Feminine Hygiene Ads Annoy Russian Viewers




In the Soviet Union, the public discussion of topics relating to sex and reproduction was strictly regulated by social taboos. Judging by the results of a recent advertising survey, even with the changes that have swept Russia in the last decade, many of these taboos are still standing strong.


Last November, the New Social-Psychology Institute conducted a survey among 2,200 residents of Central Russian cities. It revealed that television viewers find advertisements for feminine-hygiene products more disturbing than those for any other product. Of those polled, 45.2 percent reported feeling irritated by the ads for sanitary napkins and tampons. The next most irritating subject was chewing gum, with a distaste rating of only 4.1 percent. Perhaps the most revealing result of the study was that 60.5 percent of women respondents said they were bothered by the ads.


This comes as no surprise to Svetlana Aivazova, an expert for the Women of Russia movement and a senior research fellow at the Comparative Social Research Institute, which studies women's issues and the relationship between the sexes in the family.


"I'm no puritan," she said. "Advertising for [feminine-hygiene products] is needed. But here, the practice surrounding their use was puritanical -- I would even say embarrassing -- to the point of being sanctimonious."


Dmitry Badalov, the executive director of the Social Advertising Council, agreed. "Our consumer attitudes, especially among women, toward advertising and situations regarding their intimate lives have always been more delicate than those among women in the West," he said "Invasion into private, intimate lives, women's private hygiene lives, is looked upon very critically in Russia."


Aivazova said that some advertisers have taken the wrong approach.


"They shouldn't have depicted everything so openly right away," she said. "In one ad there is a text that says: 'I felt clean and dry for the first time.' What is that supposed to mean? That she wasn't clean for all the years before? That without these napkins we ran around wild? They simply drive women away with this message. An advertisement should conform to a country's culture and take women's feelings into consideration."


The prominence of the ads may also contribute to the ill will toward them. According to figures from the Russian Public Relations Group, or RPRG, advertising for feminine-hygiene products takes up 2.55 percent of all Russian television advertising. "This is significantly more than in the West," said RPRG president Andrei Fedotov.


Advertisers justify the ads' intensity by saying that, until recently, few in Russia were aware of this product category.


"They used to use gauze or other absorbent materials," said Denis Yarotsky, marketing manager at SCA Molnlycke, manufacturer of Libresse feminine napkins. "The market now is very weak. Naturally, in order to produce more, and to educate the target audience, more advertising is needed."


According to Yarotsky, the lure of an undeveloped market has heated up the advertising battle.


"Every advertiser wants to trample his competitors," he said. "Everyone wants to advertise more, and the numbers are growing rapidly. There's nothing like it in other countries where markets are stable."


According to RPRG figures, Libresse napkins are the third largest advertisers of women's hygiene products on the Russian market -- accounting for 12 percent. Carefree is slightly further ahead at 16 percent, with the Always brand leading the market at 51 percent.


For their part, manufacturers say that they have not had any negative feedback from Russian women about how their products are advertised.


"We have nothing to indicate that Russian women do not like our advertising," said Kerry McCarter, head of the Moscow office for Johnson & Johnson, maker of Carefree feminine napkins and O.B. tampons. "At least, neither our company nor our advertising agency have received any complaints about them. Which means our advertising hasn't bothered anyone enough for them to complain about it."


SCA Molnlycke's Yarotsky said advertising for its Libresse brand does not arouse any particular irritation among target audiences. The company conducted a survey among potential customers to gain their reactions to its Libresse commercials, in which a girl encounters a boy in an elevator. and runs into a statue in a museum. Fifty-one percent of those polled reported liking the ad, 47 percent said they have no negative feelings toward it, and only 2 percent found the commercial irritating. Yarotsky says he believes this is because in the Libresse commercial, viewer attention is not focused on the particularities of using the product, its special qualities or a detailed discussion of its merits. "Ours is a more relaxed, sentimental advertisement," he said.


Yulia Bayeva, a spokeswoman for Procter & Gamble, likewise said she believes Russians like the ads for the company's Always brand feminine napkins. She said that letters the company receives from women are filled only with praise.


Nevertheless, it seems likely that for the foreseeable future advertisers in Russia are going to have to continue to deal with reactions like that of one employee of a large information company who asked that her name not be used.


"I am very irritated by the fact that my child sees these ads," she said. "Once, when he was 6 years old, after watching another of those commercials he thought for a long time and then asked: 'What is it that's always leaking out of you [women] there?' It was very unpleasant for me."