Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO’s taboo-breaking "Blood normal" campaign for Bodyform has been cleared to air on Australian television despite becoming the country’s most-complained-about ad of the year.
Two 30-second versions, which feature images of period blood, have been broadcast in Australia since last month. They were scheduled to air after 6.30pm, although not in programming aimed specifically at children.
They were adapted for Australia by Bodyform parent company Essity, which sells the same products under the Libra brand in that market.
The ads prompted a variety of complaints, totalling more than 600, to Ad Standards, the Australian equivalent of the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority.
"We’re very proud to have caused the highest number of complaints – and, soon enough, people will not even conceive that this could have even been an issue," Martina Poulopati, global marketing and communications director at Essity, said.
The Ad Standards Community Panel considered whether the ads were in conflict with six sections of the advertising code and cleared them on all counts.
The campaign’s creators welcomed the decision. Nadja Lossgott, now executive creative director at AMV, said: "When we started the 'Blood normal' journey over two years ago, we were made to feel like we were the crazy ones. But we fought and fought, the campaign has been spreading all around the world, killing shame with empathy, and seeing how the Australian media authorities are now defending it makes us feel like our dream is coming true – it’s definitely worth pissing some people off to make it right for many more."
The Ad Standards panel stated that it could not adjudicate on some complaints because they centred on issues not covered by the code, such as the ads being in "bad taste" or distressing to people who get upset by the sight of blood.
Among the counts the ads were cleared on was whether depicting menstruation was offensive to – and therefore discriminatory against – certain religions or ethnicities.
The potential breach that appears to have most troubled the panel was of section 2.4 of the code, which requires that ads "treat sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience". The group considered that the topic of menstruation is a depiction of sexuality "as it is a physical fact of being female".
On whether the ads’ scheduling was sensitive, the panel was split. A minority considered that it was not, because many people would find them "uncomfortable and confronting in family viewing times".
However, the majority considered that it was and noted that "many children have questions about sexual reproduction… this advertisement provides a good conversation starter for children who are watching with their parents".
Nicholas Hulley, Lossgott's creative partner and fellow executive creative director at AMV, explained: "In 2017, media authorities ruled we weren’t allowed to show period blood on TV, so the campaign ran exclusively online. But, since then, the dialogue has evolved and we’ve now been allowed to show blood on a pad for our new campaign 'Viva la vulva', which is on VOD."
A version of this article first appeared on PRWeek sister title Campaign