Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Truth and Nothing but the Plain Truth

When Richard Neill posted his comment on Facebook addressing the “lies” that Tampons companies have been selling since his childhood, it’s hardly likely he expected things to go as far as they did. A commercial specifically calling him out came as a response from the company, and soon thereafter news articles followed, creeping up to address the new viral campaign. This video has many people talking about the nature of sanitary pad advertising, and while some people are taking a strict analytical stance in response to it, others, such as Jennifer O’Connell from the online division of Dublin’s leading newspaper The Irish Times, aren’t going to let the opportunity to have a little fun with journalism pass them by. Reviewing the world’s (arguably) first funny advertisement for Tampons isn’t a job that just anyone would take on, but that’s just what Jennifer O’Connell did. In this witty critique of BodyForm’s newest Tampon-selling scheme, O’Connell succeeded in not only portraying the hilarious devices used by BodyForm in their Truth about Periods campaign, but also brought to the table her own amusing takes on the issue: Why can’t the general public handle the reality of women’s menstruation?

O’Connell starts her article with a paragraph warning her audience of what was to come:
“This is a column about the stuff the advertising industry wants to protect you from. That’s right: we’re talking about the messy reality of womanhood. The word “period” may feature. Cutsey euphemisms such as Aunty Flo, The Painters and That Time of the Month won’t. Neither will the suggestion that the shedding of the uterine lining is the ideal opportunity to go ice-skating in a pair of tight white jeans.”
She then adds, “So if you’re squeamish about that kind of thing, move right along to the other pages.” After a paragraph break, O’Connell good-naturedly asks, “Still here?” as if addressing an audience that she can communicate with but not see. It all creates a lead in that instantly grabs attention. O’Connell addresses her readers directly, challenging them to face what she’s about to write about, but keeps her tone at all times laid back, joking, and even familiar, as if she is simply conversing with a group of friends, rather than addressing a nation at large. She is, after all, addressing a nation as a whole, as The Irish Times is Ireland’s leading newspaper agency, comparable to what The New York Times is in America. And, although she is writing for an online-only blog feature of the agency’s site, it gets the attention that a national newsource would be expected to get (with ninety recommendations on Facebook, forty-two tweets, and twenty-nine shares on Google’s Blog community showing up at the top of article). It does seem though that the audience O’Connell is targeting is much smaller than that which is available to her -- half the size, in fact. O’Connell often refers to ‘men’ throughout her article in the passive sense, as if assuming no man is reading her article anyway. So, by her estimation the audience reading this article consists of women only, and not even just women, but women between the ages of twelve and menopause -- I mean to say, those who menstruate. At times she does stray from this, posing questions for her imaginary public that address more than just the female population: “Why are we so squeamish about something that will affect half the population once a month, for at least part of their lives?”

Neill's Original Comment

Some of these questions, she goes on to answer later in her article. Throughout her article she follows the history of sanitary pad advertising and it’s hits and misses with honesty in commercials. One in particular, she covers knowing that most of the people in the audience will be familiar with the commercials, but not as familiar with the background information:
“A 2010 ad for the American brand U by Kotex parodying the industry was more successful. “How do I feel about my period?” the actress in the ad asks. “I love it . . . Sometimes I just want to run on a beach. Unusually, by the third day, I just want to dance.” Sadly, the ad was rewarded for its candour with instant banning by three US TV networks. It had to be re-edited to replace the word “vagina” with the expression “down there” – and even then, two of the three networks still refused to run it.”
She covers the history of Tampon advertising, all the way from “a new freedom, comfort, convenience” in the 1930s, to Kotex’s “by the third day, I just want to dance,” pulling information from all sources, and creating a collage of failed advertising and comparing it to what she calls “[a] break with two of the major conventions for public discussion of the female menstrual cycle.” O’Connell compares the simple facts of Tampon advertisements in the past, to what this one does differently, without ever slipping out of her conversational tone.

Really, this article doesn’t seem to slip into what one would call the Official Style at all. Any time that she even gets close to toeing the line of “Formal Writing”, it’s used in a humorous way, as if she’s mocking the experts that talk about this subject without an ounce of humor. This can be seen very well in this quote about the differences in the reaction that people have when discussing periods:
“Women, I’ve noticed, have no problem discussing our menstrual cycles with each other. We compare notes about tears shed, or quantities of Maltesers consumed; we even prevail upon each other for tampon supplies when we’re caught short. So if we can laugh about our periods, why can’t advertisers?”

She speaks here of women and their periods as if it is a field of study (we all minor in menstruation perhaps?), and this is the only place in the article where you see sentences rambling on for several lines, and using combining of sentences to continue a thought. There is also a certain high-brow air in the voice used here that isn’t present elsewhere in the article, as if she is deeming herself the forefront of experts on this subject.

So, is O’Connell’s critique successful? She’s honest, plain, and funny, and still all the while, proving that she knows exactly what she’s talking about. I think few people would argue that her article fails to achieve what it set out to do -- namely, bring this issue to the forefront of people’s minds.

A humorous campaign from Pakistan in 2010 in response to WikiLeaks.
-Lauren Ihrke

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