Given our culture’s ambivalence towards female sexuality, creating brand names for menstrual products poses a conundrum for U.S. marketers, provoking either squeamishness or bravado. Witness some of their names, which either attempt to sanitize their prosaic offerings (StayfreeDry Max, RepHresh Brilliant), romanticize them (Diva Cup, Luna Pads, Tampax Radiant), or even lionize them (Moxie, Party in My Pants, GladRags).
So I salute the naming of the newly launched Hello Flo for striking a distinctively straightforward, friendly note amidst the cacophony of brand names out there. Hello Flo is a service that sends subscribers an individualized assortment of tampons and menstrual pads each month. And true to its mission, the name Hello Flo projects an attitude towards one’s period of unabashed acceptance and readiness. (The morphing of the word “flow” into the female nickname “Flo” is a nice touch, positioning menstruation as a girl’s or woman’s “friend.”) The name also avoids the usual marketing pitfalls in this category: of tone-deaf, over-the-top enthusiasm, which strains credibility—or etherealness or clinical dryness (no pun intended) that pander to shame-based modesty.
Pity, then, that Hello Flo doesn’t steer as deftly around these pitfalls in its new video spot. The parody spot “The Camp Gyno” features an über-controlling pre-teen who uses her status as the first girl to menstruate at summer camp as a means of lording it over her female campmates, dispensing menstrual supplies and commands with strident, drill-sergeant authority. Until, that is, the other girls get wise and start subscribing to Hello Flo, essentially elbowing her out of the picture.
I give the creators of the spot props for trying to leaven a taboo topic like the onset of menses with humor. And I really, really wanted to like it, because it takes menstruation out of the shadows with its bold reframe. But there’s something both off-key and off-putting about this transparently commercial, boisterously self-serving appropriation of what can be the most significant biological rite of passage in a young girl’s life: as when we hear the pre-teen star proclaiming that Hello Flo is “like Santa for your vagina.” (Really? Really?) It’s also unsettling to hear the spot’s brash in-your-face “vag” talk coming from the mouth of a girl who looks all of 10 years old. Pete Marquis, one of the spot’s co-creators, has said they didn’t want the ad to “tip-toe around the delicate subject matter.” Fair enough. But methinks they may have overcompensated a bit, and stomped on it instead.
Somewhere on this planet, still a mere twinkle in someone’s eye, an ad idea is incubating that will one day bring menstruation into the light of day in a way that rings true. I can’t wait.
Overall Name Grade: A
Overall Ad Grade: C+