a two-minute video and digital, outdoor and print ads. Within three months of its launch, the campaign received more than 5 million views on a Chinese video site and nearly 9 million views and downloads on the ‘Little V’ campaign site. Top of mind awareness of the brand rose 54% after the campaign and young Chinese women even began using the term ‘Little V’ to describe their own 'V'.
It’s an interesting way to position an intimate care brand, differentiating itself by moving from purely functional benefits to more emotional ones. By giving women's most private area a voice, J & J was able to give its brand a voice as well. Although, admittedly, the premise is slightly strange. (Do people actually want fashion tips from the 'Little V'?) This is original and more fun way of talking about a something that people don't actually discuss in public. But, above all else, it creates a code. A safe space.
Laughing it off /
Elsewhere in China, sanitary protection brand Kotex, a Kimberly-Clark brand, has sponsored an online video series called Stuff Girls Don't Say which aims to tackle taboos around menstruation in China. A series of short online videos on Todou, developed by MindShare and entertainment and social media studio Thoughtful China, both in Shanghai, feature An Xiaoqi, a fictional teenage character. An Xiaoqi also uses the microblog Sina Weibo to talk with Chinese teens. The films capture the character in real-life situations that create challenges for every girl her age. For instance, slapstick or embarrassment-based humor, like dropping Kotex towels in public, or surreptitiously passing them to a friend in need. The character is also fronting a five-episode online video talk show, also on Tudou, as an expert going under the name of Da Qi Ma, a slang term for menstruation.
The brand launched launched the positioning Break The Cycle in the US in 2011 to promote its U By Kotex range, which aimed to do a similar job in addressing taboos around menstruation while providing colorful new packaging and products. It's interesting to see a similar strategy but a dramatically different execution adopted in China. The series uses a lot of well-judged visual humor (so, incidentally, non Mandarin speakers will understand most of the action) to help debunk taboos around monthly cycles. By encouraging the audience to recognize embarrassing situations and laugh along and also offering information and advice, Kotex has struck an appropriately friendly tone for its teen target.
Obscuring the pixels /
In Brazil, the code-creation is more physical than a twist of language. Dermacyd, an intimate liquid soap for girls, wanted to find a new way to become part of Brazilian girls’ conversations. The brand decided to create a new way for girls to chat online. Dermacyd Teen Code is an online tool that translates girls’ social media messages into a secret language of symbols.
To write or decode messages in Teen Code, girls have to first access the website by answering a series of questions that apparently only girls know the answers to, for example ‘When is the best time to moisturise?’ They can then translate their messages into Teen Code and post these secret messages on social networks such as Facebook, Orkut, or Twitter. When their friends answer back in Teen Code, they can go back to the Dermacyd Teen Code site to translate the messages. According to the brand, more than 400,000 coded messages have been written since the launch of the campaign. The average time spent on the site was 5 minutes, 30 seconds. Thousands of blog posts were written about the campaign, and they generated with 790 positive comments.
For Dermacyd, this is a lovely way of bringing real playground behavior online. What girl hasn’t used a made-up language or friends-only area to discuss how cute/icky boys are? It’s also a great way of injecting some fun into a low-interest category like feminine hygiene. Meanwhile, it concentrates on sisterhood and the fun of secrets, all the while using digital media to prove that the brand does what it is meant to do: protect girls. Dermacyd is offering girls a fun and useful tool, which will help generate good will towards the brand. By giving girls a space to have private conversations, the brand is positioning itself as a trusted friend and of course gets plenty of insights into the conversations of its target group.
The code constant is what’s important in all these instances, the idea of a brand-initiated subversion of language to make women and girls feel more comfortable with themselves. In Dermacyd’s case, it’s technical. In Kotex and Johnson & Johnson’s efforts, it’s more suave, around phrases, and the appropriation of words to fit a new context. In many ways, it seems generational. Young people want to own phrases and ideas in ways their parents didn’t. They want to shape the world to their circumstances. And it’s laudable when brands can successfully enable that.
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