How period care disruptor Here We Flo created April’s most effective TV ad

With its humorous take on period dramas, the TV debut of up-and-coming period care brand Here We Flo ranks highly on both distinctiveness and disruption – despite receiving its share of complaints.

Founded four years ago by two Masters students, Here We Flo is on a mission to challenge shame and disrupt the period, bladder and sexual wellness markets with its organic and vegan products, including tampons, pads, reusable period underwear and condoms.

Taking on a mature market with strong, well-established players is no easy feat for a new brand. According to data from Kantar’s BrandZ, brands need to be both disruptive and clearly differentiated in order to gain traction, using levers including product innovation, business model, communications and values.

Brands perceived to be highly different and highly disruptive grow 28% faster than the average brand, the data says.

All this is good news for Here We Flo, which launched the most creatively effective TV ad of April according to The Works, a monthly study produced using Kantar Marketplace data.

‘No more period dramas’ offers a tongue-in-cheek take on the classic British period TV drama. Centred on a dinner table hosting well-to-do men and women, one lady interrupts the conversation to announce that she is in “a bloody mess”, referring to her period. The women around the table then launch into a discussion about organic tampons, while the men around the table look aghast.

Devised alongside creative agency Hatch London, the ad, which won the Grand Prix £1m prize of the inaugural Sky Zero Footprint Fund late last year, has demonstrated its ability to grab attention, set trends, and the potential to drive both long- and short-term growth.

Kantar’s head of creative excellence, Lynne Deason, says the ad is “highly efficient” at earning attention and engaging the audience.

“Our brains are programmed to pay attention to things that are different, that make us feel something and that are highly personally relevant and meaningful in some way,” she explains.

Ricky Gervais once described humour as being akin to an inoculation against what might otherwise be seen as inappropriate to talk about.

Lynne Deason, Kantar

Produced in association with Marketing Week and the Advertising Association’s Trust Working Group, The Works study asks 750 consumers what they think of five of April’s top TV ads – 150 consumers per advert.

Here We Flo’s ad scored within the top 5% of all ads in the UK on distinctiveness, and in the top 15% for differentiation. It also scored in the top 25% for giving the sense it is setting trends, while the information conveyed about the brand also feels very new (top 15%).

“These are important factors in driving short-term sales and building the brand longer term,” Deason says.  The ad is also persuasive (top 30%) and shows “strong potential” to deliver for Here We Flo in the short term (top 35%), “if distribution and availability of the product supports and activates this”.

Deason says the impact of the ad could have been greater if the brand name had been conveyed “more clearly and in a more memorable way”, as the ad currently sits in the bottom 40% on this measure.

However, using the speed of response technique, The Works reveals the ad is “hitting the sweet spot” in terms of conveying Here We Flo’s intended brand values, which are to help people feel positive around their body’s “messiest moments” and eradicate shame.

Source: Kantar

“Advertising isn’t something people think hard about so it’s important advertising successfully conveys the intended associations without effort being required,” Deason says.

Indeed, one participant in the study said they liked that the ad was “encouraging talk about periods at the dinner table”, adding: “It should never be a taboo topic”.

The power of funny

Speaking to Marketing Week, Here We Flo co-founder and CEO Tara Chandra says from the beginning the brand’s strategy has been to “make people laugh”.

“We don’t like anything where it’s a hidden secret, no one talks about it, and it’s stigmatised. Anytime we find one of those things we’re like, ‘let’s make a joke about it’. Everybody laughs about it and we start a conversation,” she says.

“We are a very positive company in that sense. Sex positive, period positive, bladder positive, body positive. And for us, that starts with having a sense of humour.”

The brand also wanted to talk about sustainability in a way that wasn’t “preachy”. As an American who has lived in the UK for a decade, Chandra says she has always “loved” period dramas, and alongside co-founder Susan Augustin saw an opportunity to “subvert” the genre and create a funny contrast between the “posh” nature of the drama and a conversation around periods at the dinner table.

According to Chandra and Hatch London’s executive creative director Bruce Crouch, the theme was also picked as a vehicle the brand believes “will travel and have campaign-ability”, and because the humour will translate globally.

Kantar’s Deason says this humorous approach was key to the ad’s effectiveness, and also helps the brand achieve the differentiation and disruption it needs to drive rapid growth.

We are a very positive company. Sex positive, period positive, bladder positive, body positive. And for us, that starts with having a sense of humour.

Tara Chandra, Here We Flo

“It is not just that the brand is seeking to positively evolve the conversation dynamic and how women feel about periods that people like. They love the humorous approach to getting there, the double entendre, and that the ad taps into highly relevant moments in popular culture, with its Bridgerton-esque and Downton Abbey ‘period’ setting,” Deason explains.

“Ricky Gervais talks about how humour helps us ‘get over stuff’, and once described humour as being akin to an inoculation against what might otherwise be seen as inappropriate to talk about.”

Some 63% of people found the ad very or quite funny, according to the study. Deason says it is a “brilliant and inspiring example of how humour can be a very powerful and effective way to tackle taboo topics”. Indeed, the ad falls into the top 26% of the database for ‘viral pass along’, meaning its potential to promote conversation and sharing.

Kantar’s facial coding chart (below) reveals where people smile as they view the ad for the first time, with peaks coinciding with moments of overt humour – notably when one of the women says she is in a “bloody mess down there”, the overexaggerated reactions of shock from the men in the room, and when one woman says Here We Flo’s tampons are compostable, so the gardener can “bury them in your rose bush”.

Source: Kantar

The extent of ‘smiles’ evoked for this ad are in the top 4% of Kantar’s UK Link database.

Navigating controversy

However, as any brand which challenges a societal taboo will discover, doing so will very rarely come without complaints.

“The challenge of course with humour, and especially when it comes to taboo topics, is that some people won’t find it funny, and may even take offence,” Deason points out.

“The expectation that not everyone will like your ad is par for the course when adopting a taboo busting or activist strategy.”

Indeed, Chandra says the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received 46 complaints about the ad, though the ad watchdog has elected not to uphold any of them.

Kantar’s study saw a “polarised” response on whether people enjoyed the ad or not, with the mean score for this measure falling in the bottom 40% of all ads. There was “a small group of women” who found the ad “unpleasant, disturbing and irritating”, with disgust and sadness both in the top 20% of UK ads.

Indeed, one participant said the ad was “a bit graphic for an advert and could easily be quite embarrassing for teenagers to watch with their parent”. Another said it was “crass, demeaning to women, distasteful and not remotely funny”.

However, the challenge is getting the balance right, which Deason says the ad succeeds in doing.

One of our missions is to support and speak up on issues that we really care about and to be funny, feminist and fierce.

Tara Chandra, Here We Flo

“On balance, the portrayal of the women is seen as largely positive and progressive,” she explains, with the ad falling in the top 25% on Kantar’s stereotype measure.

The portrayal of men in the ad was seen as stereotypical, however, falling in the bottom 1% of all ads on that measure. One participant said the men looking “queasy” at the conversation was “a bit of a stereotype and one we should move away from”.

But according to Deason: “The humour and silliness of the ad means that the ad gets away with it, and on balance the ad is considered to showcase characters that were inspiring (58%), challenges stereotypes to bring about positive change (63%) and was modern and progressive and its portrayal of people (63%).”

Male participants in the study tended to take the portrayal of the male characters “with the humour with which it was intended”, Deason adds, and enjoyed the ad even more than women on the whole.

“They were also happy to see periods being talked about more openly, which is a really positive and essential outcome for positive social change, as it contributes to eradicating the embarrassment and shame that some women and young girls feel,” she says.

Chandra says Here We Flo saw a similarly polarising reaction from consumers. While a “huge” age range of women enjoyed the ad, the brand experienced its fair share of outrage, with both men and women expressing they did not want periods spoken about in this way.

“We went back really kindly to everyone and said, we understand it’s not for everyone, but one of our missions is to support and speak up on issues that we really care about and to be funny, feminist and fierce, and we tried to accomplish this through the advert. We understand it won’t be for everyone. But thank you for sharing your thoughts with us either way,” she says.

In fact, the brand already has the next “three or four” executions in mind, which include playing off other popular British period dramas.

Chandra concludes: “It’s about creating environmental change, but also cultural change, and that [comes] with starting conversations and making people laugh and smile. TV is such a great medium for that.”